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Flights of Fancy in a WWII Trainer

March 12, 2000

Do you fantasize about doing loops, full rolls and 200 mph in a World War II plane? A company north of San Diego can make it happen with a USMC/North American Aviation AT-6/SNJ-4 "Texan" aircraft, which was used to train wartime Marine and Navy pilots.

Kate Lister, who owns Biplane, Air Combat & Warbird Adventures in Carlsbad, and chief pilot Tom Harnish say theirs is the only company on the West Coast offering the flights to the public. For $275, you can spend 30 minutes in the air with a pilot, who demonstrates the stunts and then allows you to take the controls on them, under his supervision, Lister said. "Yes, we take a pilot along," Lister laughs. "The insurance company is kind of a stickler about that." The plane flies out of McClellan-Palomar Airport, about 30 minutes north of San Diego.

The 600-horsepower, single-engine plane, which can climb 6,000 feet per minute, according to Harnish, was built in Columbus, Ohio, in 1941 as a WWII trainer, restored in 1954 and sold to the Mexican air force. It came back to the U.S. in the early 1990s, when it was restored again and bought by an Indiana doctor, who sold it to the Carlsbad firm.

About 300 people, ranging from an 8-year-old boy to a man in his 90s, have taken flights of fancy since the plane was introduced about a year ago. A little more than half the fliers are men, Lister adds. The AT-6/SNJ-4 is the latest addition to the company's nostalgic plane fleet for hire, which includes 1920s open-cockpit biplanes, and the only one that allows customers to do full rolls. The company, which says it has taken more than 50,000 people into the air since 1992, claims it has a perfect safety record.

Reserve at least a week in advance. Telephone (800) 759-5667 (the phone is answered as "Aviation Adventures"), Internet http://wwwbarnstorming.com.

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