Lloyd Stearman (1898-1975) was a Kansas-born aero engineer and designer who was associated with several aviation firms in the 1920s and 1930s. After a partnership with Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna called Travel Air, Stearman founded the Stearman Aircraft Corp. in 1927, departing in the early 1930s to become president of Lockheed. In those few years, Stearman built a highly regarded series of single-engined biplanes. The most numerous, built to a total of 179 examples, was the C-3 series, a small but rugged 3-seater.
Stearman’s name is most famous for its association with an aircraft he influenced, but did not actually design, the Boeing Model 75. This was produced after 1934, when Stearman had left and Boeing had absorbed the company.
C-3s were designated with a trailing letter designating the engine. Of the 179 C-3s built, most were the first production model, the C-3B, with a Wright J-5 engine. The only other version built in significant numbers (but still less than 40) was the Wright J-6-powered C-3R.
1928 C-3B serial 166 has been retired to static display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Serial 207, 1928 C3B NC6496 flies with a Georgia owner. These photos were taken some years ago, and today the aircraft wears an orange and black paint scheme.
Serial 221, a 1929 C-3B, flies in Wisconsin.
The C-3R was a considerably revised and enlarged version of the C-3 designed to take a larger engine, and was the last production version of the C-3 series. Serial numbers restarted in the 5000s with the C-3R series, although far less than 5,000 Stearmans had been produced. Serial 5001 resides in Minnesota.
Serial 5003 is with a Washington state owner.
Serial 5036, registered NC794H, is part of the Allen Airways Flying Museum in El Cajon, California.
A beautiful match for NC794H, with which it was seen at some fly-ins in the 1980s, C-3R serial 5037, the next off the line, is maintained by an Illinois owner.
The model 4 was a different and larger airplane designed for the needs of air mail and corporate executive flying. Higher in performance and more luxurious than the C3, model 4s also were designated with a letter denoting the type of engine used. The further designation “M” indicated an aircraft specialized for air mail by having the front cockpit covered to hold more mail. Only 41 Model 4s were built but they were charismatic aircraft that left an impression on American aviation history, and about a dozen of them are still around.
Serial 4005 is listed to an owner in Reno, Nevada. Equipped with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine producing more than 400 hp, the 4Es were the most powerful of the Stearmans.
Serial 4011, a model 4DM with a 300 hp Wasp Junior engine, was registered NC774H in the 1970s but has since lapsed off the registry and is a restoration project with a Maryland owner.
The 4-series Stearman was big and tough enough for air-mail work in the Canadian bush. One so employed was CF-AMB, serial 4021, a magnificent 4EM now displayed in the Canada Aviation & Space Museum.
Yanks Air Museum owns this flyable but static model 4E, serial 4026.
Some corporate owners tricked out their Stearman 4s to the limits of art-deco excess. None more so than Standard Oil, in whose colors serial 4036 is faithfully restored. At least four restored Stearman 4’s have been painted in these markings.
There was no Model 5 Stearman. Stearman’s serial numbering scheme suggests that the C-3R was intended to be the Model 5. The next production variant was the Model 6 Cloudboy, a light two-seat training biplane of which just a handful were made. The plane was shopped to the Army as a primary trainer, and was assigned the designation YPT-9, but did not earn a production order.
Serial 6003 flies from the Golden Wings Flying Museum in Minnesota.
Serial 6004 is with the Yanks Air Museum at Chino, California.