Print: Barnstormer Art
In those years the biplane configuration predominated the aeronautical design scene. Man's fertile imagination and inherent genius sought every possible, and a few impossible avenues in trying to penetrate the upper air. Along that shaky path to perfection was a myriad of blind alleys and diversions as experiments were made with multiwing aircraft. Whether successful or not, they provided their designers with knowledge, be it beneficial or disasterous. Thus, each played a tiny part in striving toward aeronautical perfection.
The biplane age was relatively brief if placed against a backdrop of human evolution, yet within those few decades truly astonishing progress was made. From the Wright brothers' first sand-hops at Kill Devil Hill it was to be only 11 years until the opening of hostilities in Europe - World War I. The following four years provided an impetus to aircraft design and progression which might normally have extended over many more years had the period been one of peace.
War necessitated adaption of the fragile aircraft of the day to the grim task of destruction.
This pointed the path to global transportation of people and goods, and led to the ever-escalating piercing of height, speed and distance barriers. With rare exceptions the vast bulk of all these facets was achieved with biplanes. Much of that accumulated experience was to bear fruit in the post-bellum era when nations reverted to more peaceful exploitation of the airways.
By 1939 and the reeruption of war in Europe, the biplane configuration was already well on the wane, with the monoplane replacing its brother in the forefront of progress. Even so, biplanes were not content merely to fade away. Several air forces had them in operational service until at least 1945 and many were put to the task as agricultural dusters.
The past 25 years or so have witnessed an extensive revival of loyalty and enthusiasm for restoring, refurbishing, or building from scratch classic biplane designs. This wave of what might be termed nostalgia merely emphasizes the constant thrill of flying in an open cockpit, surrounded by fabric and struts and the singing of flying wires.. There is no parallel in the cabin of any modern monoplane.
For sheer ecstasy of flight man needs to be in direct contact with the elements he is challenging - he must feel the wind in his face. In the present age of technically superb yet soul less aircraft, where flying for a majority of the present generation has become a packaged, effortless, boring mode of travel, perhaps this evocation of the age of real flying will give an insight to those who have never been privileged to mount the air in a real airplane.
Excerpts From 'The Age of the Biplane.' Chaz Bowyer, Norwich, 1981
Visit Fred Sgrosso's wonderful photos of Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
after you're done browsing here.