Keeping America’s Largest Vintage Biplane Rides Fleet Flying

Waldo Wright’s barnstorming biplanes are still hard at work.

Vintage Biplane
Two New Standard D-25s from Waldo Wright’s Flying Service in formation.Courtesy Waldo Wright’s Flying Service

For the pilots, crews and families that operate vintage biplanes for giving public rides, there are few—if any—days off when it comes to performing important annual maintenance and 100-hour inspections. Meeting the FAA safety criteria for holding out rides to the public when your airplane was built over 80 years ago requires a dedication to the craft few in the aviation community possess.

Every day of the year, Rob Lock, a.k.a. “Waldo Wright” is busy keeping his operation’s four vintage biplanes airworthy. As the largest vintage biplane ride company in the country, his four airplanes are worked hard all year, giving rides in Michigan and Florida and at numerous events throughout the country. Keeping these beautiful old airplanes flying to FAA standards is a seven-days-a-week job, one that he and wife Jill lovingly perform.

“I knew that offering rides in vintage aircraft would be popular in 1995,” Lock said. “So, we went ‘all-in’ and started restoring our New Standards about 25 years ago. We’ve seen people come in the industry, stay for a while, and leave, but we just keep going, and have now built the largest vintage rides company in America. We operate two four-passenger New Standard D-25s, a two-passenger 1929 Travel Air E-4000, and a 1942 Boeing Stearman PT-17/N2S-3 set up with dual controls for one passenger—that’s 11 total seats. Not one vintage biplane tour company can come close to that. Other ride operators rarely have more than four seats available, and very few of them operate year-round.”

Vintage Biplane
The Boeing Stearman from Waldo Wright’s Flying Service.Courtesy Waldo Wright’s Flying Service

Currently, Waldo Wright’s Flying Service offers New Standard and Stearman flights in Michigan in the summer months, and Travel Air and Stearman flights in Florida during the winter. Lock does the majority of the flying, and while he can “call in” several Stearman pilots in each location when demand dictates, he’s the only one who flies the New Standards and Travel Air. “Our Stearman is flown by me up to Michigan and back down to Florida annually. I am in charge of flight operations and am the Director of Maintenance, while my wife Jill handles everything else...marketing, reservations, and paperwork. Once Kermit Weeks re-opens his Fantasy of Flight attraction in the future, we will have all our aircraft in Polk City operating year round,” Lock said.

Lock is a second-generation vintage airplane restorer, having learned the meticulous art of bringing these old biplanes back to life and keeping them flying from his father, the late Bob Lock. I toured Bob’s shop in Reedley, CA in 1986, and watch as skilled hands crafted wing ribs from scratch on one of his many restorations. Rob is continuing the family tradition with equally skilled hands, and he’s not afraid to get them dirty.

“To make this whole barnstorming idea work, it was imperative that I learned how to work on these old biplanes myself,” he explains. “If I was out flying away from my home airport and had a problem, chances were the airport mechanic wouldn’t know how to fix my problem. So, under the watchful eye of my father, I learned the systems and how to troubleshoot and fix my vintage airplanes. I’ve been a licensed A&P mechanic since 2006 and added my Inspection Authorization in 2017.”

Vintage Biplane
Waldo Wright’s 1929 Travel Air E-4000 taking off.Jack McCloy

For anyone who knew Bob Lock, it comes as no surprise that the expertise to keep vintage airplanes flying has been passed down to his son, Rob. “My father began honing his restoration skills by restoring a Fairchild PT-19 in his early 20s, and, throughout his life, he had a hand in the restoration of close to 40 to 50 aircraft. His big thing was passing along a lifetime of knowledge gained in dealing with vintage aircraft restoration and maintenance to the next generation. Throughout the last years of his life, he wrote over 100 technical articles that are still being published by EAA today. His spirit lives on in those articles; he was one of a kind and is missed by many,” Rob said.

Rob explains that the work involved in his operation is enormous, but gratifying. “Both my wife Jill and I are passionate about vintage aviation, and we do work seven days a week. It’s not a job if you love what you do. After all, my definition of success is building a life that you don’t need a vacation from,” he said.