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Biplane Ride Over the Ohio River Valley

The story of my vintage biplane ride over the Ohio River Valley.

Madison, Indiana, is a small town. Resting on the edge of the Ohio River, where Indiana meets Kentucky with just over 11,000 inhabitants, it fits in with many other small towns across the nation. Located in the Ohio River Valley, it is both every small town in America and like no other place. A paradox town. It has a sizable downtown area, with shops and restaurants all within walking distance. It stands between Louisville and Cincinnati. Madison is surrounded by rolling, forest-covered hills and farm fields.

Madison Municipal Airport

Just northwest of the city is the Madison Municipal Airport. Madison Municipal Airport has a single runway and a nice building to wait for your flight. It is home to several businesses, including flight schools, airplane restoration services, and aircraft repair services, among other businesses. At Madison Municipal Airport, Cliff Robinson runs Robinson Aerobatics, where he teaches aerobatics and gives rides in his 1941 Boeing Stearman biplane.

Cliff’s 1941 Boeing Stearman biplane.

When Boeing Made Biplanes

Cliff’s Boeing Stearman, a military training aircraft that was the steppingstone before pilots moved on to fighters, has been restored and modified. The engine puts out 500 horsepower, roughly double what it originally had. After stepping up the wing, I grabbed the handles on the top wing and lowered myself into the cockpit. Amazingly, all 6’2 of me fit perfectly into the front passenger cockpit. I had wondered about how much space the cockpit would have. People tended to be shorter in 1941, and this plane’s purpose was to train pilots, not fly them across the country in luxury. After getting strapped in and putting on a headset, we were almost ready to go. On the ground, the Boeing Stearman points upward due to its “taildragger” style landing gear layout, meaning that, unlike many contemporary aircraft, it has two wheels in the front and one in the back.

The Ohio River Valley from 2,100 Feet

After taxiing and a pre-flight check, we took flight. The Boeing Stearman did not need a lot of runway to take off, and it climbed effortlessly. Soon, we were 2,100 feet up, and farm fields and woods appeared as a colorful patchwork quilt on the ground. Despite the 500 horsepower, the noise from the front seat was not excessively loud. Cliff remarked that we could see for 50 miles. I could feel the grin on my face. We crossed the Ohio River that separates Indiana and Kentucky. I saw it extend into the horizon as it weaved its way out of sight. We passed by downtown Madison, nestled between the Ohio River and the hill that leads down to it. It appeared as rows and rows of neat brick buildings. After turning back into Indiana, it was my time to take the controls.

I had never flown a plane before, but if I was going to do it for the first time, it might as well be in an 80-year-old, 500 horsepower aerobatic biplane. I took the control stick in my right hand and did my best to keep the plane smooth as I looked towards the horizon and the Stearman made its way through the air. After heading straight for a while, Cliff told me over the radio to make a left. I let the wings drop to the left and looked into the turn. After bringing the plane back to level flight and continuing to fly a bit, it was time to hand the controls back to Cliff. We then made our way back to the airport. After landing and taxiing to a stop, I headed back through the building. The Boeing Stearman undoubtedly made an impression upon landing. A man sitting in the building with a smile on his face who seemed as excited as I was asked how it was. “It was great!”

For More Information

You can check out Cliff Robin’s website here: www.cliffrobinsonaerobatics.com. You can also visit Madison Municipal Airport’s website at www.madisonmunicipalairport.com. For more information on Madison, Indiana you can go to their website at visitmadison.org Know of a place I should go to for my next blog, or if you have ever flown or ridden in a Stearman let me know in the comments!

One reply on “Biplane Ride Over the Ohio River Valley”

A great adventure Joe. That old plane surely packs a punch with 500 hp. As a long ago birthday present I was given a flight in a 1960s Cessna. What amazed me at the time was how easy it was to manouver it in flight with the central “joystick”. Landing it would have been a different matter though! Something I wasn’t allowed to attempt.

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