Plane & Pilot
Monday, December 5, 2011

The Littlest Boeing

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

Taxiing with that big radial engine straight ahead requires the usual S-turns to clear the taxiway. Fortunately, that's an easy process (at least, it was on Hanson's airplane) with the steerable tailwheel and good toe brakes. Pivot the Stearman back and forth, and alternate looking out the left side as you pivot right and vice versa to see what you're about to hit.

Hanson and I launched from Compton with smoke on and another Stearman in loose formation. The tail flies up quickly, and the procedure is to balance the airplane on the mains.

We headed out to the practice area in the Catalina Channel off Long Beach. Flying at what was probably near-gross weight, the Stearman managed about 500 fpm at a cruise climb of 75 knots.

As Hanson had advised me, "On paper, there are far better airplanes, but I think you'll find there's just something about a Stearman." He was right. The Kaydet flies lighter than it looks. I had anticipated heavy controls and plenty of adverse yaw, but rudder requirements didn't seem excessive. Normal turns left and right were gentle and not especially exciting, but that's exactly what you want in a military trainer.

If you're riding front pit as I was, there are brace wires and struts ahead that correspond with 35 and 60 degrees of bank, respectively. Wrap the horizon over to 60 degrees or more, however, and you'll find you need far more nose-up pitch than you imagine to hold altitude. I did what I thought was a nice, steep 360 with the nose barely above the horizon—and promptly lost 200 feet. No VSI. Oops.

Stalls are a non-event, with no tendency to roll over the top and spin in either direction unless you insist on it. I didn't. Departure stalls offer no surprises. In fact, the Stearman is nothing if not predictable.

No matter how enthusiastically you fly the airplane, rest assured it will take more than you will. During my flight with Hanson, I flew some gentleman's aerobatics, several roll/loop/hammerhead combinations with a max four G pull, and the airplane soared right through them without complaint. It's also approved for snap rolls, spins and all combinations in between, Cuban eights, loops with a snap on top and most other inside tricks. My acro certainly wasn't all that proficient, but the Stearman did its best to make me look good. That's exactly the idea.

Labels: Piston Singles


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