Window-Rattling Good Time

by Terry Hogan

It's about that time again for another window-rattling good time. Nope, I'm not talking about your kid's newest sound system. Much better. More history. More speed. More excitement. More elevation. It is time for the deep rumble of a Stearman biplane passing over head in ones, in twos, or even in whole flocks of these mechanical marvels. The Stearman are flying relics. They are of a time when planes flew, instead of being pushed through the air.

The 33rd National Stearman fly-in is just about to land in Galesburg. Mark your calendar for Monday, September 6 through Sunday, September 12. The 17 year locusts are no match for these guys. They're bigger, louder, and a bunch more fun. They are more colorful too. I looked around on the Internet and I could find no place in the U.S. other than Galesburg where you can find over 100 Stearman lined up for your viewing pleasure.

Your grandmother's kitchen table has a nice history and it looks nice in your house. But try to fly this old antique at 100 mph a few feet over the top of corn tassels. It takes an antique in the form of a Stearman biplane for that type of antique thrill. Now your antique grandmother might have been good for a thrill in her day too, but that's a different story.

Stearman played an important role in training WWII pilots. Stearman also played a limited role in combat and ground observation. After the war, Stearman were cheap and were used for a variety of activities including crop dusting. Unfortunately, this activity cut the life short for a number of Stearman. Stearman fell on hard times. It's all too familiar of a story.

But there is a group of antique collectors who travel the country, and the Internet, gathering a piece here and a piece there, buying or trading, or whatever it takes. Given enough time, dedication, heartache, and endurance, a Stearman is re-born to lift with a roar into the sunset. They're expensive to restore. They're expensive to maintain. They're expensive to fly. They're a labor of love.

But here they are, returning to Galesburg once again. You probably will see them fly over if you live locally. But it's worth the drive to the airport to see these beautiful planes lined up side by side, row after row, in the early morning and late evening. It's pretty much a once-a-year opportunity. Go early in the morning while they're still on the ground and while it is relatively cool. Take your kids. Take your grandkids. This is real history. It is a short evolutionary hop from the Wright Brothers to these WWII trainers. History need not be dry. It can be colorful, loud, and have two sets of wings.

In past years, the Galesburg fly-in has also been blessed with a spattering of other aircraft, ranging from the odd Chinese fighter trainer, to WWII bombers and fighters, including the famous Mustang. If you can't find a plane out there to "stir your innards", you'd better check to see if you have a pulse.

Of course, you can also drop a few dollars and pick up a poster, a shirt, a hat, or other remembrance of the 33rd National Stearman, yours only in Galesburg. Or you can take a few photos and make your own remembrance. Put a kid or a grandkid in the photo. Help them to remember this outing. Time slips by faster than we'd like to admit. If not now, when? If not you, who? Be a hero for a day. Show them what "real planes" are all about.

I'll be there, trying my best to look like a real journalist, in the hopes that a pilot will offer me a ride and tell me about his plane's history. I've been up a couple of times in a Stearman, and I love it. It is a unique experience. It is an experience that you remember along with a few other "first-times" in your life.

Would I "stear" you wrong? It's a window-rattling good time.