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This Probaway blog has been trying for years to help people live healthier, happier lives, and sometimes I get feedback where it has been successful. And then this, this utter foolishness. This was something I was told not to do on my very first flight back in 1957, when I began flying for the USAF. I was a junior at Washington State College at Pullman, Washington, and was being given forty hours of flight training while still in ROTC at college. That was before becoming a commissioned officer and flying far fancier stuff. That first flight was in an Aeronca Champ 65-horsepower high wing fabric mono-plane.

Each time I went out to the Pullman airport there was a Stearman biplane parked near my Aeronca. It looked so big and powerful and cool compared to my little thing that looked like a kite by comparison. The Stearman was used as a first-year trainer early in WW II, and even back when I was a college student envying it, it was a relic of a long past era.

Last week an idiot crashed one of these ancient Stearmans in Madras, Oregon, doing what I was told on my first flight not to do. It is considered bad taste to speak ill of the dead, but this guy deserves a Darwin Award, because he, an experienced, skilled, intelligent sane person, took himself out of the gene pool through appallingly bad personal judgment. And destroyed a beautiful airplane too.

Stearman biplane at Madras airshow

A loop in a Stearman biplane on take-off is close to suicidal.

All photos from KTVZ. The technical reason this is a dangerous maneuver is because the plane is slowing down going up, and speeding up coming down. When the plane is in the position seen in the photo above the airspeed is still low, and when the pilot pulls the control stick back to make the loop circular the attitude of the wing is pulled into a stall position, and there is very little lift, and when the plane is stalled the airplane flies like a rock even after it is going faster.

Crash of a Stearman biplane

The Stearman biplane had little lift and goes straight down.

A person with no experience with flying would ask why the pilot didn’t pull back on the stick. Well, he was pulling back on it, but that very act created the stalled wings, and that is why the gray smoke trail, made for the show, was nearly straight down.

Burning wreckage of a Stearman biplane.

Burning fuel creates this black smoke, and the earlier gray smoke was intentionally generated for the show.

These photos are of special interest to me because from 1949 to 1969 I spent a couple weeks working on the family farms adjacent to this airport. I may have helped plant those trees in the background.

Five seconds of fun cost this man fifty years of potential fun.