|Diane Miller Fine Art Photography|
Stearman 003 #1 (2000)
"RADIAL ENGINES DO NOT LEAK OIL. THEY ARE MERELY MARKING THEIR TERRITORY."
Lloyd Stearman began his career in aircraft design and manufacture in 1920 at the Laird Airplane Company in Wichita, Kansas. After working for several companies in this emerging business, with such pioneers as Matty Laird, Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech, he founded the Stearman Aircraft Company in 1926 and began designing and manufacturing a succession of aircraft bearing the Stearman name. Most were designed for the emerging air mail and air transport industry and the military. In 1938 Stearman became a division of the Boeing Aircraft Company, which to this day still has a major presence in Wichita. The Model 75 first flew in 1934. As the prospect of World War II loomed on the horizon it became a primary training aircraft for the Army and Navy, operated by civilian contract schools. Over 8500 were built. After the war many were converted to crop dusters. They are now a favorite of aircraft aficionados – the aerial equivalent of a Harley-Davidson – and many have been restored. They are an excellent sport aerobatic plane. This N2S-3, which belongs to my husband, has been immaculately restored to its military configuration and paint scheme. The only additions are an electrical system, starter, modern radios and lights.
I made this air-to-air shot from our Taylorcraft F21A, with the window open. Our daughter Anne, a flight instructor, was flying and was in radio communication with my husband, Ted, who was flying the Stearman. Annie was charged with trying to interpret my hand signals and understand my shouted instructions in a very noisy environment (made even more difficult by her noise-canceling headset) and then trying to get both planes to comply with them. Wearing my own headset and mike would be too simple, and besides it gets in the way of the camera.
In air-to-air photography it is a constant challenge to isolate myself from vibration. When I have a picture in my sights I lean forward so my back isn't against the seat and pick up my feet a few inches. I am careful not to let an elbow or any part of the camera touch anything. This is a great way to exercise your stomach muscles! You also have to be able to open a window. Shooting through a plastic window really degrades the image. With the F21A, the window only slides back about halfway, which limits me to shooting looking forward about 45 degrees. We can completely remove the side window from our 1945 Taylorcraft BC12D, but its usefulness is limited by its slow speed. The Stearman looks like a great photo platform, but the passenger sits in the front cockpit and to avoid the struts and wings you can only shoot about 45 degrees back, a very awkward position, and it is a challenge to keep the camera from being buffeted by the considerable breeze. But it is a great excuse to go for a ride!
Here is an article about a Stearman Fly-In held every summer in St. Francis, Kansas.