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Stearman C2 and other vintage Alaska aircraft on tour across state

Colleen Mondor
Flying a Stearman is no walk in the park; it’s a bare bones aircraft that is built for function and not form. The aircraft has a unique history in Alaska as well as in Alabama, Garden and Gun magazine recently discovered. Courtesy: National Park Service

The current issue of Garden and Gun has an interesting article on flying Stearman aircraft and Alabama’s unique history with the plane. Stearman aircraft have an impressive history in Alaska as well, most notably one specific Stearman C2B that was flown at various times by Joe Crosson, Harold Gilman and Merle Smith and that's currently at the Anchorage Museum as part of the Arctic Flight exhibit.

Flying a Stearman is no walk in the park; it’s a bare bones aircraft that is built for function and not form as Garden and Gun writer Guy Martin discovered firsthand. 

Like a tethered falcon with a blindfold on, a Stearman makes almost no sense on the ground. It was designed as a pilot trainer for the U.S. Army Air Forces and the Navy before and during World War II. The cockpits are tandem: Instructors sit in the rear and the students forward, but since it’s a taildragger, and the fuselage is canted back with the little wheel under the tail, neither pilot can actually see over the nose or the engine when the plane’s not flying. 

So the trick is, Stearmans have to be taxied in a constant S-curve, with pilots hanging their heads out one side, then the other, as whatever’s in front of them becomes visible over the cockpit coamings. It’s worse than ungainly, but that’s what we do as we bounce along the grass to the head of the airstrip.

Alaskans are lucky this summer to have several opportunities to see vintage aircraft in action, through the traveling Alaska Air Show Association. Continuing their months-long celebration of flight, the Centennial Celebration is due in Kotzebue this weekend, June 21-22 and in Bettles June 23-24. Visitors will be able to not only check out the aircraft in the show, up close and personal, but also talk to the pilots and find out just what it’s like to fly these amazing machines.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com