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Fellow pilot puzzled by fatal crash

A West Milton man who for 30 years flew the same model Stearman 450-HP aerobatic plane that crashed Saturday afternoon at the Vectren Dayton Air Show said all seemed fine in with the maneuver until the pilot moved to right the plane.

“He was stable, inverted then he was rolling back upright and he caught the wing tip,” Bob Wagner said after viewing video of the crash that claimed the life of Jane Wicker and pilot Charlie Schwenker.

Wagner, who had checked out a pilot on the same model plane Friday, said it was impossible to determine what caused the fatal slip.

“The engine was sounding good to me on the video,” said the many who flies out of his own airport. “The roll out looked under control to me. The heading appeared normal to me.”

Wagner, who knew Wicker and said he last saw her about a year ago, said she was known as a top professional and did not take undue risks in what is by nature a risky profession.

“I’ve seen some of those (people),” he said. “You want to tap them on the shoulder” and have a talk, he said.

The 71-year-old, who has been flying for 55 years, likened the danger to running the Indianapolis 500.

Although pilots on the air show circuit are required to pass muster before an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator, he said, “there’s risks associated and you go with your eyes open.”

Wagner said the Stearman biplane is a natural for wing walking.

Stable enough for training “ham-fisted beginning pilots” in World War II, he said, many of the planes were sold as surplus after the war and retrofitted with 450-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines for use as crop sprayers.

The addition of fuel injection allowed them to fly inverted for aerobatics, giving them characteristics perfect for air shows.

The body is big enough to “show well in the sky,” he said, and they produce an imposing sound.

“It’s a big rumbling sound. It’s like a Harley sound.”

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