It’s a reflection of how advanced we’ve become technologically that, for some select people, flying an airplane is considered a simple pleasure. But when the airplanes in question are antique biplanes with rudimentary controls and instrumentation, the sentiment becomes clearer.
For a group of around 20 pilots and a bevy of attendees this simple beauty was on display Saturday, August 3 at the Oregon Aviation Historical Society and museum (OAHS) at the 41st annual Stearman Fly-In. Filling the airfield behind the museum were around a dozen antique Stearman biplanes as well as a number of other antique aircraft that came from up and down the West Coast, all originally built many decades ago yet all pristine in their current condition.
“[The pilots] are happy to show off their planes and answer peoples’ questions. Great bunch of guys. A lot of them are retired military … after you’ve flown a bunch of people in a big aluminum tube, it’s nice to come back to something simple and just fly,” said OAHS President Doug Kindred.
After a morning pancake breakfast that helped raise funds for OAHS, attendees young and old had a chance to admire the beauty of the aircraft, walk freely along the airstrip, catch glimpses of other antique machines like a 1932 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, or speak with any number of the men and women pilots whose knowledge on the subject of aviation and aviation history ranges from vast to infinite.
“The Stearman thing is really more a history of aviation because those planes were used in World War I to train pilots that later went on to fly fighters and bombers and everything else in World War II … so it’s important that these guys invest their time, their love and their money into keeping these planes in the air,” said Kindred.
And keeping these antique, decades-old machines aloft isn’t simply about preserving a physical object, or continuing a group of select individuals’ hobbyist pursuits. It’s about the preservation of history; aviation history, engineering history, American and Oregonian history.
“There’s a story there. Every single one of these airplanes has got a story and so to make [those stories] available to the public so they can have an appreciation of what we’ve gone through is a goal,” Kindred continued.
While the Stearman company and the production of their now-classic biplanes played an integral role in the history of American aviation, the deeper revelation after exploring OAHS is the central role the state of Oregon played, from the very early days in the 1920s, in American aviation history.
Vice President of OAHS and head of their antique aircraft restoration team Tim Talen has been flying and working on airplanes practically his whole life and it was very early on in his aviation career that he began learning of this local Oregon historical connection.
“Being an early member of the experimental aircraft association, in reading the sport aviation magazine, I just picked up on all these articles and Oregon was always kind of right there, sometimes in the foreground, but always in the background,” Talen said. “So when I moved here - and that’s been almost 40 years now - the interest and having a history background just intrigued me more with the role that Oregon aviators had here that affected the whole world. The more you learn, the more you gain insight and respect for what the pioneers in aviation here have done.”
In talking with Talen, Kindred and others, one learns that Oregon was the first state in the union to have a department of aviation, even before the Federal Aviation Administration was founded. Oregon was also the original home of the home-built aircraft community. Where the FAA eventually saw the future of flight in commerce, many local Oregon pilots during the 1930’s and 1940’s saw aviation as part and parcel of their right to freedom and the indelible spirit of self-sufficiency that litters the annals of U.S. history.
“Here in Oregon, we started actually with a different idea of what aviation was all about. Yes, it had commercial value but it also had value in terms of education and learning how to build things and how to engineer things and aeronautics was more than just commerce. It was science, art and everything else,” Talen said.
The collection of Stearman biplanes on display on Saturday were emblematic of those ideals. But the real stories were all those that could be found beyond the physical aircraft themselves; in the lengthy history of each of the planes and in the limitless aviation knowledge held by the pilots.
“When you come to the Stearman Fly-In, what I think most people take away from that is getting to be right out there on the field with the pilots and their airplanes and visiting with these people … So much of it is cross-generational and a lot of it is also paying homage to the people that came before us,” said Talen.
“We want to let people know in the area that OAHS is open to the public and they can come in and talk airplanes. They don’t have to be a millionaire, this is not a millionaire’s sport. It’s a great way to connect in that sense and just learn a little bit about aviation and flying.”
The next event at OAHS is the Great American Home Built Fly-In on Saturday, August 31 and will feature homemade aircraft from around the state of Oregon and surrounding areas.