Could it be 30 years ago already? Some thirty years ago I wandered my way out to the local strip where I had a hangar full of training aircraft, to get my first glimpse at the “new” Stearman on the field. I found it; it was sitting on the grass right in front of my big silver hangar and even from a distance I could see that there was something odd about it.
My flying buddy “Brownie” (AKA, Roger Brown, AKA Captain Karl) had been off on one of his typical “Captain Karl” adventures and had sneaked his way out to Nevada, I believe it was, to take a look at a dusty old Stearman biplane. You flyers and antique aircraft lovers understand how it is when the bug bites you. Nothing will calm you down until at last you set your sites on some temping winged Goddess listed in the Yellow Bible and make that irreversible decision to at least go and take a look at her.
So it was with Brownie. I will probably never know what causes his attraction to round engines dripping with oil and all the other eccentricities that go with them, but he was bitten hard and nothing could keep him away from the high desert to look at this particular Stearman. Of course, being endowed with a certain amount of “bullet-proof-ness” in those days, Brownie turned his quest into an aviation adventure worthy of a modern day docudrama.
Now, Brownie had never really actually flown a Stearman before, all he knew was he was in love with them. And so, after arriving in Nevada and locating his new mail order mistress, he did what any cautious pilot would do; he took her around the patch 2-3 laps to get a feel for how the old girl handled and learn about the often maligned and somewhat legendary Stearman landings. Surely that would be enough training to get the airplane home.
Not being a typical pilot type and always being one prone to great adventures, Brownie climbed aboard his new round engine machine and with little planning and even less fear . . . . he headed for Sun ‘N Fun in Lakeland FL. Over the mountains and across the desert and high plains in April, with only a wet compass and a chart, in an open cockpit biplane, from Nevada to Florida he went. Man, that’s true love. A real “Iron Butt” trophy winner of a trip. Not a surprising feat for Brownie, he made the solo trip in good shape, without a hitch, and was really getting the hang of those infamous “tall gear” landings by the time he got to Dixie.
From Florida back to Michigan was the last leg of an epic open cockpit journey for Roger and with the exception of one little aircraft handing event, the airplane and the pilot made it safely home to park on the grass in front of my big silver hangar. The enroute event was an evening landing somewhere above the palm tree line but below the Mason-Dixon Line. The wind was light and the sun was sinking slowly into Middle America. The pavement of the main runway was so inviting that it fairly whispered his name and he set up for his first ever hard surface landing in the Stearman. Touchdown was fine and the big airplane settled nicely to the runway, slowly wallowing away landing speed.
We all know what happened next. When I first saw the airplane on the grass in Michigan I noted that the right wingtip was a bit, shall I say, “distressed;” and the right aileron was deformed with wrinkled skin apparent. There was an opening cut into the bottom of the lower wing skin that had been stitched up with safety wire and duct taped. Obviously a professional “field repair.” Still, the old girl looked proud on her tall gear as she sat openly displaying the battle scars.
After all these years the Stearman still flies! It has landed in all of the lower 48 states and it makes regular journeys between the Brown family wintering grounds in Florida and the summer digs here in West Michigan. After thirty years of Stearman flying adventures in the back seat of the old girl, Captain Karl still hasn’t lost his grin.
Roger Brown is a frequent contributor to this blog and this collection of Stearman photos documenting three decades of what has to have been one hell of a ride, just could not be ignored.
Author: Roger Brown
Retired Printer/Publisher. Private Pilot since 1987 SEL&S. I fly strictly for fun and recreation. Also, as a place to park money that could certainly serve a better purpose elsewhere. I have about 2,500 PIC hours… nearly all is tailwheel or floats. I’ve owned a ratty old stock Stearman since 1990. The Stearman and I have landed in all 48 contiguous United States. (Alaska and Hawaii became states after the Stearman and I came along.) With a lot of help, I restored a Howard DGA15P project, purchased in 2010. The Howard was judged at Oshkosh in 2013 and won a Bronze Lindy. I am a Michigan native, but currently a Florida resident… (Snowbird). I have been dubbed “Ayatollah” of the Old Farts Flying Club of South Florida. We have over 300 names on the mailing list and fly somewhere for lunch every Thursday, during season. We have topped fifty planes at these informal gatherings. Married 46 years, with two kids and four grand kids.