What’s Old is New Again- Great Lakes Aircraft Back in Production
By Jason Erdkamp
We’ve seen the Retro-Modern resurgence in the last few years. An example is the return of the muscle cars with retrospective Mustangs, Cameros, and Challengers eyeing the past, but living the future in new designs. The soul of 1920’s Aviation now returns for a revisit with the just announced FAA Type Certified, Factory New Production of the Great Lakes Biplane by the Waco Classic Aircraft Corporation of Battle Creek, Michigan. Original production in 1929 produced only 264 airframes as the crash of 29’ hit. Resurrected once previously in 1978 with FAA certified production continuing through 1985 with 150 and 180HP Lycoming variants. The early ones had Warner Scarab radial engines. It was even the world record holder for consecutive outside loops in an airplane: 124 loops in 124 minutes!
I had the pleasure of flying our restored factory built aircraft. It was amazing to discover a whole new niche of aviation I’d never been exposed to before. I had flown over 40 different aircraft types, but never an open cockpit biplane. Your mind carries you back into the golden age, when to fly a plane you were called an Aviator, as the term pilot is simply for those who drove slow boats. I got checked out in it with only about three flights around the pattern, the Oleo strut landing gear was a first for me in a taildragger, and quite a modern feature for a 1920’s design. The oversized rudder provides instant ground control and immediate yaw authority inflight. In the 2T-1A-2 variant with the 180HP Aerobatic Lycoming engine, 4 ailerons provide a sporty roll rate with decisive corrections.
Living in Southern California it was a treat that summer to depart Long Beach Airport and within a few minutes I was flying with Pacific Coast Highway off my wingtip. The locals along the beach would look up at the yellow biplane and I’d wag the wings now and then in salute. A few minutes after landing I typically had a few airport friends stop by the hangar and admire the new plane, and usually made new friends with it as word spread about the fresh yellow and black biplane over at our hangar.
My last flight was on a crisp December 23rd morning. I departed a little after 7AM and climbed to 4,500 feet where the outside air temps hovered slightly below freezing. Leather jacket, chrome rimmed goggles, and a familiar old flying cap accompanied me along the mountain ridges north of Los Angeles. I paused a few moments to take a few pictures of my old Great Lakes. Few airplanes in my life have provided me the absolute pleasure of flight.
With the new production I am excited to see the new materials and processes that take a legend and move it forward. The dedicated folks at Waco Classic expect to have the new aircraft ready this spring for release at Sun-n-Fun. If you make it down to Florida I’ll probably see you there. I’ll be the guy hogging the seat time in the new aircraft on display.