by Patricia Perratore-Anis
& Nick Anis
When I was growing up back in Long Island,
my dad's idea of adventure was taking the family on a three day vacation
once or twice a year to a resort in upstate New York. Dad was quite
successful, but he was a workaholic. Our rare and short getaways were
fun, but I always said that one day when I have kids, I'm going to take
them to see the world.
Being a travel writer has made it possible not only for my wife and I to
travel around and see the world, and as it turns out, our two sons have
also been able to do some globetrotting and exploring. Joseph (13) and
David (11) have been on quite a few adventures. For example, during a
month in Australia, we snorkeled amongst giant potato cod and docile
white tipped reef sharks. At Lizard Island we shared the beach and water
with an intimidating but harmless group of giant lizards, and at Cape
York, we shared a mile long beach with "Gary" an 18 foot
equestrienne crocodile who we kept a respectable distance from. In
Florida the boys swam happily with the dolphins and manatees. While
canoeing down the Husatonic River in Connecticut, Joey and David and I
swam with some shy, but playful and curious river otters. While we
parked our canoe on a sand bar and refreshed ourselves in the water, a
small herd of deer came by to get a drink and cross the river at the
shallows. In Palm Springs, atop the San Jinito Mountain in the back
country, the boys came face to face with a fox that was as frightened as
they were and spirited off back in to the brush.
Joey and David have gone snow skiing, water skiing, sailing, motorcycle
riding, snowmobiling, wave running. They have raced ATVs and go carts,
been rugged jeep riding in the desert, mountains, and rainforest.
Besides commercial jetliners, the boys have also flown in small modern
airplanes to exotic places. For example, Joey and I once flew to
Catalina in a little single engine Cessina and we had buffalo burgers at
the restaurant at the Airport.
But Alas, poor David, who is two years younger, didn't get to go on that
trip. So a few years back, we hatched the plan that David, on his 11th
birthday would go for a ride in a biplane and perhaps be given a live
demonstration of wing walking.
We live in Diamond Bar so we weren't exactly sure where to find the
local wing walker, vintage Stearman biplane, and veteran pilot; but
somehow we did.
The Stearman, which has become the classic American biplane, dates back
to the 1930's and the time of barnstorming. It is one of the most easily
recognized aircraft. It's construction is relatively simple, even with
high tech improvements. Originally, the soft surface of the wings was
covered with cotton, now a polyfiber is used.
Designed by Lloyd Stearman, Boeing Aviation started building Stearmans
in 1933. There were 10,346 built. It's estimated that there are 2,136 of
these rugged and dependable aircraft in existence today. The Stearman
has a wing span of 32 feet, 2 inches, it's 24 feet, 10 inches long, and
is 9 feet, 2 inches high. The plane carries a crew of two who are
typically clad in leather jackets and wearing goggles because the plane
has two open, snug-fitting cockpits. The Searman has a range of 260
miles, and a ceiling of 14,000 feet. At level flight the plane cruises
at 60 to 104 miles an hour. But it can reach speeds of 160 miles an hour
or more during a dive and other aerobatic maneuvers. Wing Walkers might
not want to smile least they get bugs in their teeth.
The Sterman is a highly maneuverable aircraft and requires little
distance for taking off and landing. Because of the plane's taildragger
design the pilot's forward vision is sometimes obscured. Stearman pilots
rely heavily on their peripheral vision for landings, and usually prefer
a circular final approach (depending upon traffic) to improve visibility
and so they can better determine their proximity to the surface of the
During World War II, the Stearman Kaydet (as it was officially named),
was the only American aircraft used by both the Army and the Navy. The
Navy model was the PT 13D an 17 D and the Army model was the N255. After
the war the civilian sales for the Stearman soared. Thousands purchased
the aircraft as a trainer, crop duster, and for performing at air shows.
Today, the Stearman is just about the ONLY biplane still flying in
significant numbers and "Stearman" has become synonymous with
the word biplane; it's truly a classic.
Back in 1934 the Model 70 took an average of 60 days to be designed and
built. Although the Model 70 could withstand load factors far in excess
of what was expected to occur in normal flight training, the US Army
decided to wait until the introduction of the improved model 75 in 1936.
Over the next eight years the US Army ordered 8,500 Stearmans in five
different variations. The Model 75 had wing mounted .30 caliber machine
guns, a bomb rack between the landing struts and a single machine gun
for the rear cockpit and was used as light attack or reconnaissance
After World War II, the Continental W-670 220 h.p. engines of most
Stearmans were refitted with Pratt & Whitney 450 h.p. engines, and
used for dusting crops as the war economy turned into a civilian one.
These considerable more powerful Stearmans are the model and other high
performance biplanes are currently used for wing-walking and aerobatic
routines at air shows. For added reliability and safety for aerobatics
and wing walking, an injected fuel system and provisions for
uninterrupted fuel and oil supply while inverted have been added, making
this plane at home right side up or upside down.
The Sterman Flight Center and Silver Wing Flight Team
The Sterman Flight Center is home of the Silver Wing Flight Team
consisting of three skilled pilots: Hartley Folstat, Ron Caraway, Jimmie
New, and the daring and beautiful Wing Walker, Margaret Stivers. Their
next show in this area is May 13 and 14 at March Air Reserve Base, South
of Riverside (admission free).
They perform at airshows as a team flying the three biplanes fly in
formation and perform thrilling aerobatic maneuverers to the delight of
audiences. A corvus oil tank on each of the planes creates
environmentally friendly white smoke that's released during their
airshow performance so spectators can better see the plane's path in the
There is a rack on the top wing for Margret (the Wing Walker) to stand.
There is also a trapeze under the plane between the wheels at the axle
area. Margret personally designed this piece of gear. Besides the top
rack, and the trapeze, Margret also swings and does aerobatics from the
middle of the wings. Her routine is like a ballet, only it's done while
a plane is traveling between 60 and 160 miles an hour and during rolls,
loops, turn, climbs, and dives.
The team and flight team doesn't normally do scenic rides or lessons
because their schedule is so hectic. They do television commercials,
music videos, and even major motion pictures, plus they fly together
practicing their routines and honing their skills. The most recent film
they worked on is Space Cowboys staring Clint Eastwood due to be
released this summer.
One of the pilots, Hartley Folstad is also a highly skilled plane
builder and mechanic who has restored dozens of vintage aircraft
throughout the 1980's and 1990's. The instruments in these planes are
designed for visual flight rules VFR so they only fly when there is half
way decent weather or better.
During the flight, the pilot and passenger wear headsets headset at all
times, so they only hear the muffled sound of the engine. But the
Margret doesn't wear anything. It's fairly quiet when you have the
headset on and the plane is actually no nosier than a modern single
engine plane. Also is feels a lot more comfortable taxing because
there's lots of fresh air. We were surprised that there was much wind
hitting us during flight if unless we put our arms or face out of the
cockpit or when we made a sharp turn, climb, or dive.
The tradition of Wing Walking started in the 1930's because pilots were
trying to attract attention to get customers for scenic rides. The idea
was that if someone dangling from the plane was safe, it would be safe
to take a ride in the plane as a paid passenger. So these flying
machines would fly down main street and over the town with someone
dangling from the wing, and the they would land nearby offering rides to
The beautiful Searman biplanes and the wonderful crew at the Sterman
Flight Center who also are the members of the Silver Wing Flight Team
certainly got our attention. We were thrilled to share an afternoon with
them and to go up into the wild blue yonder. It made for a wonderful 11
year old birthday experience for David. As we taxied down the hangerways
many of the pilots of modern single engine planes came out to look at
us. David looked like a real pilot, and in a way he was because, Jimmie
New let he take the controls for a bit. We were taking a ride back in
time in a vintage aircraft that was build before my son was born, before
I was born, before there were computers, jet engines, and at a time were
most of the world got around in horse and buggy. And it was GREAT! I
don't think David or I are going to do any Wing Walking but we hope to
one day take another ride in one of their spectacular aircraft and visit
our friends at the Stearman Flight Center at the Chino Airport.
Sterman Flight Center
P.O. Box 29
Chino, CA 91708
At Chino Airport across Cal Aero Drive and the Planes of Fame Museum
About the Authors:
Patricia Anis is photographer and
writer covering a variety of subjects from travel to restaurants and
family recreation. You can reach Patty at PattySein@aol.com.
Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel
and technology writer with 24 books in print. Nick’s beats include snow
and water sports, and vacation destinations. Nick can be reached by email