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Is Our Aviation History Disappearing For Good?
By Josh Kelson

Nothing compares to the sound of a radial engine of a Stearman they say. Have you ever heard one? Can you hear it now? Close your eyes; picture in your mind the sight of a beautiful yellow Stearman, the unique outline and markings flashing in the sunlight, headed straight toward you for a low pass. Can you hear the increasing pitch in the roar of the engine as it approaches, then the raw thumping of the cylinders as it passes overhead? Maybe you’ve ridden in one, can you feel the wind passing over you as you cruise the countryside? Can you feel the grin on your face from ear to ear, and that deep, calming breath of joy? There are few things that bring a smile to my face like experiencing one of these classic planes, and there are few planes quite as classic or beautiful as a Stearman.

Unfortunately, these magnificent planes are quickly disappearing, and disappearing along with them is the rich history from which they came. The Utah chapter of the Commemorative Air Force is working to restore one of these beautiful Stearman airplanes and the history that comes with it, N1387V. N1387V is a very unique airplane, originally manufactured in 1943 at the Boeing plant in Wichita KA as an N2s-5 (USAAF equivalent PT-13D), construction number (C/N) 75-8291. It started life serving as a basic trainer with the US Navy at Corpus Christi, giving many officers their wings and helping in the war effort. It was later modified for crop dusting duty after the war like so many other Stearmans, and the stock 220 hp Lycoming R-680-17 was replaced by a more powerful Pratt and Whitney R-985. It was later purchased in the 1980’s as a personal recreational aircraft, relieved from dusting, and fully restored.

Unfortunately, however, during a cross country flight to California in the summer of 1986 this beautiful aircraft had a catastrophic crash in the trees of the Oquirrh Mountains just west of Salt Lake City. This is when the Utah Wing of the Commemorative Air Force was able to purchase the salvage rights of the aircraft and remove the wreckage from the mountain. Hiking into the mountains they cut the wings off and very laboriously extracted the piece of history from the mountainside. Bringing her to Jerome Idaho, she was restored to flying condition and made her maiden flight August 17th, 1988. She then become a popular performer at local air shows and regional fly-ins and an important part of the Utah chapter of the CAF providing a link to our rich aviation history, a tool to help the younger generation’s interest in aviation, and a time machine to take our older generation back to these amazing times.

Wreckage in the Oquirrh Mountains of Utah just west of Salt Lake City
Restoration in the 1980’s by members of the Utah Commemorative Air Force. There is rich history and many hands from many generations that have been stewards of this beautiful aircraft.

In the fall of 2015, the decision was made to embark on a restoration project for 1387V, and that winter the 4 wings were removed, stripped of fabric, repaired, and re-covered with beautiful new fabric and painted by Jon Goldenbaum. 1387V continued flying in 2016, but in the fall of 2016 the wings were again removed and stored, as was the beautiful Pratt and Whitney engine, and the fuselage was paint-stripped, inspected, repaired as necessary. It was determined that the CAF Utah Wing would undergo the great project of restoring this Stearman to its certified, non-experimental, condition while keeping the Pratt and Whitney engine. It has proven to be a monumental task as there are very few Stearman mechanics nearby and costs are high, and the work is all being done in-house by CAF volunteers. Despite the time and costs, the Utah Wing believes that losing such rich history to the passing of time would be a saddening loss and is committed to the restoration. They could sure use some help though if you’re able with mechanical knowledge, time, and or money, please consider donating.

Recovering the wings in 2015
Incredible to see the linking of generations as both young and old help out in the 2015 restoration project!

If you would like to help this beautiful Stearman fly again, please donate even just $5 to the Utah Wing of the CAF as this project has been self-funded and work is all done by volunteers. There is so much history in these planes, we must work to keep the history alive and available for younger generations! If you’re in the Heber Utah area, stop in for a look at the rich history of the museum and help keep the stories alive!

By Josh Kelson
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