When pilots of an earlier era talked about “cross country hops,” the operative word was “hop.” In slow aircraft with limited fuel capacity, they flew from airport to airport, covering a distance in a day that modern planes cover in an hour or less.
So it was with Captain Matt Quy, who in his Spirit of Tuskegee Stearman biplane, is on a journey across the United States to deliver his historic aircraft to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will open on the National Mall in 2015 and the aircraft will become a tribute to the Tuskegee Airman who flew in it.
Quy took off from Lincoln, CA, just after sunrise on July 9, in a temporary mini-formation with a friend in another Stearman. His pal peeled off and went home, and Quy continued eastward toward the snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains with a flight plan that has taken him to the Air Force Academy in Colorado, where Quy spent time with cadets and with eight Tuskegee Airmen. Then, he flew on to his home state of Minnesota for three air shows as well as meetings with Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol members, and community groups.
As of today, July 27, the intrepid captain is in his fourth day at what some have called “the mother of all airshows” in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “It’s been great being here,” he said in a telephone conversation. “Everybody who sees the plane seems to appreciate what it represents.” One visitor to the show with a special appreciation for the Stearman was Lt. Col. James Warren, one of the most renowned of the original Tuskegee Airmen. Matt wasn’t able to give the colonel a ride in a plane he may well have flown because, as he points out, “Just now this is the busiest airport in the world, with several thousand airplanes on the ground. It took me half an hour to cross the active runways when I arrived.”
There has been the expected storm-dodging, but the seven-decade old plane has performed well, according to Quy, having reached 10,500 feet climbing over the Rockies. “We had a minor maintenance issue a few days ago,” he said, “but other than that the flight has been trouble free.”
Tomorrow Matt and his plane will leave for Tuskegee, Alabama, where the Stearman spent its youth as a trainer for America’s first black military fliers. And then on to Washington, DC, with a planned landing on August 2.
Weather permitting, of course.
Owen Edwards is a freelance writer and author of the book Elegant Solutions. Each month in Smithsonian magazine, he selects one artifact from among the Smithsonian Institution’s 23 million and tells its story.