Episode 4: Model 4 Stearman Restorations

Stearman Aircraft Company History

Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, and Clyde Cessna established the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita on January 26, 1925. Considered the big three aviation pioneers, they established the “air capital” and set the goal to manufacture “a plane for every purpose.” Travel Air became the leader in light commercial aircraft.

Stearman left the company and the state in 1926 but returned the following year. He founded the Stearman Aircraft Corporation, which was acquired by a holding company for Boeing in 1929.

 The Stearman C-3B was the first Stearman airplane produced in Wichita after he moved back to Kansas. The C-3B was designed for both mail and passenger service. In addition, it was the type of plane Charles Lindbergh to survey air routes for Transcontinental and Western Airways.

The Stearman company signed its first major military contract in 1934. It built 61 Navy Model 73 biplanes trainers. In 1938 Stearman became a division of the Boeing company. In 1941 the company became the Wichita Division of The Boeing Airplane Company and soon began to build the B-29 Superfortress, one of the largest aircraft in use during World War II. Boeing’s Wichita Division delivered all of the 1,644 bombers. Following World War II, the division built B-47s, B-50s, and B-52s, and later the KC-135 refueling tankers. The Wichita Division has become one of the prime aircraft engineering, fabrication, and assembly centers

Western Air Express Model 4 - NC774H

Standard Oil Model 4 - NC488W

Jimmie Allen Model 4 - NC667K

Richfield oil s/n 4007 built as c41 changed to 4c than in august of 31 it was converted to a 4e. The engine was changed from the j7 wright to the pratt wasp 1340. The stabilizers and elevators were also changed at the same time. 

A Stearman Model 4E Speedmail has made its first post-restoration flight following a five-year stem to stern restoration by Jim Kimball Enterprises of Zellwood, Florida. The plane which was constructed in 1929 is currently owned by display pilot Sarah Wilson and is the oldest airworthy example of this model. The plane was originally owned by the Richfield Oil Company and was used as a promotional tie-in for the company’s sponsorship of “The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen“, a popular serial radio show of the period that followed the exploits of a fictional 16-year old pilot as he traveled the world in his 4E, solving crimes, competing in air races and in later episodes he became a “G-Man”, working for the FBI.

The radio show was quite popular, and at its peak boasted 600,000 members of the “Jimmie Allen Flying Club” who received weekly newsletters as well as various other promotional items like puzzles and “Secret Service whistles” if they showed their membership credentials at their local Richfield Oil station. Complimenting the various promotions, the plane made appearances at “Jimmie Allen Air Races”, attended by tens of thousands of people, where an actual 16-year old actor would appear as Jimmie Allen which was necessary as the person who voiced the character for the radio show was in actuality a man well into middle age.

The program ended up being syndicated for broadcast across America as well as in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, sponsored by local business concerns which used the program’s promotional tie-ins to drive the children of potential customers to their stores to receive the latest promotional give-away promised exclusively to members of “The Jimmie Allen Flying Club.”