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Pa. man does aerobatics in biplane

January 08, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - About two years ago Waynesboro artist Landis Whitsel walked away from the crash of a low-powered airplane he built in his garage.

Undaunted by his brush with death in September 1997 when the 40-horsepower engine quit over a field near Rouzerville, Pa., Whitsel, 51, went out and bought a 1991 Aero Sport, a 180-horsepower aerobatic stunt plane.

Whitsel said he feels safe flying the swift, maneuverable little bi-plane because he spent a week learning aerobatics in an Arizona flying school.

"This kind of flying brings out the maximum performance of me and the plane. This plane is hot, but I'm not afraid to fly it," he said.

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The $1,500 spent at the Arizona aerobatic school paid off, he said.

"I could have been killed trying to teach aerobatics to myself. I spent a whole day just learning how to recover from a spin.

"The course has made me a lot safer pilot. It taught me the maneuvers then I came home to practice, practice, practice," he said.

"Just flying around farm fields gets boring after a while," Whitsel said. "I always wanted to fly aerobatics. It's a good way to unwind at the end of the day."

Whitsel has been flying for nine years. He started out with a hang glider, moved up to an ultra-light and then bought a 1959 Cessna 172 and began taking flying lessons.

He sold the Cessna to buy the two-seat stunt plane, which he found advertised in a trade magazine. It had been owned by a Connecticut man who died in 1998.

"The guy was an engineer for the Pratt Whitney Co. He made violins, too," Whitsel said.

"The plane was gorgeous. I fell in love with it," he said.

He hauled it back to Waynesboro in pieces in a U-Haul truck.

Whitsel joined the 6,000-member, worldwide International Aerobatic Club, mostly because he likes to read the club's magazine.

He won't compete or do air shows, he said.

Whitsel is building another plane in his garage. This one is a reproduction of a World War One French Nieuport bi-plane fighter. He'll be flying it later this year.

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