My First “Up Close and Personal” with a Stearman

//My First “Up Close and Personal” with a Stearman

My First “Up Close and Personal” with a Stearman

It was pretty exciting for a kid to be living in the middle of a busy Kansas oil patch just across the road from the Cities Service gasoline plant where his dad worked, but there was more. Our next door neighbor, Harry Wheeler, owned an airplane (I found later that it was a Star Cavalier). He was very patient with me and answered my continuous stream of questions. lie also gave all of his discarded aviation magazines to me. I was hooked on airplanes. I had never seen the Cavalier up close, only from a distance while flying over the plant. Then something really exciting happened. On a sunny spring day in 1938, the most beautiful blue and orange airplane that I had ever seen buzzed the oil camp, circled and landed behind the gasoline plant in the wheat field. The plane taxied across a cattle guard, turned down the road between the plant and the rows of “shotgun houses” and parked in front yard next door. About a dozen oil camp kids immediately surrounded the airplane. Harry had traded in the Cavalier on a 1934, D-l45 Monocoupe. it had a full engine cowl, wheel pants and Orphan Annie and Sandy on the vertical tail (the first owner was the owner of the Ovaltine Company). With all of the kids crowding around, Mr. Wheeler decided that he had better have a training session. He gave us a walk around, answered questions and explained under no uncertain terms about touching the fabric. He taxied down that road many times and I can still hear my mother yelling at him as she frantically closed the windows to try to keep the dust out of the house as the Monocoupe went by. Mr. Wheeler worked shifts at the gasoline plant and often left the Monocoupe parked in his front yard. He would later fly back to the Hutchinson airport where it was hangared. This was also the first airplane that I ever flew in and also the one that got me a pretty good spanking. It was not for going for the ride, but for lying to Mr. Wheeler about having permission after he specifically told me to go ask my mother. I guess I just could not stand a “no answer”. In 1941 Mr. Wheeler was transferred to the Cities Service plant in Wichita. I really felt empty without the “next door Monocoupe”, but I continued building models and tuning the radio each day to “The Air Adventures of Jimmy Allen” and “Captain Midnight”.

I was almost eleven years old when World War II started and in the fall of 1942 I heard or read somewhere that the Navy wanted models for ground school. The Hutchinson Naval Air Station was under construction at the time and the Hutchinson Municipal Airport was serving as the temporary base. The airport was later designated Auxiliary Field No. 1. Headquarters was downtown in the Wiley Building. My dad worked shifts at the Cities Service Gasoline Plant so some of the shopping in Hutch was done on week days. I thought about the need for the models and before the next shopping trip I picked out three, a Stearman N2S, a Vought SB2U and North American SNJ (actually it was an AT-ô with Army markings). On Friday November 20 (no school on the day after Thanksgiving), I went into the Wiley building (the fourth floor I think) and boldly asked someone about the models that were needed in the ground school. The next thing I Knew I was in the Base Commanders office with Comdr. W. C. King looking over the models. He graciously accepted my contribution and instead of giving the models to the ground school he told me that he would keep them on his desk. He jokingly gave me a hard time about the Army markings on the SNJ. I found out later that he did loan the models to the ground school.

Comdr. King had also called The Hutchinson News and a reporter came and took some notes. The real surprise came next when they put me in a staff car with two Lieutenant JGs, Helsell and Musser and took me to the temporary base at the airport. There I was allowed to climb into the rear cockpit of one of the twenty or so Stearman N2S’s and ground fly for about fifteen minutes. They almost had to pry me loose to get me out. I had not only seen a Stearman up close and was given a guided walk around inspection but had actually sat in one with my right hand on the stick and my feet on the pedals. Was I ever the envy at Fairview country school the next week. I tried to talk the Lieutenants into a real flight but that seemed to be out of he question. They did, however put me in a Link trainer and laughed as I pretty much messed up the first two turns that I tried. One of the Lieutenants walked me through several and I did sort of OK after that. I received a nice letter the next week from Comdr. King and The Hutchinson News printed a story. I still have both. I’ve often wondered what became of Comdr. King and Lieutenants Helsell and Musser. The old hangar at the Hutchinson airport was torn down several years ago. The same is true of the Naval Air Station, which is now an industrial park. It would be ten years later hut I finally got my ride in a Stearman. A T/Sgt that I worked with at Amarillo Air Force Base took me up in a 450, what a thrill!

By |2002-05-15T17:36:54+00:00May 15th, 2002|Flying-Wire|Comments Off on My First “Up Close and Personal” with a Stearman

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