Bringing History Home

The Embry-Riddle WACO story and its next chapter.

The vintage WACO Model 10 aircraft that since 2010 has thrilled audiences with a flyover at the start of each Wings and Waves Air Show in Daytona Beach has a story, and its story starts and ends with Embry-Riddle.

On Sept. 28, 1928, T. Higbee Embry, a founding partner of the Embry-Riddle Company, sold a WACO Model 10 biplane to the company for $1. This WACO served in the Embry-Riddle Company’s fleet, operating out of Lunken Field, Ohio, as a flight trainer and for airmail delivery until it was sold in 1929.

Eighty years later, Embry-Riddle, which had evolved from an aircraft sales and aviation training company, airmail contractor and air transport carrier, to a fully accredited aeronautical university, rediscovered the aircraft and bought it back.

It was pure chance that this piece of Embry-Riddle history resurfaced eight decades after its sale. In 2008, Jeff Davis, director of development, learned of an airplane in Indiantown, Fla., that might be connected to the university. Curious, Davis called the owner, Clyde Dawson. “When I called Clyde, he said he had gone to the Smithsonian to get the original plans so he could rebuild the airplane,” Davis says. “In the records, he found T. Higbee Embry’s and John Paul Riddle’s signatures on the original 1928 sale document. He then spent seven years restoring the WACO and collecting its history.”

“There’s not much [instrumentation]. The most important is the engine gauge: oil pressure and temperature. It has as an airspeed indicator, which may or may not work. The altimeter is reasonable. The compass works as well as compasses worked in 1928.”

Pat Anderson, professor of aerospace engineering

On July 29, 2009, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University purchased the aircraft and Dawson’s historical documentation. Steve Dedmon (’94, WW), associate chair and professor of law for the aeronautical science department, traveled to Indiantown to bring the WACO home. The owner of a 1942 Stearman, Dedmon was selected for the task based on his familiarity with flying antique vintage open cockpit aircraft. “That era of aviation to me is fascinating and totally enjoyable,” Dedmon says.

Today, the WACO stands as a symbol of Embry-Riddle’s storied past and aviation tradition. It was proudly displayed this past year at several events commemorating the kickoff to Embry-Riddle’s yearlong 90th anniversary celebration (1926-2016).

Famous for being one of only a handful of flying 1928 WACO Model 10s in existence, the aircraft is again showing its age. It spent the winter at the WACO factory in Battle Creek, Mich., where it is being restored and updated for safety.

“We plan to make the WACO a continuously operated museum in flight for Embry-Riddle,” says Chris Lambert, senior executive director of development.”We encourage alumni and friends of Embry-Riddle to support our efforts to preserve and showcase this unique part of our history, and the history of aviation.”


In Their Own Words: Flying the WACO

Pat Anderson, professor of aerospace engineering and director of the Eagle Flight Research Center, and Steve Dedmon (’94, WW), associate chair and professor of law for the aeronautical science department, are both fortunate to be pilots of the Embry-Riddle WACO. They describe the unique flying experience.


Anderson: “A couple of the cylinders are pointed down, and they’re below where we keep the oil. Given an opportunity, the oil will find its way into the lower cylinders when it’s not running. So if I were to drive the piston into a completely oil-filled cylinder, I could hydrostatically lock it.

“You have to spin the propeller by hand during preflight to see if there’s any oil in those cylinders. That’s a real no-no on the Embry-Riddle flight line. If the magneto wasn’t properly grounded after your last flight, it has the potential to fire a cylinder, which could rotate the prop and injure you.”


Dedmon: “The technique when taxiing is to make S turns, which entails turning the airplane to the left, then the right, or vice versa, so you can look out the sides to see what is or is not in front of you. All you can see when looking forward is a whole lot of engine in the front.”

Anderson: “The original mechanical brakes are very ineffective until they work. It’s all or nothing. If it stops very suddenly, the tail can come off the ground, and that’s not very comforting.”


Dedmon: “Although there is no navigation equipment, there is a radio and mode C transponder.”

Anderson: “There’s not much. The most important is the engine gauge: oil pressure and temperature. It has as an airspeed indicator, which may or may not work. The altimeter is reasonable. The compass works as well as compasses worked in 1928.”

In the Air

Anderson: “There are no dual controls, so your first flight is your solo.”

“The engine isn’t as responsive in throttling up and pulling back. It turns at a lower rpm, about 1,700 rpm maximum. Modern engines run 2,600 to 2,700 rpm. There’s a lot more rotating machinery in a radial engine, or a ‘round motor’ as they like to call it, so there is some gyroscopic effect.”

Dedmon: “Between the wind and the engine noise, hearing in an open cockpit environment is a challenge. In the WACO, the voices are garbled and not loud enough. You have to lower your head, cup your hand over the microphone, and talk loud and slow.”

Anderson: “I normally operate it at 80 mph. That’s about 65 percent power. If we were to really push it, it would probably go 105 mph.”


Anderson: “There are two ways to land a tail-wheel plane: wheel landing, where you land it in an almost level flight condition and the tail wheel is still three or four feet off the ground, or you can 3-point land. But in this plane, the wake of the wings disrupts the airflow over the tail, so you can’t get 3-point attitude. So, for 3 to 4 seconds before the tail touches down, you don’t have any controls over the tail.”

Dedmon: “I use what I affectionately refer to as the dive, bank, and yank technique. It is not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but here is how it works: Abeam the touchdown point, I reduce the rpm to 1,200, then lower the nose, and turn left base, all the while maintaining 70 mph. After turning left base, I roll out only long enough to make sure there is not another airplane on final, and then I continue the turn to final.”

Anderson: “There’s a big difference between now and when it was built, and it’s not the airplane, it’s the runways. It was designed when all the runways were grass. The drag on the tail wheel in grass makes it very stable, and there are fewer crosswinds on grass fields. It’s much less stable on pavement. I’m very happy to take off and land it on grass, but I limit pavement landings to necessity.”

Dedmon: “As most round-motor pilots know, a flight is not over until the airplane is wiped clean of oil. So, my final task is always wiping oil off the wings and fuselage.”