MOUNT VERNON — Listen for the signature deep roar of vintage biplane engines overhead in Knox County this week. The 50th Waco Reunion is in progress at Wynkoop Airport on Ohio 661; it has been held in Mount Vernon for the past 20 years. Usually a weekend event, the 50th began on Tuesday and will end when all the pilots and their colorful vintage biplanes depart, probably Sunday morning.
Reunion organizer Doug Parsons of Carrollton said the public is invited to visit, enjoy looking at the planes and ask questions, although parking at the airport is limited. Refreshments are available for purchase, offered by local civic clubs.
There are only two rules at a Waco reunion or fly-in: Don’t touch the airplanes (they are fragile), and when storms and wind approach, the vintage planes are quickly tucked into hangars. The National Waco Club also requests that no pets be brought to the field.
Waco biplanes were manufactured in Troy from 1928-42, and have become collector’s planes; many of the models are represented at this year’s event. On Thursday, pilots flew their planes to the National Waco Museum in Troy for a luncheon in their honor.
“The most [planes] we’ve ever had at a reunion is 43,” said Parsons. “This year, we’re hoping for 65, maybe even as many as 80. That’s our goal. This year is going to be absolutely huge.”
Parsons notes, however, that all the planes will not be on the field at the same time, as pilots will be flying throughout the weekend.
By Thursday morning, 28 planes had arrived, which Parsons called “a huge number.” Many had never been flown to a reunion before. An additional 27 planes were registered to arrive on Thursday. Not all pilots attending are able to fly their airplanes to Mount Vernon, he said, as some planes are being restored. Aircraft fuel is also expensive. Nonetheless, by Thursday, more than 100 people had arrived at Wynkoop Airport to enjoy the festivities, workshops, dinners, each other and each other’s planes.
“We call these reunions because it literally is a giant family reunion,” said Parsons. “We’ve worked hard to make it that way. People get out of their planes and other people run over to meet them and there are big hugs and hearty handshakes. It’s great.”
By Thursday, attendees from more than 13 states had arrived, as well as a pilot from the United Kingdom. John LeBlanc of Deland, Fla., flew his Waco YKS-6 cabin — not an open cockpit model — from his home for his first reunion. He logged more than 1,200 miles on his trip, stopping to visit friends while on the way to Mount Vernon.
As Waco pilots do, LeBlanc delights in telling his biplane’s story. Previously owned by another pilot, the plane once had floats, for landing on water.
“The pilot thought he’d land it but he hooked a float and flipped it,” said LeBlanc. “It became a fishing hole for a while. Finally somebody fished it out and restored it. That was Bill Bohannon of Columbus. It also spent some time in Washington state.”
LeBlanc was anxious to meet Bohannon at the reunion, to exchange stories about “their” plane and to have a photo taken together.
Local businesses and organizations, said Parsons, have been enthusiastic about the reunion and generous in providing help and equipment, including the nearby Knox County Airport. Pilots are spending money in Mount Vernon, too, purchasing fuel and meals, and lodging at local hotels.
Parsons attempted to set up a complimentary shuttle service so pilots wouldn’t have to rent cars and could still come to the airport in the morning, stay all day and return to their motels at night, but he said he couldn’t achieve that goal, even after two years of working with local organizations that might have been able to help.
Waco pilots love their biplanes and are passionate about their hobby.
“The planes become part of the family,” explained Parsons. “My brother and his family, my family and my parents all live on an airport like [Wynkoop] in Carrollton. My sister and her family live in Georgia; they’re here this week, too.
“See that orange plane?” Parsons said, pointing. “That’s my parents’ Waco. I had my first ride when I was 6 weeks old. They dropped me off at my grandmother’s house and took off for a fly-in somewhere. That plane is like a brother or sister to me. It’s just part of the family. And every one of these planes has a story.”
Andy Heins of Dayton, president of the National Waco Club since 1997, is attending the reunion, too. He and Parsons grew up together at Waco reunions, and call their joint efforts with the club and the annual event “a good tag-team effort.”
Parsons said the weather forecast is excellent this year, and the pilots are delighted.
“For the past five years,” he said, “we’ve had heavy thunderstorms, rain, hail and wind. This year, the prediction looks pretty good.”