Plane & Pilot
Monday, December 5, 2011

The Littlest Boeing

Boeing’s venerable Stearman is one of the smallest landplanes the company built

Shortly after I purchased my first airplane in 1968 (a Globe Swift), I shared an executive hangar with a Ryan PT-22 and a Big Yellow Stearman, the latter owned by a retired Pan Am captain. Yes, it was one of those Stearmans, a totally restored prize winner, a perfect example of time standing still. It was as perfect as unlimited money and several thousand hours of TLC could make it. Doug was fanatical about his airplane and also given to a certain amount of whimsy.
I rode with him several times, but they were always rides, not flights, as he'd conveniently removed the front stick, so no one else could actually fly his airplane. As it happened, his Stearman's registration was N22747, and Doug, characteristically irreverent, took every advantage of the N-number.

He flew the airplane regularly, and said he delighted in contacting approach control at Long Beach, called simply SoCal in those days, and announcing, "SoCal, this is Boeing 747 at the east tip with Oscar. We'd like the ILS to Long Beach."

Doug chuckled that the controllers were always amazed when they assigned him a discrete squawk and identified his airplane on radar, flying the approach at 70 knots. The next call from ATC was usually something like, "Say again type aircraft."

These days, I have another friend with an equally pristine Boeing Stearman, Mike Hanson of Westminister, Calif. Hanson doesn't fly many ILSs in his Stearman, real or practice, but he and his vintage Boeing model 75 are a common sight in the skies over Southern California. His airplane is a fully restored Navy N2S3 trainer, a 1943 model, one of the 10,346 built by Boeing as primary flight-training machines during World War II, and used all over the world as a military trainer. Since the airplane never saw combat, there was little to demilitarize after the war, and thousands of Stearmans were sold as surplus.

Hanson is a roofing contractor by trade, and as he admits, he came by his classic airplane in perhaps the best/worst way possible. He inherited it. "I had a good friend in the early 1990s who owned this airplane and a Bonanza," Hanson explains. "He dearly loved his Stearman. When he died a few years later, he willed it to me, and suddenly, I became caretaker of a treasured piece of aviation history."

Since then, Hanson and his wife, Kendle, have established their own freelance barnstorming business ( out of Compton, hopping rides above the spectacular Palos Verdes coastline. The Hansons have logged some 2,000 hours in their classic Boeing in the last 13 years.

Unlike some antique flying machines that seem to sit in their hangars, the Stearman isn't a shop queen. Hanson reports maintenance hasn't been that difficult, partially because of the number of airplanes still on the registry.

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