On July 10th, 2015 a yellow N2S-1 Stearman lifted into the air for the first time after completing an extensive 8 month restoration. Bu 3347 is an early N2S-1 with a special history and this is its story.
January 28th 1943 was a typical cold Minnesota mid-winter day when the youngest aviation cadet in the Navy walked out to a yellow Stearman sitting on the ramp at Wold- Chamberlin Naval Air Station (NAS) in Minneapolis. The mercury hovered at 16 F as President to be, George H. W. Bush, climbed into the rear cockpit for his ninth solo flight of the month.
He was up for 1.3 hours according to his logbook. Less than 3 months earlier, on November 12th 1942, he’d taken his first flight in a Spartan NP-1 and soloed nine days later. At age 18, Bush was one of 60 cadets to make up class 11AL, all of which came from preflight training at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
His first flight instructor after arriving at NAS Minneapolis was J.C. Crume. After 11.3 hours of dual instruction with Crume, flight instructor J.A. Boyle took him up for his pre solo check. When they landed, Boyle noted in his flight log: “Satisfactory check. Taxied a little fast. Landings were average to above with the exception of one almost ground loop. Safe for solo”. Bush continued flight training at NAS Minneapolis, including another 1.5 hour flight in Bu 3347. He completed primary training in 61 flights totaling 82.5 hours.
Bush went on to a remarkable Naval career flying a TBM Avenger from the carrier San Jacinto as a member of squadron VT-51. Meanwhile Bu 3347 soldiered on, serving a stint at Naval Air Station Memphis before being returned to Minneapolis. Bu 3347 was surplused on April 26th, 1945, five months before George H.W. Bush was honorably released from active duty and entered Yale University, a prep school for wayward Stearman pilots. In the wake of being purchased from the government by J.O. Dockery of Stuttgart, Arkansas for $875, Bu 3347 continued on as a crop duster and was equipped by Dockery with a Pratt and Whiney R-985, hopper, and spray rig.
After moving through a couple more civilian owners Bu 3347 was acquired by the Wings of the North Museum in at Flying Cloud airport near Minneapolis in late 2014. The museum was looking for a Stearman to add to its collection, but didn’t want just any Stearman. They were looking for one with a special story and they certainly found that in Bu 3347. Not only was it flown by President Bush, but it was also based just a few miles away from the Museum in Minneapolis during its service in World War II! Following many years of flying as a crop duster and cycling through different owners, Bu 3347 was what you would call your typical Stearman basket case. Sticking with the Minnesota theme, Aircorps Aviation in Bemidji Minnesota was commissioned to complete the restoration. As with any project, goals were set. For Bu 3347 the target was to complete the airplane exactly as it would have been when based at NAS Minneapolis and fly it to Airventure 2015. Laying the groundwork for this project, a high quality scan of the original Stearman engineering drawings was completed providing the guidance to determine what this airplane would have looked like when it rolled out of the Stearman factory in early 1941. The finish specs for the N2S-1 Stearman were also located to guide the decisions to be made as to authentic finishes. A decision was also made to finish the airplane with no electrical system (just as delivered in 1941), AC fittings instead of AN, and vintage bolts and hardware throughout.
After arrival at Aircorps Aviation the first task was to restore the wing hardware. In addition to the correct finishes to be used on the interior of the wing, all of the original aluminum bolts were either cleaned and reused or replacements sourced. The two piece sheet metal leading edges were remanufactured by Aircorps. They are just as the originals with a slight seam being visible on the leading edges of the wings underneath the fabric covering. With the hardware kit complete, the wings and center section were turned over to Big Sky Stearman for completion of the woodwork and covering per the Stearman drawings.
With the wings taken care of, attention was turned to the spine of the Stearman. The fuselage frame was placed in a jig and sins of the past 75 years were made right by Javron Inc. Then it was coated with epoxy followed by a coat of the original color green zinc chromate. With the tubular complete, the restoration and installation of all items that fill a Stearman fuselage commenced including metal floorboards and bronze green seats. At the same time work also started on the bird cages with new front and rear arches fabricated out of the correct material and to the drawings. The bird cage was installed unpainted, just as it would have been when delivered.
The firewall forward assembly was also tackled with a fresh Continental 220 overhauled by Air Repair including unshielded ignition (say again?!) and original hardware. All firewall forward components with the exception of the engine mount were left bare, including the insides of the cowling, as it would have been delivered. Since the N2S-1 was built without an electrical system, the inertia starter was overhauled and a correct high hole starter crank/ step assembly was built when none could be found. A McCauley propeller painted in correct silver lacquer, stencils, and water slides finished off the nose of Bu 3347.
With the wings arriving back in Bemidji and the fuselage complete, new sheet metal for the leading edges of the tail surfaces was made in preparation for covering. As a concession to ease of maintenance, the Poly Fiber covering process was used versus the original cotton. Envelopes for the covering were sewn per the drawing by the shop mom, Sharon Hokuf and turned out beautifully. Ten ounce canvas duck was also used to make all reinforcing patches following patterns from the drawings. Using original colors the Stearman was coated with Yellow #4 as specified and the sheet metal parts were painted using lacquer just as the finish specs called for. The landing gear was overhauled and Hayes brakes were used including Gidair master cylinders which Aircorps Aviation just purchased the STC for.
The big day came when Bu 3347 was finally moved to Aircorps Aviation’s hangar at the Bemidji airport. Bu 3347 was assembled, rigged, and test flown in three days and with one week left until Oshkosh! Ryan Mohr completed the first flight, and then included the prerequisite loop, hammer head, and barrel roll on the second flight!
Test flying complete, Paul Ehlen and Mark Tisler made the flight to Oshkosh from Bemidji with one fuel stop. After fueling, Bu 3347 was a little cantankerous due the stature of the ground crew and the height of the hand crank starter. But it finally snapped to life and was pointed east to OSH. Above the crackle of the unshielded ignition on the hand held radio, Paul heard the only radio communication for the whole flight “Yellow Stearman land green dot and welcome to Oshkosh!” After being examined by the judges Bu 3347 was awarded Best Stearman and the Silver wrench.
The Stearman was on display at Oshkosh for the entire week of Airventure. Presidential candidate Scott Walker even stopped by to check out the airplane including inspection of former President George H.W. Bush’s signature on the baggage door. After an amazing eight month restoration, it is easy to see why it is so important that we preserve and fly these airplanes so that the next generation will have a chance to connect with history.