Photo Credit: Erica Swenson
The Lone Star Wing held it's monthly meeting on Saturday 11/17/2018. As the weather seemed to be cooperating, I (Col. Page) decided to fly some hours. We need another 5 hours to establish some trends with our oil analysis lab, and good weather is getting harder to come by in East Texas. Saturday looked perfect, so I put out the word that I would be flying a bit after the meeting.
Oil analysis is an important part of maintaining our airplane. Similar to what bloodwork does for you and your doctor, oil analysis lets us see inside the engine and detect problems before they become catastrophic (or even near catastrophic). Modern oil analysis is a wonder of science. If you are interested there is a great article here: https://www.bobistheoilguy.com/engine-oil-analysis/. For what it's worth, the Bob is the Oil Guy site is a treasure trove of excellent articles on engine oil.
So I have 5 hours to put on our oil before another sample goes off to the lab. We don't have any more events on the docket so that flying will be for fun and personal use. Any time we fly our airplane...even for personal enjoyment...we do so within the auspices of the CAF's mission to share these historic aircraft with folks. On Saturday I was able to take three of our members flying...it was so much fun to share a flight in the airplane they work so hard to support. On that note...joining our wing will net you a short "member flight" along with the privilege of joining me or another pilot during transit to and from events. Not every member of the LSW is a pilot, but all members of the LSW work to support our mission...so it's important and FUN to share a flight with all members!
At one point during a member flight the member, Col. Walker, spoke (yelled may be a better term here...open cockpit is a bit noisy) to me over the intercom "It's good to see you enjoying this so much!". He pretty much summed up my day. I LOVE sharing this airplane with people.
Speaking of sharing the airplane...after our member flights I decided to putter (always a good word when describing Stearman enroute flights) over to the airport I call home for work...East Texas Regional (KGGG). KGGG is a Class D airport with a TRSA...this means they have optional RADAR approach control and a (mandatory) tower. It's a bit different than the environment at our home base of Harrison County (KASL). The KGGG controllers are used to dealing with fairly slow GA aircraft as LeTourneau University (where I teach) uses the typical (and a few somewhat non-typical) slow GA airplanes for training. However, when a couple of Air Force Beechjets are in the pattern as a 75 knot Stearman is entering...it can make life a bit difficult for those controllers. They did a great job and Col. Berryman and I eventually landed at KGGG and taxied to LeTourneau's facility.
My plan: burn the rest of my free time sharing the Stearman with as many students as I could fit into the time.
Saturdays at LETU are a bit slower than a normal weekday...so I didn't anticipate a LOT of students would be around. I grabbed the first student, had them sign the requisite Hold Harmless form, and we went up for a few trips around the pattern (combining the fun with some bounces for me...)...the smile on his face was awesome. As we were walking back to the hangar another student was post-flighting her plane after a solo practice block. She asked if we had just flown the Stearman...I said yes...then "you want to go up?" An emphatic expression in the affirmative echoed across the ramp and she promptly came inside and signed the paperwork. She was shaking with excitement as we signed.
We only had time for a couple of trips around the pattern, but as you can see in the picture accompanying this post, she enjoyed every minute of it. I think there was a time she had both arms spread out of the cockpit and was saying, "I'm a bird!". These are the best times. What better way to share this historic airplane than with folks who love aviation? We can talk at a high level about the mission of the CAF and the importance of flying and sharing these relics, but the rubber meets the runway (or leaves it?) when we are working to inspire folks to be aviators. Perhaps, more than any other type in the CAF inventory, the PT-17 Stearman (or N2S in our case) shines the most in this role. This is an airplane that taught many aviators to fly, and successful teaching requires inspiration. When thought of in that way our Stearman was "just doing it's job" on Saturday...and it's very good at that job.