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The Boeing Stearman Bi-plane - Reliving the Past on a Summer Day

Updated on November 5, 2011

I have always been an aviation buff. My interest in the airplanes goes way back to the Apollo space program years. I was just 7 years old when we landed on the moon. I remember it well, and like all young kids of that era, I was really into anything to do with airplanes and spaceships.

I wanted to be a pilot, of course, without realizing the incredible amount of work it takes to become one. So I got into music instead.

I held onto my interest in aviation, which was shared by my father-in-law. He surprised both my wife and I with gift certificates for a ride in a World War Two training airplane. The plane, a Stearman PT-17, was located at the Planes of Fame museum, which was then based at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. This museum, a private collection, is now based in San Diego.

On a pleasant summer day, we took to the skies in a Stearman!

Flying over Lake Minnetonka in the Stearman
Flying over Lake Minnetonka in the Stearman | Source
Stearmans during WW2 being used for flight training
Stearmans during WW2 being used for flight training
A Stearman at the Flying Cloud Airport airshow
A Stearman at the Flying Cloud Airport airshow

The Stearman, made by Boeing, is a 2-seat bi-plane used for military flight training. There were 9,783 Stearmans built in Witicha, Kansas from 1934 to 1945. It was the best known bi-plane in aviation history and used extensively to train the pilots that went to fight World War Two. They graced the skies at training fields all over America.

After the war, thousands of leftover airplanes were sold off as surplus to pilots around the world. Its rugged construction and ability to fly low made it ideal for crop dusting. Over time, many of the airplanes were converted from fabric covering to metal, and redesigned with more powerful radial engines. These planes are no longer used for crop dusting and are used mostly for recreation. There are many on static display which no longer fly.

Canada, China, Philippines, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil bought many of the Stearmans in the post-war years. They were used as trainers, crop dusters, and delivery planes, among other uses. Many were still in military use up into the 1990s.

There are hundreds of Stearmans still flying at air shows, museums, or in private pilots' hangers, waiting for a sunny day to take to the skies.

My ride was very memorable. The pilot was a commercial pilot for Northwest Airlines, who just liked to spend his time off flying old planes. The flight took us over the western and southern parts of the Minneapolis area, where we simulated an emergency landing and did a few very tight turns with the plane on its side. I even got to spend a few minutes at the controls.

I highly recommend taking a ride in one of these vintage airplanes. The feeling of air blowing across your face and being in the open cockpit on a nice summer day was incredible. You will find rides available at many airports around the country, with eager pilots waiting to take you on a ride into the past.


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