Larry Tobin says he’s “into keeping history alive.”

The proof of that is his Stearman C3B, a biplane built in 1927 that’s the oldest Stearman in flyable condition. Tobin completed restoration of the plane earlier this year after acquiring it in 2006.

Tobin, who lives in Colbert, WA, a community in the Spokane metropolitan area, will bring the C3B to the 37th National Stearman Fly-In, scheduled for Sept. 1-7 at Galesburg Municipal Airport. He will present a program on the plane and the restoration process at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in the Jet Air hangar at the airport. The free program is open to the public.

The C3B’s previous owner, Spokane aviation legend Skeeter Carlson, will accompany Tobin on the trip. Before coming to Galesburg, their plan is to take the C3B to the Antique Airplane Association’s annual convention in Blakesburg, Iowa, during the week before the Stearman Fly-In. The Iowa gathering will celebrate the 90th anniversary of U.S. air mail service.

After Galesburg, Tobin will take the C3B to New York’s Republic Field to start a transcontinental air mail re-enactment flight to San Francisco, CA. It’s estimated the 6-day trip will take 27 to 29 flying hours. Making the trip with Tobin will be Ben Scott, Reno, NV, flying a 1930 Stearman 4E, and a 1928 Boeing 40C flown by Addison Pemberton, Spokane. Pemberton’s plane is the oldest flying Boeing.
Click here for details of the Air Mail Re-enactment.

Carlson owned and tended the C3B for almost 60 years, and Tobin says it took nearly four years of talking to convince Carlson to part with it. Taking Carlson on the August-September trip was “part of the deal,” Tobin says.

What makes this C3B a rare bird?

It was the fourth – and last — C3B built by Stearman Aircraft Co. in Venice, CA, Tobin says. Designer and company owner Lloyd Stearman then moved his company to Wichita, KS, where larger buildings were available to handle increased demand for that model, Tobin says.

Tobin’s plane is “85 percent original,” including the wood in the wings. The distinctive “Square Tail” of the Stearman bears markings indicating its California heritage, Tobin says.

The C3B was produced in larger numbers than any other of Stearman’s civilian models, according to National Stearman Fly-In co-founder Tom Lowe, Crystal Lake, IL. A total of 136 were built between 1927 and1929. A 200-horsepower Wright J-5 engine powered most C3Bs.

The C3B was widely used by fledgling airlines of the day, as well as by flying schools and individual owner pilots, Lowe says. Tobin chose to finish the C3B the bright red paint scheme used by Mamer Air Transport, an early Spokane-based airline operated by Nick Mamer.

One C3B, NC8809, became very well known in 1932 when it was flown around the world by Los Angeles sportsman pilot Ross Hadley, with famous adventure travel author Richard Halliburton as his passenger. The resulting book, “The Flying Carpet,” was a best-seller, according to Lowe.

Tobin says he hopes to fly the C3B for many years. After he’s gone, Tobin says, the plane will be donated to an Armed Forces museum that’s being planned in Spokane.

The C3B is the second Stearman that Tobin, who retired as a TWA pilot in 1997, has restored. He also restored an N2S-3, which was used as a primary trainer by the Navy before and during World War II.

The Army and Navy both selected the Stearman Model 75 biplane as their primary trainer. Almost 10,500 were built between 1935 and 1945, and it’s estimated between 1,000 and 2,000 still exist.

Most of the Stearmans at the Galesburg Fly-In each year are the World War II-era trainers in which more military pilots learned to fly than any other airplane ever built. Although they bear his name, Lloyd Stearman had departed from his namesake company before the 10-year period during which they were manufactured. By that time, the Stearman company was a division of Boeing Aircraft Co.

In 1931, Stearman designed the Stearman Model 6 “Cloudboy” (YPT-9). In 1933, according to Lowe, Mac Short, the Stearman company’s chief engineer, and engineers Jack Clark and Harold Zipp used a rough sketch of the Model 6 to come up with the preliminary design of the Stearman Model 70. That design was refined as the Model 73 (NS-1) and sold to the Navy – the first Stearman sold to the U.S. military in quantity.

Improvements to the Model 73 resulted in the Model 75, which is widely known as the Stearman PT (Army) and N2S (Navy) trainer. Clark and Zipp are usually credited with the initial design that evolved into the famous biplane.