From the Cockpit Part 2: Boeing-Stearman N2S

Ryan Flies


Back in the cockpit, US Navy pilot Ryan Rankin began his year-long quest to fly 52 distinct planes this past week by taking off from Pensacola International Airport in a Boeing-Stearman N2S. An open-canopy biplane from the World War II era, the United States Army Air Corps (there was no Air Force yet) utilized the NS and the Navy the N2S as trainer aircraft for young aviators. With fewer than 11,000 manufactured and its role replaced by the Texan model Rankin now flies for the Navy, a quality N2S was found in the hands of pilot Roy Kinsey, the founder of Veterans Flight, which once a year flies veteran WWII pilots into Pensacola and takes them up in the vintage craft for a flight over Memory Lane.

“Some of them are a little parted out,” says Rankin, “but this was a good example with lots of original parts.” The weather was slightly overcast but smooth, and he and Kinsey took the N2S for a brief aerobatic spin, looping and rolling. Rankin’s flown open-canopy before, but that doesn’t mean it’s old hat. “It never gets old,” he says. “At first it’s startling, but it’s incredible being out there in the wind.” (It can get a bit cold though.)

All-in-all, Rankin reports a comfortable flight with “no big surprises.” Being an older model, the N2S lacks many modern creature comforts and some modern-day technological assists, but at the same time it remains a trainer plane and designed not to throw pilots but teach them. “It will make a pilot out of you,” Rankin says, noting the N2S does a good job in highlighting basic piloting errors such as an uncoordinated turn (when rudder and aileron movement are not in sync), without falling out of the sky.

The biggest challenge came in getting off the ground. Equipped with a tail wheel as opposed to the modern nose-wheel design on jets today, the whole plane tilts back while on the ground, pointing the pilot up at an angle with the massive Continental 220hp radial engine directly ahead. “The big thing is you can’t see right in front of you,” says Rankin. Taxiing on the runway, he and Kinsey made zigzags to see where they were going. Landing can be similarly difficult, but Rankin earned his tail-wheel landing certification prior and pulled it off just fine.

If anything, it seems to have been a nostalgia trip. “I’m very much a student of aviation,” says Rankin, “so to sit in the seat where others who did amazing things in the war sat was great.”

For more about this flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Rankin in front of the Boeing-Stearman N2S. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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