Alumni Spotlight: The
wind in his hair Alan Lopez '65 pilots
vintage biplane to out of the way places
Over the past 12 years, Alan Lopez '65 has flown his vintage open-cockpit
biplane to every state in the continental U.S. and every Canadian
province guided only by a compass and aeronautical chart.
"The adventure and romance of the early days of aviation
always appealed to me," he says. Lopez navigates by visible
landmarks, such as rivers, railroads, highways, and mountain ridges,
eschewing ground-based electronic aids. "This way, you see
so much more, because you are paying attention to the details of
the country below," says Lopez. "Plus, you always know
exactly where you are. You just have to make sure the chart doesn't
blow out of the cockpit."
A former retailer in Princeton, where he still lives, Lopez was
a "recreational flyer" until a visit in 1984 to Van Sant
Airport, in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, a grass field that is home to
many vintage aircraft. "Just one flight in an open-cockpit
plane, with a spectacular view of the countryside from a thousand
feet up," he says, "and anybody would be hooked."
So Lopez learned to pilot one of the legendary Stearman biplanes,
most of which, like Lopez's own 1940 Stearman, were used as training
planes by the U.S. military during World War II. His plane boasts
a steel fuselage, a wooden propeller and two sets of wooden wings,
a 225-horsepower engine, and a cruising speed of 100 m.p.h., which
is comparable to a modern-day small plane.
Aboard what he calls "my magic carpet," Lopez has "visited
places you'd never get to see otherwise" small towns
like Chillicothe, Missouri; Watertown, Wisconsin; and Stephenville,
Newfoundland. He has experienced some vicious winds, heavy fogs,
and "a few exciting storms." But he has also had the exhilaration
of viewing the Rockies "the way the birds do." Lopez details
his adventures in Biplane Odyssey (Mountain Press, 1999) and maintains
a Web site at biplaneodyssey.com.
By Caroline Moseley
Princeton writer Caroline Moseley is a frequent contributor