Prices for a Stearman in flying condition range from about $70,000 to
$125,000. With more than 8,000
planes produced and 1,000 still registered, parts are readily available, which
makes it an appealing airplane for recreational flying. Maintenance and
operating costs are reasonable as well,
with a fuel burn of about 12 gph. Flying
it is within the ability range for most
pilots, but your early hours of
Stearman time are key.
If you think a Stearman might be
for you, here are a few things to consider before you take the plunge.
Fly a Stearman. We’re not talking
a sightseeing flight; get a few hours
with a seasoned Stearman instructor
so you can experience what it’s like to
fly the plane. What’s most important is
assessing your skills to see if you’re up
to landing this top-heavy beauty. It’s
also a good opportunity to see if you
enjoy open-cockpit flying. Not everybody does, and it’s best to know that
before you invest in a Stearman.
Join the Stearman Restorers
Association (SRA). It’s a powerful
resource to connect with other
Stearman owners and pilots. The discussion board is filled with questions
and answers about things like rib
drawings, magneto overhauls, and
landing techniques. There also is a
classified ads section with lots of parts.
Get a Hangar. This is a must, as for
any wood and fabric airplane. The
Stearman is a classic, and it needs to be
protected from the elements.
Keep It on the Grass. Insurance
companies usually require 25 hours
of dual instruction before solo,
although much more time is recommended to master the landings. “My
advice to new Stearman pilots is
keep it on the grass for the first 100
hours,” said EAA President and CEO
Rod Hightower, who restored and
flies a Stearman.
“The Stearman is an easy plane to
fly, but it’s a hard airplane to fly well,”
said Rod. “It is a completely different
level of skill required to fly a Stearman
really well.” Its long-legged, narrow
gear; big tires; and the fuel tank in the
center section of the upper wing create a top-heavy design that is prone to
swapping ends on landing.
The SRA has a list of 15 highly
experienced Stearman instructors
spread out in 12 states across the
country who can properly transition
you to a Stearman. Once you do,
you’ll be in a special club, owning
one of aviation’s true treasures.
“They are a joy to fly, a joy to own,
and a joy to bring out in public,” said
Rod. “It’s a magical airplane.”
there are more ribs and they vary in size, and
plywood is needed for the wing walk. Adding to
the complexity are the aileron controls and connections. “I knew I was over my head,” Rod said.
Rod sought the assistance of Larry Kampel
and Matt Parr to build the lower wings, and
when they were finished, he resisted putting on
the fabric. “They were works of art!” Rod said.
“It was a shame they had to be covered, because
they were so beautiful.”
With the project taking shape in his garage,
Rod’s neighbors thought he was building a
boom for a crane; that was until the mighty air-
frame sat upright on its long gear legs with an
engine mount sitting up front.
90 PERCENT EQUALS HALFWAY DONE
“I made the mistake of thinking, ‘Gosh, this
can’t be many more months away until I get it
flying.’ But then I remembered what a wise old
airplane restorer had told me: ‘When you’re 90
percent complete, you’re halfway there!’” said
Rod. The last 10 percent took about three years
as Rod worked on the complex series of aluminum stringers and cowling pieces that have to
match up from the firewall to the tail. He also
had to design the electrical system, as
Stearmans originally didn’t have them.
“My advice to those sitting on the fence
wondering if they should restore a Stearman is
this: If you have a budget in mind, triple it,”
said Rod. “Whatever timeframe you calcu-
lated, quadruple that, as it will be a closer
approximation of reality.”
In July 1997, after a 30-year hiatus, Rod’s
Stearman took to the air once again. Rod credits
the assistance of countless EAA members who
shared their technical expertise, candid advice,
and welcomed mentoring. Since that first flight,
the Stearman hardly has had time to collect any
dust on its wings, as Rod enjoys sharing the
thrills of open-cockpit flying with hundreds of
people young and old, along with his five chil-
dren: daughters Hannah, Hillary, Heidi, and
Hayleigh, plus son John. In fact, John, age 14, is
following in his father’s footsteps, as he is in the
beginning stages of flight instruction, with the
goal of soloing the Stearman at age 16.
“The flight experience in a Stearman is a
special thing, and Stearman pilots never take
it for granted,” said Rod.
Jim Busha, EAA 119684, is an avid pilot and longtime
contributor to EAA publications. He is the editor of Warbirds
magazine and the owner of a 1943 Aeronca L- 3.