Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stearman PT-17: Our military's primary pilot trainer in the 1930-40s

The Boeing Stearman PT-17, Model 75, is a single-engine biplane, of which almost 9,800 were built in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. It was designed as a military training plane and was the primary trainer for the U.S. Army Air Forces and U.S. Navy. It is one rugged plane and is much loved by thousands of pilots to this day. After World War II, thousands of surplus Stearman were sold on the civilian market and were often used as crop dusters and as sports planes. It was built to hold two, a student and the instructor. Its maximum speed was 124 mph (198 km/h), could fly about 500 miles (808 km) and flew at just over 11,000 feet (3,415 m).

This Stearman, along with almost a hundred other aircraft, are on display for three days as part of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Aviation Summit being held at the Tampa Convention Center. The planes are part of the AOPA AirportFest at Peter O. Knight Airport at the end of Davis Islands.

When World war II began, my dad, who went on to career in the U.S. Air Force, was a cadet in the Class of 1944 at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Not long after the outbreak of the war, he joined his fellow cadets in leaving school -as an entire college class - to join the nation’s military. He opted to fly and received his pilot's training in a Stearman PT-17. From training in the single-engine biplane in dusty Texas he moved to MacDill Army Air Field in Tampa, Florida. He leaned to fly the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber, and before leaving for England and the invasion of Europe, he met and promised to marry my mom.

As an Air Force brat, I have always had a very special place in my heart for the Stearman, my dad’s first plane.


  1. I just love old aircraft, but the sound of these old rotary engines is a joy. There are a couple of these that fly over us many weekends in summer, they have a wing walker. The other beautifully evocative aircraft engine noise is the Merlin as used on the Spitfire. Just a gorgeous 'sewing machine'.

  2. Wonderful memories and a job well done.

  3. What a lovely photo and commentary, Frank!

    I've never seen a close photo of one of these, but have read about them in numerous books down through the years.

    Great post!

  4. What a neat story Frank! My dad joined the Navy in 1944 when he was 17.