The Famous Waco F-2

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Prototype Waco QCF-2 NX11241 in 1931 - The first of the famous F-2s! Her first owner was Continental Engines where she served as a test bed for the A-70 and w-670 series engines. Her test pilots lovingly nicknamed her "Betsy".

Following the success of the earlier “Model F” of 1930, Waco Aircraft introduced the redesigned model “QCF”. Now more than ever, this new F-line with more horsepower, a stronger redesigned landing gear and increased payload and speed, was quickly establishing itself as the most practical of all-purpose biplanes. The new model QCF became known as the F-2 in flying circles because it was the second series in the “Model F” line. It quickly gained a reputation as the highest performing utility airplane in its class. Flying service operators, owner-pilots and even the sportsman-pilot were all giving voluntary testimony of their satisfaction with the QCF-2. Engineers at the Waco factory , eager to demonstrate the F-2's impressive short field takeoff and landing characteristics, cleared their vehicles from the perimeter of the 100-foot circular parking area to demonstrate that the F-2 could take off and then land the parking circle. The short field performance of the F-2 was so impressive that it even outperformed the exciting newcomer to American skies, the Pitcairn “Whirly Bird” rotary wing autogiro.


Waco factory landing gear drop tests performed on F-2 prototype NX11241 in 931.

Even though the 3-place, all-purpose open cockpit biplane was slowly becoming a dying breed by 1931, the QCF-2 was considered one of the very best of this type. Waco built 31 examples of the QCF-2 within a year's time. With a few minor airframe improvements and different engine installations, the Waco factory produced the model PCF (Jacobs LA-1, 170 HP) and the finally the UBF-2 (Continental R-670, 210HP) in 1932. The UBF-2 was the last and the finest example of the F-2 line. The sturdy biplane was happy working out of small pastures and from any designated airfield with ease. With a hardy and dutiful nature more attuned to handle the everyday chores of the flying-service operator, there was still a playful streak in its nature that appealed to those who flew only for the sport of it. Waco Aircraft named the UBF-2 the “Tourist”. The final version of this model was the Navy XJW-1, which the Waco Factory modified in 1934 by beefing up the UBF-2 fuselage and upper wing center section to accept a “sky-hook” for mid-air docking on the dirigible. Two examples were built and delivered to the US Navy for service on the huge “U.S.S. Macon” dirigible airship. The XJW-1s trained pilots in the hook on procedure , preparing them for the single-seat Sparrow Hawk fighters. They also served as “running boats” for delivering mail and other supplies to the dirigibles and for a time were considered for use as an air ambulance. After the U.S.S. Macon was lost off the coast of Northern California in 1935, the XJW-1s had their hooks removed and continued in service performing utility duties at regular Naval air-stations until WWII.

By the 1950's few of the 40-QCF-2s and 18-UBF-2s produced by the Waco Aircraft Company were still in service. The more modern metal monoplanes dominated the aviation industry. A few crop duster operations replaced the front seat with a large chemical tank and used the old F-2s for spraying. It was a sad sight to see these magnificent “Golden Age” biplanes crudely modified for such unglamorous service.


F-2 guru Marion "Curly" Havelaar during complete restoration of NX11241 in the 1960's.
Waco UBF-2 NC13074 inverted on floats over College Point, Long Island, New York, USA, circa 1946. Courtesy of Ed Coates.

The lore of the F-2 would have been perhaps lost forever if it weren't for a colorful South Dakota man named Marion “Curly” Havelaar. Curly, a veteran WWII B-17 crewman, never lost his affection for the F-2 after seeing one perform at an airshow in the late 1930s. He knew that the F-2 would once again prove to be the finest sport biplane ever built in the US and was determined to own one. In 1958, Curly fulfilled his dream and purchased an old, but flying QCF-2. Not only did he now own an F-2, he ended up owning the most famous of all, the Waco Factory prototype, NX11241. During his 18-year restoration of “Betsy” (Continental Motors, the first owner of NX11241, named the aircraft that in 1931), Curly brought the famous F-2 name back into the consciousness of modern day collectors. When completed in 1978, Curly's beautifully restored QCF-2 won Reserve Grand Champion at Oshkosh. This started a restoration frenzy of the few F-2 airframes still in existance. Most have been rebuilt from paperwork as there is little left or useable from the original airframes. Many simply do not exist anymore and have been lost to the ravages of time. Curly himself is responsible for resurrecting and fabricating many new F-2 airframes that have gone on to become award winning restorations. He is the undisputed Godfather of the F-2.


Waco UBF-2 NC13071 at the Waco Factory in Troy Ohio 1932.
Waco QCF-2 prototype NX11241 as she looks today. (photo by Gilles Auliard)

Today the F-2 is regarded as the “Star” of the Golden age biplanes for collectors , commanding the highest price for their reputation and rarity. Even now, the F-2's performance rivals that of any modern day STOL aircraft. As of 2007, 15 examples of the QCF-2 and 9 examples of the UBF-2 have been restored to flying condition. When these rare aircraft show up at fly-ins around the country, they still command the attention of anyone who appreciates the nostalgic aesthetics, astonishing performance and the unique design from a bygone era. The old 1930s Waco factory slogan still resonates with the collectors of today, “Ask any pilot”.


The last of the F-2 series to come out of the Waco factory were XJW-1 9521 and 9522 in February of 1934. These were essentially model UBF-2s specifically built on commission for the US Navy specifiacally for dirigable service.


For more historical photos go to National Waco Club's F-2 Photo Page.


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