Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Eager anticipation and antique biplanes

About 40 years ago, I remember hearing that a Galesburg pilot and some other airplane enthusiasts were organizing a fly-in for fellow lovers of Stearman biplanes. 

Back then, I was busy working and didn’t make time to see the planes dotting the sky over the Midwest prairie and my hometown. 

But, a few years after the fly-in started, I moved to a subdivision about a mile northwest -- as the Stearman flies -- of the Galesburg airport. 

As I drove on the highway we now call “Old 34” each day to and from my job at a grocery store on the east end of  the ‘Burg, I looked longingly at the planes, lined neatly on the airport’s grassy fields. 

Work and raising a family always came first back then, though, so I never did take time to go to the airport and see the planes “up close and personal.” From time to time, I’d watch them from our yard or out a window as they flew overhead – and, to this day, the sound of a Stearman biplane overhead is as recognizable to me as a Harley Davidson motorcycle or the voice of one of my own children calling out. 

One of my favorite experiences was hearing the sound of the engines warming up early on a Saturday morn for a dawn patrol to Monmouth. One year, I stood on my lawn taking photos of the planes as they flew over our yard. 

Another year, camera batteries charged, I looked out the window and the smile fell from my face as I saw a wall of fog so thick that the planes wouldn’t be taxiing down the runway, let alone taking flight. All I could think was, “If this makes me sad, how much more disappointed must it make those poor pilots, itching to take to the sky over those fields like the barnstormers who went before them?”

Finally, last year, come fly-in week, no longer living a mile from the Galesburg airport, I made a journey of 100 miles across an Illinois interstate highway, picked up my then 17-year-old grandson, drove to the Galesburg airport, and joined the Stearman Restorers Association. 

Camera in hand and flight line pass on chest, we walked the flight line, talked with pilots from near and far, and savored the fly-in experience. 

Still, though, this Baby Boomer who remembers watching planes in the 1950s flying over the fields near her family’s Central Illinois home, had not taken to the air in an open-cockpit vessel. 

As I write this, I am soon to hit the road again, this time from the shores of the lake in Mid-Missouri where I now make my home. I’ll pay my association dues again, look longingly at a rainbow of lovingly restored and maintained birds of flight, and walk the flight line. 

Oh, and I’ll do one more thing – something I always wanted to and vowed I’d do once I read my favorite author Richard Bach’s books, “Biplane” and “Nothing by Chance,” which capture the joy of barnstorming and mention the nearby skies though which these Stearman fly and the towns over which they soar. 

I am about to ride, wind blowing through my hair, in a Stearman over that yard in which I stood, looking up, thinking, “I do love those biplanes!”

Years ago, I tried to paint a picture of these planes with a camera, feet planted firmly on the ground. 

This week, once my feet step back from that cockpit to the planet on which it drops for a momentary rest, I’ll try to paint once again -- with words -- the experience for which I’ve waited so long. 

I cannot wait to tell you all about it here. 

Please, come back to savor the jubilation with me when I do.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)


  1. I've always thought of open-cockpit biplanes as motorcycles in the sky. Nice post.

  2. Thanks, Joe. I think they are, but I feel safer up there than I do on a bike on the ground! ;-)Not so many other crazy drivers up there.