Many in Cottage Grove got the chance to experience the miracle of flight at the 39th Annual Jim Wright Memorial Stearman Fly-In. Hosted by The Oregon Aviation Historical Society (OAHS), biplane pilots from all over the area flew into Jim Wright Memorial Field in Cottage Grove for a weekend of fun and flying.
“Until you experience it, it’s just hard to explain, Mike Carpentiero, biplane pilot and owner of Nostalgic Warbird and Biplane Rides, said.
Carpentiero flew customers in his biplane throughout the weekend, flying up to four people at time to an altitude of 1,000 feet for 15 minutes. When Carpentiero isn’t giving rides in his 1929 new standard biplane named Stanley, he owns and operates an organic hazelnut farm in Jefferson, Oregon. Even with a busy day of flying ahead, he still makes time for jokes with passengers.
“The flights are free, but the landings cost 80 bucks,” Carpentiero said.
Micolle Garrett celebrated her dad’s 71st birthday with a ride in the biplane. While she said she did feel a bit nauseous from the plane going up and down, Garrett said they had the time of their lives.
“Amazing, it was awesome. Like the best experience. It was really cool,” Garrett said.
The goal of the event was to celebrate the life of Jim Wright, a local aviator and businessman who died in plane crash on August 4, 2003. The airfield was renamed in his honor in December of that year.
Biplanes from Oregon, California and Washington flew in for the Fly-In. Homemade stearman lined the airfield as owners and enthusiast talked about their hobby. Boeing created the stearman, a type of biplane, in the late 1930s. The biplane was used as a test plane to train WW2 pilots. After the war, the stearman sold as military surplus for civilian use. Many were used as crop dusters, Cassandra Barrong, the administer assistant for OAHS, said.
This year’s Fly-In featured a pancake breakfast with all proceeds going towards supporting the OAHS’s museum. The organization was originally incorporated in 1983 with a mission is to collect, preserve, and restore Oregon related aviation artifacts for educational purposes.
“We here at Cottage Grove are excited to bring living history through these WW2 Biplanes,” Barrong said.
While many came for the plane rides, Carpentiero said there were fewer planes in attendance than in previous years. Most stearman cost $110,000, with Carpentiero’s plane worth $300,000. With the high costs and unavailability of parts, the biplane community has been shrinking in recent years.
“Yeah, it’s always been old guys, these planes aren't cheap,” Carpentiero said.
Regardless, many came to take part in the festivities, such as admiring each other planes and telling stories. Some pilots even camped out on the field, Carpentiero being one of them.
In addition, the airport is alive and well. The grand opening of the Cottage Grove Welcome Center and Pilot Lounge is scheduled for August 15 at noon.
The lounge will provide indoor plumbing and running water for the pilots who use the airport. In addition, the City of Cottage Grove has donated a car for pilots to use around town. Local pilots have also donated two bikes as well. The news has created a buzz among the pilot community. As a result, traffic to the airport is expected to increase, Barrong said.