In 1998 the Kansas Aviation Museum acquired the remains of Stearman Model 4D, Serial Number 4027. The "Junior Speedmail" as this model was called, was donated by Bruce Bissonette, a retired aviation writer of El Paso, Texas. Bruce obtained the Stearman (basically the fuselage and 3 boxes of parts) from John Thurmond's aircraft project yard in Tucson, Arizona in 1971.
Bruce offered the Stearman to KAM as a donation – it was accepted immediately and was hauled it back to Wichita from El Paso.
The Stearman 4D, registration NC563Y, was first purchased on July 21, 1931, by The Texas Company. It was completed and delivered on August 1, 1931, and Texaco pilot J. D. "Duke" Jernigan flew it away. It was a handsome airplane with its red and white paint with the "Texaco 11" fleet number, Wasp Jr. engine with a full NACA cowl and 81 inch wheel pants. Some say the Model 4 was the most beautiful biplane built. Lloyd Stearman said in later years that it was the best airplane he ever designed.
Texaco flew 563Y over 1100 hours, on an aggressive schedule. It was repainted in 1933 with "Texaco 14" fleet number. Texaco sold 563Y in 1937 to Hangar Six Inc. in San Antonio, Texas. It then went through several cotton duster owners in Mississippi, including the famous Finkley Brothers, before being sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority in November 1941. The Stearman flew mosquito control for the TVA out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, along with three other Model 4D's. Mal Carberry of Fresno, California purchased the biplane in 1948. Carberry Dusters operated several Model 4’s through the 1950's. 563Y's records show that it was "Dismantled/Salvaged," May 18, 1965, with more than 3,000 hours total time flown.
The Kansas Aviation Museum has a rare jewel in this Stearman. Out of the 40 Model 4's built in 1929 through 1931, fourteen are still accounted for. Eight are restored and flying, two are restored and in museums. 563Y is under restoration and three others are awaiting restoration. This is an amazing survival rate.
More parts have been donated and some were obtained through trade. The engine, a Pratt & Whitney Wasp, Jr. (R-985), has been assembled from donated parts and as the Kansas Aviation Museum does not fly the restored airplanes, the engine was not built up to run. The nice ladies of a local organization, "The Women of Wichita" donated $20,000 for the restoration in January 2005. This allowed the restoration shop to purchase all of the necessary supplies, materials, parts, dope and fabric to complete the project. The restoration was started in mid 2005. With the donated services of several commercial shops and suppliers, the volunteer museum shop technicians (who range in age from 60 to 87) were able to fabricate and assemble all of the non-repairable or missing parts and assemblies.
The four wings and wing center section, including hardware, ribs and spars were all built from scratch in our shop as well as the right horizontal stabilizer and elevator. The beautiful instrument panel, seats, all sheet metal, upholstery and furnishings were all fabricated in our shop. All of this was accomplished without factory drawings. Using dimensions from other Stearman Model 4's under restoration, KAM volunteers re-created the necessary drawings. More than 9,000 KAM shop volunteer hours have been expended on this project. It is now nearing completion. The paint is complete except for the green color separation stripes. The decals have been applied and final assembly is 95% complete. This team effort of the KAM volunteers and the Wichita community is making the "Texaco 11" look like it did when "Duke" Jernigan took delivery in Wichita August 1, 1931.
By Walt House