By John Wright
Among the aficionados of antique aircraft, the Stearman is one of the most beloved and well known. Manufactured by Boeing from 1939 until the end of WWII as the PT-17 Kaydet, the Boeing model 75 trained thousands of U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps pilots during the war. The Stearman has found a new niche as one of the most popular aircraft with collectors.
On May 2-4, a group of collectors met at Gillespie Field (SEE) in El Cajon, Calif., for Allen Airways’ third-annual Stearman Fly-in. Participants came from as far away as Casa Grande, Ariz., and as close as the same airport. Sixteen aircraft were present, including a 1985 Waco YMF belonging to Ronald Opatril of Laveen, Ariz., and San Diegan Steven Byers’ unique float-equipped 1950 Super Cub.
Participating Stearman pilots included Billy Walker of Phoenix; Michael and Charlene Walsh, from Lakewood, Calif.; Larry Dustman, of Chandler, Ariz.; Robert Mearns, who flew in from Las Vegas, Nev.; David Derby, of La Jolla, Calif.; Mike Hanson from Westminster, Calif.; and Terry Emig, from Casa Grande, Ariz.
Among the unique aircraft at the fly-in was a 1945 N1 belonging to host Bill Allen, previously owned by actor Steve McQueen. The plane still carries McQueen’s reform school number as its N-number. Allen also owns a 1930 Stearman C3-R Business Speedster, colloquially known as the “Squaretail.”
Activities through the weekend included numerous flights around the area. On Friday afternoon, a group of 10 aircraft lifted out of Gillespie Field for a tour of the area and a pass over San Diego Bay, including the venue of the Red Bull Air Races, held in San Diego the same weekend.
The pilots that trained in these aircraft are rapidly passing away, and without the dedication of collector/pilots such as the fly-in’s attendees, much of our aviation heritage would be lost. It’s because of events like this that we’re able to keep our aviation history intact.
For information on other Stearman fly-in events, visit [http://www.stearman.net/photo.htm].