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Taking Flight In A Mississippi Farmer's World War II-Era Biplane03:44
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After World War II, Jason Wade says this biplane was converted into a crop duster by the company that would eventually become Delta Airlines. Nearly 80 years after it was first built, Wade has meticulously maintained it. "They're just good old stable airplanes," he says. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)
After World War II, Jason Wade says this biplane was converted into a crop duster by the company that would eventually become Delta Airlines. Nearly 80 years after it was first built, Wade has meticulously maintained it. "They're just good old stable airplanes," he says. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)

When Jason Wade's World War II-era biplane is airborne, the wheels of the Boeing 1943 Stearman occasionally skim the tops of his corn crop.

"That's true flying," says Wade, a farmer who lives in the Mississippi Delta.

I was there to see how a four-month flood along the Mississippi River had devastated farmers in the region. Wade brought me up into one of his other planes to see the flooding from above. And after that first flight, he handed me a pair of goggles and told me to climb into the front seat of the biplane.

"This one is just for fun," he says.

Wade told me the U.S. Army once used the plane to teach pilots how to do aerobatic maneuvers like loops and rolls. Wade doesn't fly like that now, but "my daddy does," he says. "Every chance he gets."

After the war, Wade says the plane was converted into a crop duster by the company that would eventually become Delta Airlines. Nearly 80 years after it was first built, Wade has meticulously maintained it. The bright blue and yellow paint job honors the colors the Army used on its airplanes in the 1940s.

"It's not fast," Wade says. "It's 90 to 100 [miles per hour] all day long. That's it. They're just good old stable airplanes. They're not that hard to fly."

That's hard to believe by looking at it.

The pilot flies in the back seat of the open cockpit. "I do not see much, it's just feel," Wade says, moments before taxiing down the grass airstrip which has been cut out of the cornfield.

A moment later, I can tell the plane is airborne — but the nose of the plane isn't going up. To my right, the corn stalks are still at eye level. We're three — maybe four — feet off the ground.

Ahead of us, I can see we're running out of room. The plane is barreling toward a wall of corn stalks. But then, when it seems like there's not a second left to spare, Wade pulls back on the stick.

He knows exactly what he's doing. We go straight up, and then bank hard to the right. Then, Wade pushes the nose back down toward the ground.

My stomach drops. Now we're zipping across the tops of the cornstalks and flying into the mist that's coming off the irrigation pivot anchored in the field.

"There's nothing like it," Wade told me before we took off. "It's wonderful."

And now I know he was right.

This segment aired on June 18, 2019.

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Peter O'Dowd Twitter Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.

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