Howard & Julie Thomas
Howard Thomas Over Pensacola Beach
During Veterans Flight 2018
Veterans Flight is pleased Howard and Julie Thomas are joining us again for the 2019 Pensacola Beach Air Show.
The son of an Air Force pilot, Howard attended elementary school in Fort Walton Beach while his father was stationed at Hurlburt Field. Howard’s father trained to fly AC-47 “Spooky” gunships, which he later flew in Vietnam and Germany.
After Howard’s father retired from the Air Force he purchased a farm near Madison, Missouri. After Howard finished high school he attended the University of Missouri. He graduated in 1990 and received a commission in the Air Force. He served 11 years as a maintenance and transportation officer, frequently deploying to locations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Croatia.
Julie Thomas is also a former Air Force officer. After receiving her wings she flew the Lockheed C-141 “Starlifter,” which for many years was the Air Force’s primary large transport. After completing her Air Force service, Julie was hired as a pilot by Federal Express.
After Howard and Julie left the Air Force, they returned to Tennessee where Howard operates his family’s farm and does maintenance work on small aircraft. Howard and Julie are teaching their two teenage boys to farm and fly. Understanding that “real airplanes” have their little wheels in the tail, their sons are learning to fly in their Stearman, a Maule and an aerobatic American Champion Decathlon.
Peggy & Charles Tucker with Howard & Julie Thomas
During Veterans Flight 2016
Howard and Julie's Stearman was manufactured in 1941 as an Army Air Corps PT-17. They don’t have any information about its military service, but like most Stearmans it was sold as surplus when the war ended and converted to a crop-duster. It then spent more than 30 years crop dusting in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
During its conversion to a crop-duster the original 220 horse power engine was removed and replaced with a 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine. The fuselage’s fabric covering was replaced with metal, and a balanced elevator installed. The front cockpit’s seat, flight controls and instrument panel were removed and replaced with a 230 gallon hopper tank to supply the spray bars that were installed under the bottom wing.
Left: Howard and Julie’s Stearman in its pre-restoration crop dusting configuration.
Like most crop dusters, its logbooks and FAA records tell a story of multiple crashes and repossessions during its aerial application career.
After its crop dusting career ended, the airplane needed significant restoration before it was ready for civilian use. The hopper tank and spray bars were removed and the front cockpit restored to its original configuration. The 450 horsepower engine, as well as the metalized fuselage and balanced elevator are still installed
Although Howard is an FAA certificated A&P mechanic with an Inspection Authorization, he was fortunate (or smart) to purchase their Stearman in 2008 after its initial restoration was completed. He has added several modifications, including Redline disc brakes and a smoke system. He has also recovered one wing and both ailerons. He and Julie operate the Stearman from a grass strip at their home in Hernando, Mississippi.