Historic biplanes flock to Stearman fly-in in Benton

05/31/2014 7:45 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

Owners of historic Stearman biplanes are gathering this weekend for a fly-in at the Lloyd Stearman Airport in Benton.

The blue sky was dotted Friday with the Wichita-built open-cockpit planes as about 16 pilots arrived for lunch at a private airport west of Goddard. Some flew in formation as they arrived.

Ted Miller, a retired United Airlines 747-400 pilot, flew his 1943 Stearman cross-country from Santa Rosa, Calif. Flying the open-cockpit airplane is fun, but challenging, Miller said.

“You get sunburned, windburned,” he said with a smile. “It’s like riding a Harley.”

When you show up in a Stearman, he said, people notice.

“You show up in this thing and they come out of the woodwork,” Miller said. “It’s a traveling museum.”

On Saturday, the pilots plan to fly to the Beaumont Hotel in Beaumont for breakfast, then return to Benton, which is home to six Stearman planes.

Organizers hope the fly-in will turn into an annual event, although it’s not trying to compete with the national Stearman fly-in held in Galesburg, Ill., every year.

“We just thought it would be fun to have one here in the Midwest,” said Victor Riffell, one of the organizers. “We were interested in seeing how many Stearmans we could get” to come.

They also think it will grow.

“We think we can make it a pretty big deal next year,” said Jack Pelton, former Cessna Aircraft CEO, chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association and a Stearman owner.

Wichita is the home of Stearman. Kansas native Lloyd Stearman founded Stearman Aircraft Corp in 1927. Eventually, it became part of the Boeing Airplane Co.

Stearman biplanes were built as military aerobatic trainers with sturdy, rugged airframes. A generation of pilots earned their wings flying them.

During World War II, Miller said his father worked as a civilian flight instructor training U.S. Army Air Force pilots in Stearman trainers.

“They have nice handling qualities,” said Rod Hoctor, a Bombardier Learjet production test pilot and Stearman owner.

They’re also affordable. It’s easy to find parts for the Stearman planes, unlike some other types of vintage aircraft, he said.

“It’s probably the most fun airplane you can fly,” Riffell said.

On Friday, the pilots flew over the former Stearman factory in southeast Wichita on their way to lunch, he said. They turned on their smoke as they passed over.

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