Why We Remember
The Stearman biplane is a symbol of a time when things were different in America. Stearmans 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. Many 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. Based on earlier designs of the legendary Lloyd Stearman, it was manufactured at Boeing’s plant in Wichita, Kansas. During World War II, it was the primary trainer for hundreds of thousands of Navy and Army Air Corps pilots. Production began in 1937 and continued into1945. Boeing manufactured more than 8,500 Stearmans, plus enough spare parts to build another 2,000 airplanes.
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 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 educate their fellow Americans about the role Stearmans played during World War II. While flying a Stearman is fun, many Stearman owners greatest enjoyment is putting a World War II pilot back in the cockpit. Although many of these veterans have not touched an airplane’s controls since 1945, they 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 soon all will be gone.
Words aren’t adequate to explain the Stearman mystique. While a true understanding comes only from flying the airplane, the link below is to a short video that will help you understand why so many World War II aviators and current Stearman owners are passionate about these old airplanes.
The Happy New Year 2014 video and most of the photographs were recorded over the white sands of beautiful Pensacola Beach, Florida. Long known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” Naval Air Station Pensacola is the home of the Navy’s legendary flight demonstration team, The Blue Angels, as well as the National Naval Aviation Museum, a world class facility which many believe is the world’s finest military aviation museum.
The Stearmans in this photo are based in the Pensacola area. Army Air Corps Number 42, is owned and flown by retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Phil Webb, whose last assignment was Schools Command at NAS Pensacola. Navy Number 358, is owned and flown by former Naval Aviator Jerry Hedrick, a pilot for UPS. Navy Number 708, is owned and flown by Pensacola attorney Roy Kinsey.