Stearman Flight

Copyright 1998-2009, Scott D. Murdock
25 Nov 2002 - Replaced photos with clearer scans. Updated style and format.
17 May 2009 - Added additional photos.

The Cavanaugh Flight Museum, at the Addison Airport (ADS), offers rides in a few of their vintage aircraft.  Addison is a suburb North of Dallas.  For my birthday this year, Nancy gave me a gift certificate for a ride in the museum’s N2S4 Stearman biplane (N741BJ).  I made my flight on 30 May 1998.

The N2S4 indicates Navy ownership during W.W.II.  The identical plane in Army hands was called the PT-17.  This was the "Kaydet," and the last biplane to see prominent use in the Army Air Forces.  Thousands of military pilots learned to fly in these planes during W.W.II.

A biplane!  Two wings, fabric covered.  Two open cockpits, each with a tiny windscreen.  A radial engine, made by Continental (Other Stearmans with different engines had different model designations).  And it’s a tail dragger.

I had seen this plane before on my earlier visit to the Cavanaugh Museum; sitting inside the hangar.  It is impeccably maintained, and in immaculate appearance.  Today, when I drove up and parked, it caught my eye. Sitting outside the hangar, yellow paint job gleaming in the sun.  Mr. Murdock, your aircraft is ready for you.

The volunteer ground crew greeted me and guided me into the plane. Mine was the front, or student’s seat.  Step up onto the bottom wing, then reach up and grab the two handles on the trailing edge of the top wing.  Then lift yourself up and into the cockpit, lowering yourself down onto the seat.  The parachute is already in-place, you strap it on first.  Then the seat belts, then the leather flying helmet (with modern headphones and microphone).  My pilot was Kevin Raulie, and as he climbed in and adjusted his seat, I noticed there is a small mirror on the underside of the left upper wing.  It is fixed in place, allowing the front-seater and rear-seater to see each other.  I couldn't resist angling the camera for a self portrait!

Engine start! No, I didn’t have to turn the prop by hand -- it has an electric starter.  Taxiing out to the runway, Kevin had to weave the plane from side to side to see forward.  At the angle the plane sits on the ground, you can’t see directly in front of it from the cockpits.   The takeoff run was very short. We took off to the South, and once clear of the runway we turned to the left and headed North.  Lesson learned: clip-on, flip-up sunglasses don’t fare well in the slipstream.  If I stayed centered behind my windscreen they were fine, but if I leaned to the side to look down, they would get caught in the wind and flip up!

We headed to Frisco, and made a low approach at their airport (DDJ).  It’s a small unattended field, so after checking for other traffic we made an approach from the North.  At idle speed, Kevin took it down low over the runway.  Then he gave it some gas and we climbed back up.  Flew over Lewisville Lake, looking down at the various sailboats and powerboats.  Even saw someone parasailing, far below us. Reminded me of the parachute I was strapped to.

I had asked Kevin about doing some aerobatics, so we headed back over an uninhabited area of land. First thing we did was an inside loop.   Starting at 3000 feet, Kevin put the plane in a dive until we hit 130 knots airspeed; then pulled back on the stick.  One loop, coming up!  At the top of the loop we were a bit light in our seats; not hanging by the straps, but just light enough to really make you think about the whole open-cockpit concept. Fun!

Next was a roll. The Stearman won’t do those nice slick aileron rolls you see the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels perform. We did a barrel roll, which has sort of a corkscrew motion. Rolling the Stearman takes some rather abrupt yanking and banking -- definitely got my attention. Exhilarating!

Then we did a couple of stalls, and with the second one, Kevin put the plane into a spin.  (Yes, on purpose!)  That means we were pointing straight down and rotating rapidly, wind whistling through the wing supports.   Kevin recovered it smoothly after just a couple of revolutions, for which I was grateful.  Fun, but scary!

Then it was time to head back. Smooth flying back to ADS, and after an overhead approach, a very smooth two-point landing.  Kevin taxied back to the museum ramp, then cut the engine and coasted back up to the hangar.  I had expected that this old airplane would have its fair share of rattles, squeaks, and other little quirks.  This was not the case.  It is maintained so well, you might think it was fresh from the factory.  (I later learned that this particular aircraft had been assembled in 1985, from original parts.)

Quite an enjoyable experience!  Maybe next year I’ll go up in the AT-6.

Also published in The Murdock Muse, Sept.-Oct. 1998