Quiet Skies


by Terry Hogan


The sky is quiet over Galesburg once again.  The beautiful Stearman with their unique rotary engine roar are gone for another year. It was a good turnover for the Fly-in despite the high price of fuel.  The weather was pretty good and a little cooler this year compared to last year, as I remember.  I didnÕt count but I was told there were about 120 planes registered this year.  I did talk to pilots who came from Texas and Wyoming.  It certainly is not a short hop for a plane that cruises at about 80 or 120 mph, depending upon the engine.


The couple of days I spent at the airport, I did not see the P-51 Mustang that often shows up at the fly-in. Even as a kid, this was a fighter that provoked my imagination more than any of the jets.  The Mustang just looks and sounds like what it was intended for.  It is a man-made predator.


On the other hand a C-130 Hercules transport made a couple of passes over the airport on Friday, before landing and setting up a public tour.  It was based out of Peoria.  An earlier version of this plane saw duty in Vietnam.         


I have it from reliable sources that a Stearman set a new low altitude flyover of Lake Bracken during this week.  IÕm told it was low enough that it kicked up water behind it and it had to climb to avoid hitting the flag on the golf course green. If a fish had jumped out of the lake as he made his low fly-over, he might have had (sorry about this), ŌCod as My Co-PilotĶ.  


Walking around the Stearman lined up in rows, I saw a pilot busy shining what I suppose was a highly chromed propeller.  He was Rick Stratton from Wyoming.  He had an early love with a Stearman that he flew as a crop duster when he was 22.  But alas, she was owned by others.  But flying led him to become a commercial pilot for Continental Airlines.  He came to a Galesburg fly-in a few years ago at the encouragement of a friend.  He walked up and down the rows of the Stearman, smelled the fuel, and heard the roar of the engines that reminded him of when he wore a younger manÕs clothes and felt he was out of reach of the clutch of death.  He missed his early love, and decided he would find another.  He now flies in to Galesburg with his own fully restored Stearman equipped with the larger engine that allows him to cruise at 120 mph on the long trip to and from Wyoming.  His Stearman is beautiful, highly polished, and obviously pampered.  He knows how to treat his love.  And she makes him happy; you can see it in his smile. 


But for some, the day at the airport is just a little too long without a nap.  I came across five year old Meagan Lowe, asleep on a blanket in the shade of a Stearman.  Her arm draped over her favorite stuffed animal. One could almost conjure up that the Stearman was standing watch over the wee one as she slept.


Overhead, the formation flying competition was underway.  I wish I knew enough about the different formations to give a good summary, but I do not.  I know one was a diamond formation which provides a good opportunity to get a photo of multiple Stearman flying overhead in a single photo.  And if you are good or lucky, you can get a decent photo.  If you are good and lucky, you can get a great photo.


I didnÕt talk to a single pilot who didnÕt love his plane and enjoy flying it.  But it was a bit like a marriage.  Just because you love your spouse, it doesnÕt mean there arenÕt a few rough spots along the way.  Long trips donÕt whiz by in a Stearman.  Stearman canÕt fly over or through bad weather.  Stearman can only carry a very limited amount of luggage due to weight and storage limitation.  When you fly, you your own mechanic and your own domestic.  You canÕt fly a Stearman through a car washÉat least if the FAA is looking.   But you donÕt hear any complaints.  You usually only hear the Ōcrack of a smileĶ when you ask how he like his Stearman.


If you own a Stearman, or are lucky enough to get a ride in one, life just flies by.