History flies again: Rebuilt 1929 barnstormer debuts in Macon

A piece of aviation history will be flying over Macon today.

Eighty years after the 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane first flew customers of the Gates Flying Circus at events across the nation, it will be giving Middle Georgians the thrill of open-cockpit flying.

“There’s an element of freedom there with the wind in your hair and the bugs on your teeth because you’re going to be grinning,” said owner Steve Oliver, a pilot who travels the nation performing at air shows with his skywriter wife, Suzanne Asbury-Oliver.

The Olivers bought a hangar near Griffin and spent the past eight years having the plane rebuilt as they commuted from their home in Colorado and boat in St. Augustine, Fla.

“We call it 100 percent restoration,” Oliver said. “It’s just basically a completely new airplane.”

When the Olivers found the plane in California, it had been beaten up pretty bad after years of cropdusting, Oliver said.

In its heyday it carried fuel as aerial showman Clyde “Upside Down” Pangborn tried to break the endurance record.

“This very airplane is the mother ship — the one that carried the fuel and would do airplane-to-airplane refueling in 1929,” Oliver said.

It was a fuel stop in 1975 that brought Oliver to Lowe Aviation in Macon as he was flying an old World War I trainer aircraft he had just bought in Florida.

When the plane wouldn’t start back up, Jim Lowe got Oliver back flying.

“Our friendship has grown over the years since then, and anytime we can get through here we always stop and see them,” Oliver said.

After their test flight about a month ago in the refurbished biplane, the Olivers took it to Lowe Aviation this week for its first public flights for Lowe’s customers.

“Having something that really exemplifies the excitement of flying in an open cockpit airplane and the thrills that first got people interested in aircraft to begin with is really exciting to have Steve and Suzanne here showing people what it’s like,” said Henry Lowe, Jim’s son, who now runs the company his father founder

The plane was originally billed as “A Thrill for the Nation,” and Lowe believes it will have the same effect on those who fly in it today through Saturday.

The Olivers are offering 10-minute flights for $35 per passenger, and up to five people can ride.

“Little kids can go and sit with their parents or older siblings,” Asbury-Oliver said.

Only 10 of the original 55 D-25s remain, Oliver said.

The Olivers say there’s no need to fear. The plane’s top speed is only 110 mph, and it can even glide to a safe landing with the engine off.

“There’s no tricks involved,” Asbury-Oliver said. “It’s like nothing they’ve every experienced before but nothing scary. It’s all good.”

The open cockpit provides its own air conditioning, she said.

Steve Oliver said he’s been flying phassengers since 1965 and has never had anyone get upset after a flight.

“It’s magical,” he said. “Every time you land and they start unloading and they’re just grinning and laughing. They’ve shared the magic.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.