My Stearman

When I was in high school I had an uncle who owned a WWll Boeing Stearman biplane in partnership with Bob Lane of West Bay Aviation. My uncle was a bit of a loaner, but on one occasion he invited me for a ride. In retrospect, at the time I did not feel that I fully appreciated this unique opportunity and experience. However, many years later my perspective regarding this aircraft would change dramatically.

The Boeing Stearman was designed by Loyd Stearman in the mid 1930’s. At the beginning of WWll the Boeing Aircraft Company purchased the rights to manufacture the Stearman for the military. The Stearman was used as a primary trainer by both the Army Air Corp and Navy until the war ended. Approximately, 8,000 aircraft were manufactured during this period. In the 1940’s the Boeing Stearman represented the pinnacle of biplane aircraft design.

During 1994 while on a business trip to Orlando, Florida I had a couple of days of free time. In looking through a local brochure I came across an ad offering Boeing Stearman rides out of Bob White Field, which had a grass landing field, and was about an hour’s drive north of Orlando. I immediately recalled the flight with my uncle while I was still in high school and decided to make the call.

In the 1930’s and 40’s there were more grass fields at airports than hard surfaced runways. The aircraft of this era were designed to operate on these soft surfaced fields and in reality the Stearman’s handling characteristics from the pilot’s perspective were much more docile on a grass field. The difference between operating the Stearman on a grass field as opposed to a hard surfaced runaway is like night and day. I had always heard this about tail wheel aircraft, but up to that time had never flown off a grass field. As well, I had only a few hours of tail dragger ( tail wheel ) time obtained with a past student in a J3 Piper Cub.

When I arrived at Bob White Field I met up with my pilot and he introduced me to his bright red Stearman. He gave me a briefing on how to get in and out of the front cockpit and the route we would take for our sightseeing flight, which would be to an airport about fifteen minutes away.

To my surprise he asked me if I would like to fly the Stearman once we got airborne. My answer was a resounding “Yes”, with an explanation point attached. Taking off brought back the memories of my first flight in this unique aircraft with my uncle. All in all it was like an awakening getting the chance to fly this 1930’s vintage machine. For the rest of my trip I could not get the flight out of my mind and I began day dreaming of how I might own a Boeing Stearman one day. The rest is history, as they say, and a whole other story.

Napa Valley Biplane Company's
1942 Boeing Stearman Biplane