Galesburg ‘Goes Way Out of Its Way’ to Welcome Stearman Pilots

Webmaster’s Note: This story appeared in the Sept. 3, 2008, edition of the Peoria Journal Star.

Of the Journal Star

With 51 years as a pilot, Cal Tax feels a family connection to the Stearman he flew in to Galesburg Municipal Airport this week.

The Cumming, Ga., resident lovingly polished the side of his Stearman Army PT-17 trainer Tuesday as similar airplanes swooped by overhead. His father flew a Stearman in World War II while teaching students how to fly, and Tax said his own plane has become part of his family after 10 years of ownership.

Stearman planes flying alone or in formations of up to four were visible in the Galesburg skies most any time Tuesday. About 45 had already arrived in town by Tuesday morning to take part in the 37th National Stearman Fly-In.

Events continue in Galesburg until Sunday.

Tax said his ninth trip to the annual Galesburg fly-in isn’t just about the airplanes.

“The people make all the difference,” he said. “It’s like a family reunion, but better because here you actually like the people. The people who put on the show here treat us like kings and queens, and Galesburg goes way out of its way to make us feel welcome.”

Tax, now 66, has been flying since age 14, first as an Air Force pilot and later for 33 years with Delta Airlines.

“My dad was a WWII Army pilot,” Tax said. “He was also a pilot in the 1930s. He was a barnstormer. It’s in my blood, I guess, and I haven’t gotten bored of it.”

Todd and Tabby Harders of Cairo, Neb., sat in lawn chairs Tuesday in the shadow of the same 1942 Boeing Stearman they said “I do” in front of just four years ago.

“We both did church weddings before,” Todd said. “We loved flying and this is our favorite fly-in, so we decided to get married here.”
This is Todd’s eighth year of attending the Galesburg event and the seventh for Tabby.

“I read somewhere on the Internet that said that the first year you come (to a fly-in) to see the airplanes, then you come back after that to see your friends,” Todd said. “That’s about right.”

Todd’s Stearman was a surprise 40th birthday gift from his mother to his father in 1976. His dad later sold the aircraft after suffering a heart attack in 1984.

Todd and his mother brought the aircraft “back home” in 2001, buying it back in Ohio after it had gone through two owners.

While in Galesburg, Todd said, he flies most every day. The couple flew to an antique air show in Iowa last week and then on to Galesburg on Monday.

Tabby joked that she had to take air sickness medication to make the flight.

“She slithers down in the seat so far that it’s like I’m flying by myself,” Todd said.

National Stearman Fly-In President Jeanne Conlon said the number of planes coming to the event depends on the weather. As of Monday night, 43 already had landed.

“The first arrived a week ago from Ohio,” she said. “Typically, we have about 125.”

Nationally, only about 1,000 Stearmans still can be flown.

Conlon said the Stearmans, used mostly during WWII as training aircraft, are made of fabric and wood. The open cockpit design has room for a passenger in the front seat and the pilot behind the passenger.

The planes take off and land from the grass because “it’s easier on the tires.”