Excerpts From "Biplane Odyssey"
What exactly is a Stearman?
In the 1920s Lloyd Stearman joined with Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna to form Travel Air Manufacturing Company. Not long thereafter, Stearman went out on his own and in a few years was selling a fair number of commercial mail airplanes and a few private models, the best known being the C3-R Business Speedster. If you wanted one in 1929 it would have cost $8,000.
The Depression did not spare the aircraft industry, so there were many failures, mergers and reorganizations. Stearman Aircraft became part of a group which included Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and United Air Lines. In 1934, the Stearman Trainer (actually built by Boeing) began to be ordered in quantity by the Navy. A similar model was chosen by the Army, thus the Stearman became established as the primary trainer for the US military. No matter which aircraft a pilot flew in the Second World War, whether the P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightening, F-4U Corsair, a B-17 or B-25, he most likely did his primary training in the Stearman. Eventually, almost 10,000 were built.
The Stearman Dream Comes True
I did get to fly the Stearman, and after 3 hours in the big biplane I had developed a severe case of the "Stearman Sickness." So I did it. I bought a Stearman - N16CC, s/n 75-623 with that smooth Lycoming R680 225-horsepower radial engine. One could say this was a dream come true, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would own one of these legendary biplanes.
There were no instruments in this former military Air Corps trainer - no VOR, no Loran, no ADF, no GPS, no Transponder. Only a compass and radio. I wanted to fly this vintage airplane the way the old-timers had in the days of early aviation - by pilotage and dead reckoning.
The Stearman taxiing to the ramp at Gunnison Valley Aviation drew a small crowd:
"Is that a Stearman?"
That's the way I felt too.
"Yes, it is."
"Where are you from?"