A vintage Stearman PT-17 Trainer biplane aircraft arrived in Scottsdale in May of 2017 and eventually became a display piece hanging from the ceiling of the Thunderbird Field II Plaza and Memorial at the Scottsdale Aviation Business Center. The plane’s flight originated in Cotter, Arkansas and made several stops on its way to Scottsdale.
You may be wondering what the Stearman aircraft was. As a member of the U. S. Air Force in the 1960’s I must confess that I never heard of it until this year when I read a great book called “Flight of Passage” written by a guy named Rinker Buck. In that book, Mr. Buck recounts a trip he and his brother Kern made as teenagers in 1966 from New Jersey to California flying in a small unadorned Piper Cub aircraft.
Rinker and Kern’s father was an old time stunt pilot who flew many different planes including Stearmans in an earlier era and had been highly impressed with the crop duster pilots of the mid-west who he referred to as the “Stearmen men of the west.”
As far as the Stearman PT-17 Trainer, the company had quite a history after being founded by Lloyd Stearman in 1927 as the Stearman Aircraft Corporation. Their factory was built in Wichita, Kansas and by 1934 the company was bought out by Boeing. The PT-17 was a tough little plane and was usually the first aircraft a pilot in training would fly when becoming a U. S. Naval Aviator or Army Air Corps Cadet.
Although the U. S. Army Air Corps needed new bi-plane trainers by the mid 1930’s they were hampered by a lack of funds needed for purchasing them. Fortunately, after the Navy’s purchase of some Stearmans in 1935, the Army was able to follow in 1936 with a purchase of 26 of their own. By 1940, 3,519 Stearman trainers were delivered mostly because of the threat of World War II. It was a popular plane as it was rugged, easy to fly, and very forgiving of new pilots which takes us back to the previously mentioned “Stearmen men of the west.”