Vintage airplanes are taking to the skies again today in southern Iowa to mark the 70th anniversary of the Naval Air Station in Ottumwa. Up to 10 of the original Stearman biplanes used to train rookie pilots will be arriving in Ottumwa at 11 a.m. Stephen Black is president of a group that is saving the air station’s historic administration building.
“The Stearman was a great training aircraft. They’re noisy obviously, those big radial engines. They run at low RPMs, they’re powerful, but they are very noisy,” he explains. Pilots started training in the Stearmans back in 1943. Black says the bi-planes exposed the pilots to more than the rudiments of flying.
“It’s a wind in your face experience, there is no enclosed cockpit so in the wintertime they were out there flying in those,” according to Black. There were so many of the Stearmans flying out of Ottumwa, that the Navy built 18 auxiliary fields around southeast Iowa for takeoff and landing practice.
Stearman biplanes were gone by 1945 when World War Two ended. Several waves of antique planes will be delivering air mail between Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Blakesburg today in honor of the pilots of the past.
All the aircraft are scheduled to return to Antique Airfield (Blakesburg) between 3 and 4 p.m.