Former naval aviator Bill Wachtler of Solana Beach is an engineer with multiple patents to his name. He still flies a Stearman biplane, the kind of two-seater used for training at North Island before and during World War II. After the war, the remaining models were sold off for crop dusters and many subsequently became gussied-up collector’s items. Top speed is a pokey 135 miles per hour, cruising speed about 96 mph, but it is a fickle old bird, requiring the close attention of the pilot, who must be a “stick and rudder” flier, hopefully at the top of his or her game.
Luck was not on Wachtler’s side on Thursday, October 13, when the 82-year-old touched down at Montgomery Field. “On roll out I went to turn off [the runway],” Wachtler wrote in an accident report filed with the National Transportation Safety Board in November. “The right brake locked. Applied left brake to prevent swerve off runway. Plane pitched forward on to its back.” Fortunately, Wachtler and his passenger, cousin Paul Wachtler, walked away from the incident: “Released restraining belts, plane was upside down. Lowered to ground and climbed out.” Moral of the story? “Don’t try to turn off runway before having slowed down adequately.”
Interviewed last week, Wachtler said the airplane is still under repair at Montgomery Field, but he expects to fly it again as soon as he gets an in-flight checkout by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. No more solos, though; the government will require him to have a certified pilot in the second seat on every outing. His motto: “Enjoy every day you have.”