Plane & Pilot
Monday, December 5, 2011

The Littlest Boeing

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

Mike Hanson, of Biplane Rides, and Bill Cox fly Hanson's fully restored 1943 Stearman off the coast of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

The Stearman's roll rate isn't especially impressive with ailerons on the bottom wing only, probably about 50 degrees/second. Another set of ailerons on the top wing is a common mod that would boost the roll rate for air show application.

Landings were always a challenge in Stearmans, especially for flight cadets struggling to master the big biplane before moving on to the AT-6/SNJ. The Kaydet sits tall on its stout main gear, and the three-point attitude is so steep, standard technique is to wheel it on in a reasonably level stance; then, lower the third wheel to the ground once you're sure the runway ahead will remain clear. Hanson has over 2,100 hours in his N2S3, and prefers wheel landings over three point touchdowns.

With no flaps to lower the nose and slow the approach, Hanson likes to cross the fence at 70 knots and plans a flat touchdown at about 55 knots. "The Stearman is a dream to fly, but for most people, it's a nightmare to land. Far better Stearman pilots than I have groundlooped the airplane, so I try to always be VERY careful on landings," says Hanson.

The Stearman is certified to withstand +12/-9 Gs. As a frame of reference, consider that's well above the limits for the current F-16 fighter. Such strength made the Kaydets tough trainers during World War II, willing to endure the worst that pilots could inflict.

The story goes that two military instructors at a World War II training base in East Texas decided to test the Stearman's strength. They were deadly bored with the job of educating cadets to the ways of the sky in Boeing Kaydets. Their assignment was especially frustrating, because they knew many of the young men they were training would soon be flying fighters against the Germans, exactly the duty they longed for.

The two instructors were assigned to do a return-to-service check flight on a recently repaired Stearman, and hatched a plan to have a little fun. They climbed to 10,000 feet just off the Gulf Coast, completed their basic flight tests and determined the airplane was basically sound.

They trimmed the Stearman for straight and level flight at full throttle, then rolled inverted and pulled through to a vertical dive. When the airspeed was maxed out, prop tips screaming beyond Mach 1.0, the front pilot nodded his head (no intercom in those days) and both instructors simultaneously pulled back on their respective joysticks as hard as they could.

When they came to, the Stearman was placidly chugging along straight and level, totally undamaged.

Labels: Piston Singles


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