A bit of history flew into town when a pilot with local ties landed at the Chillicothe Municipal Airport. Bill Allen, husband of Claudia (Ream) Allen, formerly of Chillicothe, flew their 1945 Stearman to Chillicothe on his way back from the National Stearman Fly-In at Galesburg, Ill.
A bit of history flew into town when a pilot with local ties landed at the Chillicothe Municipal Airport. Bill Allen, husband of Claudia (Ream) Allen, formerly of Chillicothe, flew their 1945 Stearman to Chillicothe on his way back from the National Stearman Fly-In at Galesburg, Ill. The plane, which once belonged to actor Steve McQueen, was among approximately 90 Stearmans present for the fly-in. The plane is a 1945 Boeing Stearman PT-17 and was a U.S. Army primary trainer for World War II. These planes were built in the Wichita, Kan., factory from the late 1930s until about 1946, Allen said. They trained both Army and Navy pilots and were among the primary training aircraft of WWII. From these primary trainers the cadets went to advanced training in Vultee BT-13s (Vultee Vibrators), and North American SNJ/T-6 aircraft and then into either bombers or fighter planes. The Allens’ Boeing PT-17, N3188 was surplus and resurrected by Mid Continent in Missouri during the 1980s for the late actor Steve McQueen. He wanted the airplane custom for him with his Santa Paula, Calif., pal’s paint scheme, wheel pants and polished struts, Allen said. He also had a special N number which was McQueen’s reform school number when he was incarcerated in a special school in Chino Hills, Calif. This same number 3188 also adorned McQueen’s license plate on an old pickup truck he had. The Allens acquired N3188 from Chuck Bail, who was a B-rated movie producer and former stunt man friend of McQueen’s. After an overhaul and replacing the control bearings, the plane flew many hours. The fabric covering was done in cotton with dope and the UV exposure was deteriorating it so the Allens were limited on the time left before they would need to recover the airplane. “When that time came we took the airplane totally apart and rebuilt it all fresh with new Dacron Covering,” Bill Allen said. “Claudia tweaked the paint with her magic and added a slight bit more metallic to the silver and made sure the very dark blue was correct. She said that using black would not give the paint depth, but the very dark blue would make you feel the depth. That worked.” The Allens had Aero Engines rebuild a 220 horsepower Continental W670 engine with all fresh accessories. “This took about two years or more, but once we were finished the airplane was spectacular as it is today,” he said. The Allens enjoy sharing and flying it around and telling McQueen stories. This was the last airplane owned and flown by McQueen. Allen stated that McQueen wanted to take the plane out for his last flight when cancer was taking over his body. “He took off with a pistol in his belt, was gone for an hour and then came back and silently walked back into the house in his hangar,” Bill Allen said. “He left for treatment in Mexico and never returned.” Stearman aircraft company was started by Lloyd Stearman in the late 1920s. The company built many different aircraft, some for the Air Mail service, some for military training outside the USA and some for business and sport. Two 1929 Stearman C3Bs, separately, flew around the world in 1930. One pilot was Moye Stephens, who later became a founder and test pilot for Northrup and test flew the Flying Wing prototype. He was hired by adventurist Richard Halliburton to fly him around the world. They flew the C3B called “The Flying Carpet” over halfway to Cape Town, South Africa, over the Alps, and seemed to have amazing reliability, he said. “The special maps they used are still in existence in near perfect shape,” said Allen. “They were put together by Rand McNally. I have had the pleasure of holding these maps in my hands.” The other flight was by a fellow named Ross Hadley. The Allens also have a 1930 Stearman C3R called the Business Speedster, which many will attest is the finest biplane ever built. “It is far superior to the C3B which illustrates the skill and expertise of those round-the-world flyers,” he said. “They would have been in hog heaven if they had the C3R.” Allen said that the trip from San Diego in the McQueen Boeing Stearman has been quite an adventure for David Vopat, who offered to fly the plane to Chillicothe and meet Allen here to proceed to Blakesburg, Iowa, (near Ottumwa) for the annual Antique Airplane Fly-In. (Vopat is an American Airline’s pilot with more than 14,000 hours. He is a licensed Airframe and power plant mechanic and has far more experience than most in vintage planes including some fighter aircraft. A couple years ago, Vopat was flying a 1931 Laird LCB biplane from Spokane, Wash., to this AAA flying and was about 40 miles out when the crankshaft on the 400-plus horse power motor broke. He dead-sticked the airplane on a highway missing all cars and trucks, electric wires and obstacles with no damage. It was close to Ottumwa airport so they towed it there and took it apart and trucked it to Spokane where the engine was repaired and it is back flying.) Allen and Vopat and planned to attend the Antique Airplane show together; but, because the weather was a major factor in planning, only one of them could make the flight over the higher terrain due to heat. “The density altitude at higher elevations means the air is much thinner and more power is required to keep the plane in the air,” Allen explained. “With the heat waves we have had, this has been a huge issue.” Three other planes that were going to accompany Allen and Vopat could not due to density altitude. “They were coming with two people in each which meant they could not get here,” he said. Vopat would be flying the plane and meet Allen in Chillicothe. However, coming into Wichita, Vopat lost the generator. He tried to solve that problem for two days. He bought a new battery so that once the generator was removed and a plate found to cover the hole he could make it on the battery power which is needed for the starter and then for radios to operate. Vopat had to return to work on Thursday, at which time Allen took over and completed the trip. From Ottumwa, Allen then flew to Mount Pleasant to the Antique Tractor and Steam Engine Show, and then to Galesburg, Ill., for the National Stearman Fly-In. His three-to-four-day trip home included a stop in Chillicothe on Friday, Sept. 11. He then proceeded home to his wife near San Diego, where he would also be greeted by Claudia’s mother, Lois Ream. Allen expressed appreciation for friends Deb Walker and David Moore, who accommodated him during his stay in Chillicothe.