Three WWII Vets Given ‘Rare Opportunity’ to Ride in Restored Stearman Biplane

by Lauren Boisvert

Three World War II veterans recently had the opportunity to take a ride in a restored Stearman biplane. Bill Jones, Chuck Osing, and Allan Augustine, all from the Ottumwa, Iowa area, met with the Dream Flights organization in their hometown to take a historic ride, according to WHO News Radio.

Bill Jones, at 100, was the first to ride in the bright yellow plane. When asked about his ride, he replied, “It was great, it was real good.”

There are currently 6 restored Stearman biplanes touring the United States.

History of the Stearman Biplane

The Stearman, or the Boeing PT-17, was used as a primary trainer by the U.S. Army and Navy during WWII. From 1934 to 1945, the Stearman Aircraft Company built 8,428 model 75 biplanes. According to the Lonestar Flight Museum, “more American military pilots learned to fly in the Stearman model 75 primary trainers than any other airplane.” The planes were bought on a nearly “$400,000 order” as part of a “modernization program by the Army and Navy to upgrade their aviation fleets after years of neglect by Congress.”

The Stearman was built primarily out of wood and fabric, and had a steel fuselage. It could reach a speed of 182 mph and had a wingspan of 32 feet 2 inches. They featured single-leg landing gear and radial engines, which are a “reciprocating type internal combustion engine configuration in which the cylinders ‘radiate’ outward from a central crankcase like the spokes of a wheel.” In other words, they had a big propeller on the front.

They were hearty planes, and after the war, many lasted years as crop dusters and air show performers. In the world, there are about 1,500 Stearmans still in operation, with more on static display in museums.

Famously, 5 vintage Stearmans flew in the Red Baron Squadron in 1979 as a promotion for Red Baron pizza. The squadron flew until 2007 when it was announced it would be retired after 28 years.

In the 1950 film When Willie Comes Marching Home, Paul Mantz tore the wings off of a Model 75 by flying between two oaks. The 1963 Elvis film It Happened at the World’s Fair featured a crop-dusting Stearman.

In the 1978 Disney cinematic sci-fi masterpiece The Cat From Outer Space, a wrecked Stearman is featured in the climactic scene. The characters must transfer between the Stearman and a Gazelle helicopter. While the plane is old and decrepit and shouldn’t be able to fly, it takes to the air by the power of Jake the alien cat’s magic necklace. a

Additionally, Stearmans had roles in recent films like 1996’s Independence Day, 1997’s The English Patient, and 2001’s Pearl Harbor.