Brandon Petrucci of Temecula is a self-admitted adrenaline junkie so when the 2006 Chaparral High School graduate heard from his father that he could ride in an authentic barnstormer biplane, he was quick to jump onboard.
Brandon’s father, Robert Petrucci said when he first asked Brandon if he’d like to go up for a ride in the biplane, owned and piloted by Mike Carpentiero, that Brandon didn’t believe him.
Brandon, who was confined to a wheelchair following a rollover vehicle accident that occurred when he was a junior at Chaparral, said that his father can be a bit of a prankster.
“He messes with me all of the time,” Brandon said. “The first time I flew in a small aircraft he told me we were going for a hot air balloon ride and we actually came up here and I got to ride in the back of a small plane that a friend of ours was taking flight lessons in.”
Robert said he stumbled upon the biplane while getting gasoline for his dirt bike at the French Valley Airport.
“I saw (Carpentiero) kicking back in his chair and I saw the plane and how he was dressed and we started chewing the fat, he’s a former Marine and I am a former Marine and so I thought heck it sounds like fun and I knew that Brandon would have a good time.”
On Sunday, when Brandon, Robert and Robert’s granddaughter Janessa Carter went up in the biplane, affectionately known as Stanley, winds were high so the group was forced to wait for more favorable conditions.
Crosswinds and runways can provide challenges for pilots of biplanes, according to Carpentiero.
“Biplanes didn’t land on runways; they landed in fields, usually on grass,” Carpentiero said. “They have a lot of give. The challenge of flying these things is landing on paved runways designed for more modern machines that can handle crosswind components. These weren’t designed for those crosswind components.”
Carpentiero said that crosswinds and runways were two things pilots didn’t concern themselves with in the days of the barnstormers.
“Back in those days there were two things you didn’t need to worry about, crosswinds and seeing where you were landing,” he said. “That’s why the pilot sits in back with hardly any forward visibility. So the challenge is staying on the runway and dealing with crosswind components, those are the big tricks with these airplanes.”
The delay didn’t unnerve Brandon though. He kept a watchful eye on the airfield flags in anticipation for a break in the wind that would allow them to fly off into the wild blue yonder.
“I’ve been doing extreme sports most of my life so a little crosswind … if he’s confident I am confident,” Brandon said. “What’s the worst that could happen? I am going to be in a wheelchair?”
During the delay Carpentiero took the time to explain more about the flight on the bright red historic barnstorming biplane which was built in 1929. Passengers go up for an authentic barnstorming ride in the New Standard D-25 biplane that lasts approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
“I like to say the ride lasts a lifetime,” said Carpentiero. “You don’t want to over saturate someone because there are a lot of stimuli. There is wind, there is noise, there’s a lot coming in. If you put people through all of that for very long it becomes too much for them.”
According to avstop.com, barnstorming became popular after World War I as ex-military pilots who wanted to stay in aviation began buying up used military aircraft at cheap prices. Pilots began to travel from town to town giving exhibitions of stunt flying and participating in airplane races. Often called The Flying Circus, aerobatic displays were common during the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.
Carpentiero said he does basic barnstorming maneuvers depending on the comfort level of the passengers.
“If I have a real thrill seeker in there with two people who are less comfortable, I try to appease the person that is scared,” Carpentiero said. “You don’t want to scare people away from flying.”
While Stanley can seat up to four passengers, Carpentiero said he will take as few as two on a flight.
According to a press release issued by Nostalgic Warbird & Biplane Rides, Stanley was built specifically for barnstorming by Charles Healy Day and Ivan Gates of the “Gates Flying Circus.” The plane is one of only five New Standards flying in the world today.
“The New Standard biplane is among the few remaining examples of aircraft built specifically for barnstorming,” the press release states. “It is a rugged, simple airplane, not designed for transportation, but just for the fun of flying.”
Carpentiero, who was a pilot in the Marine Corps and then in the Air Force reserves, used to be a pilot for United Airlines. He travels the country giving biplane rides aboard Stanley, a job that doesn’t make him rich, but is one that he loves. He said he makes only enough money to keep him from having to have a real job, but for him it’s not about the money, it’s about a love for flying.
“It’s unique, it’s nostalgic” he said. “It’s pretty cool because I have taken people who have never flown before to people who may have 30,000 hours of flight time. But none of them have ever experienced it like this. It’s a cool experience for people.
As for Brandon, Robert and Janessa, they were able to fly in Stanley after about an hour delay. Upon their take-off, the sun burst through the overcast skies that hovered over the Valley most of Sunday and the family enjoyed a 15-minute flight over Lake Skinner and the homes surrounding the airport. All three said the experience was amazing.
“It was great, it was fun, totally worth the wait,” Robert said. “It was exhilarating.”
Brandon said the corkscrew maneuver Carpentiero performed as they were coming in for the landing was his favorite part of the flight.
“I wish he could have done a bunch of those,” Brandon said, adding that everyone needs to take the opportunity to fly in a biplane. “It was very enjoyable, it was unforgettable.”
Carpentiero will be back at French Valley Airport Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. To schedule a ride, see the plane or for more information, visit www.nostalgicwarbirdrides.com or call Carpentiero at (760) 641-7335 or (800) 991-2473.