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Short Story

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Biplane Addict
Lifetime Supporter
Nov 6, 2006
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There are so many great stories in aviation, unfortunately most of them will be lost to time.

As I've mentioned here before, I inherited a myriad of photographs and files when I purchased my house. In the folder labeled "Stearman" I found the below story. It was part of an email chain between the owner of this house and an author doing research for a book about Stearmans. Along with the emails are some blurry pictures of the airplane and a copy of the bill of sale.

Those were different times.... Enjoy!


My Stearman

In May 1946 I was released from the US Navy at age 19. I had always been
fascinated with airplanes so under the GI bill I enrolled in the aircraft
and engine mechanic's course at Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa
Oklahoma, along with several thousand other ex GI's and one special friend
named Bill Carpenter. Bill was from Clark S.D. and had served as an infantry
soldier in the Philippines and would later work with me at North West

I had accumulated some ten hours of flying time in J-3 Cubs, Bill had
fifteen or twenty, so we were both ready and eager to tackle just about
anything in the way of aviation. We learned by word of mouth that there was
going to be a big war surplus aircraft sale at the Navy field at Yukon near
Oklahoma City on November 8, 1946. I drew out all my life savings from the
bank (some 300 Dollars) and along with Bill and two other Spartan students,
who had done the same thing, we loaded into my 1931 Model A Ford Coupe
(with rumble seat) and headed off for the big sale.

We arrived at around One AM and tried to sleep in the car till daylight
but it was just too crowded several of the guys went into the guard
shack and sat with the guard till daylight. I guess I must have dozed off
in the car the next thing I remember was Bill shaking me and screaming
"Stearmans!" "Stearmans!" "Stearmans!" I looked in the direction he was
pointing and there, bathed in the morning sun was the most wonderful sight
I had ever seen. The entire field was covered with hundreds of bright
yellow Stearmans, they were everywhere, the parking area was full, the space
between the hangers was full, the field was full they had even parked a row
down each side of the runway.

We were acting so crazy the guard just gave up and let us go on into
the field, we ran around like wild men trying to look at every airplane at
once. But how to pick one out to buy? We finally got settled down and
organized. We knew that some airplanes had seven strand rib stitching in
the wings that the CAA wouldn't approve and there was one model propeller
that they didn't like. So we set up our plan, we would go to an airplane and
one of us would look at the rib stitching for nine strands, another would
check the prop model, one would recorded the flying time. They told us if
the airplane had less than five hundred hours on them the price was five
hundred dollars, if they had more then five hundred hours the price was two
hundred fifty dollars. (The Navy paid twelve thousand for them.) So we had
to eliminate all the airplanes with under five hundred hours, bad props,
seven strand rib stitching and those that had the lower wing tips repaired
from ground loops (Most did have at least one, many had both. A sobering
thought to a couple of low time Cub pilots.)

We would meet at the nose of the airplane and give it a rating from one
to ten. After picking about thirty airplanes that met the above
requirements we took our list in and handed over our two hundred and fifty
dollars and we all got our first pick of the airplane we liked best. Mine
was a N2S-3 Navy number 07624, it had a large Buzz number "A6" on each
side and the fuselage and on the belly. It was all yellow and had NAVY in
six inch letters on the fuselage just ahead of the stabilizer. Most of the
airplanes there had canopy rails on the fuselage but all the canopys had
been removed.

Bill and I had student pilots permits, one (Cecil Engram) had ended the
war still in cadets with about twenty five hours. Our leader had finished
cadets but the war ended before he got assigned to a squadron . So between
the four of us nobody had a legal pilots license. When asked by the CAA
reps. who the ferry pilots would be, we replied we would ferry our own. The
next question they asked was are you Army or Navy ? Since I was still
wearing my Navy dungarees I said Navy, and they listed us all as Navy
pilots and gave us each our bill of sale and sent us out to collect our new

Now that I was the owner, it suddenly began to look much larger and more
awesome than before. Also we had to figure out how to start the damn engines
without arousing suspicion about how ignorant we were. By telling the
civilian ramp mechanics that we were ex-Army pilots and asking if they
could explain the difference between the Army Stearmans and the Navy
Stearmans, we got a pretty good cockpit checkouts from them plus they
filled our gas tanks (46 US gallons) and started our engines for us.

The ramp area was littered with wheel chocks from where airplanes had
previously been parked and as I taxied out to the runway I think I must
have run over nearly every one of them. I quickly discovered that the left
brake power was practically nil on my airplane and with the tail wheel
unlocked I had to keep looping around to the right. With all the planes
parked around the field it was a freighting experience trying to get that
big beast out to the runway with a full swivel tail wheel and no left
brake. The thought of going back for maintenance never once occurred to me.

Once aligned with the runway I looked ahead and with that row of
airplanes parked on either side which narrowed it by one third and thinking
of all those patched wing tips. I got to wondering how many airplanes I
would wipe out if this thing got away from me on take off.

The other three airplanes had already taken off so I had no time for
fear, I had to get going. I took a deep breath and slowly opened the
throttle, as soon as it begin to move the rudder steering came in and the
rest was a piece of cake I was off and flying the most beautiful airplane
in the world, and it was all mine.

I joined up on Bill Carpenter's left wing and with Cecil Ingram leading
the flight of four we headed home to Tulsa. Our airplanes were not equipped
with lights. We ran out of daylight on the way home so my first landing in
the Stearman was also my first night landing.

Bill's airplane was registered NC 75513 mine was NC 75514 by the CAA.
They had Continental R-670 engines and Mcaully 41 D5926 propellers I flew
mine for several years before trading it to a crop duster in Emporia Kansas
for a 1939 Luscombe 8A

Aircraft Buzz No. X-45 belonging to another Spartan student took off
about an hour behind us. IT developed engine trouble enroute and crashed
while attempting a night forced landing killing the pilot.

My first flight in N75514 was on 10/28/46 and my last flight was on
4/15/48. I have never heard of the airplane again but would like to know if
is still listed.

Please use any or all of this for your book. This is a condensed version
of what happened if you could use more please write me.

Dave Gauthier Capt NWA (retired)

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