Flying in a Stearman
After a pleasant chitchat, we walked over to the airplane to saddle up. I was about to climb up on the wing when Kyle, the museum helper who had led me to the Stearman and who had been hovering nearby, tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a parachute to strap on. I hadn't expected to wear a parachute. I was sure it wasn't an FAA requirement -- unless I'd missed the small print in the liability release I'd sign and we were going to do acrobatics -- so I asked Kyle why he wanted to put me in a parachute. He confirmed that the FAA didn't require one, but it was a museum policy.
Kyle had to show me how to get into the harness because I'd fallen out of the habit of wearing a parachute since those days when I flew as a passenger with the former Trans-Texas Airways.
Actually, though, this was only the second time I'd ever put on a parachute. The first time was several years ago and that was for my first ride in a Stearman. It was an FAA requirement for that ride because we were doing acrobatics.
That first ride in a Stearman was a memorable experience. It was shortly after I'd completed active duty in the military. I'd gone back to college and was working part-time at a radio station in Sherman, Texas. The station's owner, Glen Duncan, had a Stearman and was acrobatics rated. When Glen asked me if I wanted to fly with him some time, he didn't have to twist my arm.
A weekend later, I met him at the airport where he hangered his Stearman. We wheeled the airplane out of the hangar and looked it over. In preparation for the flight, he helped me strap on a parachute, showed me to the front seat, lodged me there, set the mixture and throttle, and gave me a brief lesson on engine starting. Then, I sat on the brakes and flipped a switch a few times as he pulled the prop through, eventually spinning it hard enough that the engine caught.
Glen crawled into the back seat, wearing his own parachute. With the Stearman's big radial engine roaring and the wind whipping over the cockpit, he yelled up to me, "Now, I don't think anything's going to go wrong but, if it does, I'll yell to you, 'Get Out!' And, if you say 'Huh?', you're talking to yourself."
Incidentally, Glenn is mentioned in the Warren Commission's investigation of the Kennedy assassination.
page 6 of 12 pages