Thursday, August 08, 2013

Lady Heath and Stearman Aircraft

Stearman 4
When on her tour of the USA in May 1929, Lady Heath stopped off in Wichita for two days. There she was guest of the local chapter of the Women's Aeronautical Association and also wanted to talk to the Stearman company to secure the use of a plane for the women's air derby from Los Angeles to Cleveland. Although a previous request had been made, Stearman officials said that no action had been taken on the request.

After Lady Heath landed at Swallow Field in Wichita shortly after noon on Thursday May 9, she took a ride to the Innes Tea Rooms where officials of the Stearman Aircraft Company entertained her at luncheon. She had been expected to land at the Travel Air field but taxied unannounced into the Swallow field catching the locals by surprise.

Immediately after lunch, Lady Heath planned to visit the Stearman plant, where she hoped to complete arrangements for the use of a Stearman plane.

* Lloyd Stearman established the Stearman Aircraft Corporation in Wichita in 1927. There
Stearman 3C-B
the new model Stearman C3 and Stearman 4 Speedmail were constructed.
Introduced in 1928, the C3 was a rugged biplane with simple straight wings, a tough undercarriage with oleo shock absorbers and two open cockpits with the pilot in the rear and two side-by-side passenger seats in the front. It was a slightly modified version of the earlier model C2 aircraft. Changes included an increased volume oil tank and larger sized baggage compartment. It was powered by a variety of engines of between 128 hp and 225 hp.

Soon after came the Model 4, adding a deeper fuselage and offering a range of more powerful engines. Lloyd Stearman said that it was the best airplane he ever designed. Heaters were provided for both cockpits. Either plane would have done Lady Heath very nicely. But as we know she was not to get the bigger plane she needed for the women's air derby. 

Two years later, Stearman sold out to the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation and later again became a subsidiary of Boeing. Its most successful and enduring product was the Model 75 "Kaydet" which became the primary trainer aircraft for the US military during World War II. After the conflict was over, thousands of surplus Stearmans were sold on the civil market. It is one of these planes, carefully restored, that British aviator Tracey Curtis-Taylor hopes to fly from Cape Town to London later this year, following Lady Heath's route. 
* Thanks to Walt Peterson in St Louis for digging out the newspaper cuttings that brought us this story. 

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