It was an impulse purchase, and in the process two Michigan brothers preserved a piece of aviation history. Al and Mike Schiffer, whoʼve owned and operated
Alʼs Aerial Spraying in Ovid, MI, since 1977, possess a Stearman crop sprayer – N5413N.
The airplane may be the only remaining flyable example of a Stearman crop sprayer, although that fact is not certain. It will be on display during the 44th National Stearman Fly-In Sept. 7-12 at Galesburg Municipal Airport.
Phase 2 of N5413Nʼs story starts with the end of World War II. With victory won, the United States quickly started reducing its military might. Materiel of all kinds was declared surplus, and put on the market at bargain-basement prices. Included were the Stearman Model 75 series of biplanes, used as primary trainers by the Army Air Corps and Navy.
Many other warplanes were scrapped, but Stearmans survived in part because they were relatively cheap. Many sold for $300 to $500 each, according to David Burroughs of El Paso, IL, a Stearman owner and restorer. And they were rugged enough to be converted into dusters and sprayers, he says.
“During the 1950s and 1960s, the Stearman biplane was the backbone of our nationʼs fleet of aerial applicators,” Burroughs says. “Stearmans applied more fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides to our crops than any other aircraft.”
One aerial-applicator entrepreneur was Warren Wineshaw, who launched a large spraying business north of Fargo, ND, about 1946. He had six Stearmans configured to spray crops, and another six used for seeding. Wineshaw had a tractor for each Stearman which pulled the plane into and out of his hangars.
Eventually the Stearman sprayer-duster fleet aged. Those planes were replaced by new aircraft with bigger engines for better performance and load-carrying capability. Many of todayʼs Stearman ag survivors are those that Fly-In visitors see restored to their military glory.
After his death, Wineshawʼs aerial empire was sold at an auction in 2004. Besides his planes, loads of Stearman parts – wings, engines, cowlings among them — went on the block.
The Schiffers were at the auction and, they say, decided on the spur of the moment they needed a Stearman sprayer – even though they had no real purpose for it. Theyʼd never used a Stearman as a sprayer in all the years theyʼve been in business.
The brothers conferred with a local pilot who had flown all of Wineshawʼs planes, and he suggested which one to buy as well as all the other stuff – engines, mounts, spraying gear – they would need. The Schiffers shipped their purchases to Michigan, and next to Air Repair Inc., Cleveland, MS, where restorer Pete Jones put the plane back together. It was flown back to Michigan.
The Schiffers nicknamed their airplane “The Beast.” Perhaps thatʼs because itʼs powered by a gas-gulping Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine, which develops 600 horsepower. Wartime Stearmans were typically powered by 220-horsepower Continental and 225- horsepower Lycoming engines.
The brothers fly N5413N for fun, and occasionally demonstrate it at air shows. Sometimes they fly a 2-ship demonstration with fellow ag pilot Ralph Lutes, who flies a stock Stearman. Lutesʼ brother Rick flies the Stearman, too, and is part of the Scorpions formation team that competes at the National Stearman Fly-In.
The Schiffers also allow other pilots to fly The Beast so they can experience what itʼs like to fly the iconic Stearman sprayer.
Among the lucky ones is former Galesburg resident Mike Rutledge, now of Tenino, WA. Rutledge and the Schiffers met through Rick Reed, who operates a spraying business in the Mattoon, IL, area. Rutledge has been flying in the Macomb, IL, area for the past two summers to learn the business. He hopes to get into ag aviation in central Illinois when he retires from the military.
Rutledge currently is a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, and just recently completed his 15th combat tour in Afghanistan. Before joining the Army, Rutledge was a Navy SEAL.
Rutledgeʼs father teamed with National Stearman Fly-In co-founder Jim Leahy to buy a Stearman. Leahy subsequently bought the partnerʼs interest in the plane. Both men have passed on, but Mike Rutledge now owns the Leahy-Rutledge plane – best remembered around Galesburg by its buzz number 404.
Rutledge will bring N5413N to Galesburg from Michigan. Heʼs excited about the adventure. “I could’ve never imagined the ripples a dirty ole sprayer was going to cause at the Fly-In!” he says.