Stearmans are symbols of a time when things were different in America. They remind us of a time when Americans believed in hard work, personal responsibility, and honor. A time when Americans were self-reliant, paid their debts, and were embarrassed to accept welfare or file bankruptcy. A time when Americans believed that hard work and education, not government handouts, were how you achieved the American Dream.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, millions of Americans answered the country’s call. They came from big cities, small towns and farms. Some were in college; others hadn’t finished high school. Some were from old families; others were recent immigrants. They had many differences, but all understood they were Americans and that being an American was special.
The Stearman model 75 is the most recognized biplane ever built. It was designed by the legendary Lloyd Stearman and manufactured at Boeing’s plant in Wichita, Kansas. During World War II, it was the primary trainer for thousands of Navy and Army Air Corps pilots. Between 1937 and 1945, Boeing manufactured more than 8,500 Stearmans plus sufficient spare parts to build another 2,000.
Capable of withstanding 12 positive and 6 negative “G’s,” Stearmans were wonderful training airplanes. They easily withstood the spins, loops, and botched landings of flight training. The steel tube fuselage protected many cadets from serious injury during crashes that occurred daily.
Navy Stearmans were nicknamed “Yellow Peril” because of their yellow paint and the challenging landing characteristics that prepared student aviators for the SNJ advanced trainer and powerful fighters like the Hellcat and the gull-wing Corsair. During World War II more than 61,000 naval aviators began flight training in Stearmans.
After the war Stearmans were sold as surplus. Virtually all were converted to “crop dusters.” Although many crop dusters were destroyed in crashes, the sale of Stearmans to the civilian market saved thousands from the scrap yard. Modern aerial application aircraft had replaced most Stearman crop dusters by the late 1960's. Worn out Stearmans gathered dust in barns and hangars until the 1980's saw a resurgence of interest as aviation enthusiasts recognized their historic importance, reasonable operating costs, and how much fun they are to fly. Thanks to their simple construction and an abundant supply of spare parts, many have been restored to “better than new” condition.
Stearman owners understand they are custodians of historic artifacts and have a responsibility to help fellow Americans understand the role Stearmans played during World War II. Flying a Stearman is fun, but the greatest enjoyment is putting a World War II pilot back in the cockpit. Many of these veterans have not touched an airplane’s controls since 1945, but quickly demonstrate they have not lost the skills that helped them survive the war. Unfortunately, most are now in their late 80's or early 90's and will soon all be gone.
This video and most of the still photographs were recorded over the white sands of beautiful Pensacola Beach, Florida. Long known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and home of the Navy’s legendary flight demonstration team, The Blue Angels, Naval Air Station Pensacola is also the home of the National Naval Aviation Museum, which many believe is the world’s finest military aviation museum. http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org
The three Stearmans are based in Pensacola. Army Air Corps airplane, number 42, is owned and flown by Phil Webb, an active duty Navy Lieutenant Commander assigned to Schools Command at NAS Pensacola. Navy airplane, number 358, is owned and flown by former Naval Aviator Jerry Hedrick, a pilot for UPS. Navy airplane, number 708, is owned and flown by Pensacola attorney Roy Kinsey.
Happy New Year!