First flown in 1934, the Stearman name changed depending on the nation and military branch flying it. Most common was the PT-17, built for the U.S. Army Air Corps and outfitted with a 220 hp Continental R-670-5 engine. Regardless of name, the plane served as the primary military trainer for a half dozen nations. Its welded steel fuselage allowed the plane to take the punishment of student pilots while the wooden wings and fabric covering reduced costs compared to all metal airplanes.
The tandem cockpit design allowed the student to sit in the front
cockpit, with the instructor in the back. With the controls linked
between the two cockpits, instructor pilots could easily take control of
the plane when student pilots faltered.
After World War II,
civilian pilots used Stearmans for barnstorming, crop dusters, pulling
advertising banners, and more. Stearmans were a common sight at College
Park Airport during the Brinckerhoff years, particularly at the air
races and as stunt planes.
The Museum's Stearman has an unusual
contribution to the history of aviation. In April 2000, Gus McLeod flew
this Stearman N8NP for the first open-cockpit flight over the North
Pole. McLeod took off from Montgomery Air Park in Gaithersburg, MD, and
after 13-days, circled the North Pole on April 17. Unfortunately,
mechanical problems forced him to abandon the Stearman on an ice floe. A
month later, he returned to find that N8NP had drifted about 80 miles
from where he had left it. The repaired airplane and McLeod flew as far
as Alert, Nunavut, Canada before the weather prohibited further flight.
With help from the National Air and Space Museum, New York Air National
Guard, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Navy, N8NP was finally brought back to
Maryland. Gus McLeod flew the plane one last time at the 2000 College
Park Air Fair before donating it to the College Park Aviation Museum.
Span: 32 feet, 2 inches
Length: 24 feet, 10 inches
Original power plant: 220 hp Continental R-670
Empty Weight: 1,936 lbs
Gross Weight: 2,717 lbs
Maximum Speed: 124 mph
Range: 505 miles
Note: according to Jane's; PT-17 specifications vary from source to source