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Biplane pilot dancing on cloud nine

Lisa Marsh

Some children look into the sky and wonder what it would be like to fly like the birds.

Professional air show performer and biplane pilot Bill Cornick knows.

“It was totally addicting from the very beginning,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is what flying is.'”

Cornick will be performing Saturday, Aug. 16, for Air Fest ’97 in an F-1 Pitts biplane. He is a veteran performer, and currently ranks as one of the top Unlimited Category pilots on the West Coast. Cornick also teaches aerobatics, is a national judge for the International Aerobatics Club and works as a flight engineer for United Airlines. He has more than 20,000 flight hours logged.

He began flying with the United States Air Force in 1952, having his first experience with B-52s and B-29s. After 10 years in the military, he joined United Airlines as a flight instructor in 1965. He has flown Boeings and bombers, but he says nothing compares to a biplane.

“It’s like the difference between an 18-wheeler and a Ferrari, ” he said.

Cornick was 45 when he first flew a biplane, and bought his Pitts S-1S in 1978. He emphasizes that the air show planes are not old, but manufactured with the latest technology. The designs are basically the same, but they have newer modifications for competitive flying. They are comparable to high-performance cars, and cost about as much.

“A new biplane would cost about $200,000,” he adds.

For all the performance that a modern biplane offers, Cornick says the key is knowing how to fly it correctly. The No. 1 concern for all performers is safety. A biplane can reach altitudes of more than 10,000 feet, but a human occupant cannot breathe at that altitude. The object is to know the limits of the machine and the pilot.

“We don’t want to scare anyone, we don’t want to scare ourselves,” Cornick said.

He practices on a daily basis, flying for pleasure almost by accident. He admits that even though he is very experienced, he has had a few close calls. He has had to glide to a riverbank in an emergency landing, but walked away without a scratch. He mentions that when in trouble, you have to keep flying the plane, and keep your wits about you.

“If something quits, you can’t just pull over,” he adds.

The Air Fest activities will be at the Lake Tahoe Airport from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. There are some program changes, due to performer cancellations. Mitch Travis Dancing Bear Air Shows and Silver Wings have been called away and Cornick has been brought in as a replacement flyer.


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