Dave Hirschman

Behind the Stearman roll-over at DCA

June 9, 2010 by Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor

By now, millions of people around the world have seen the ghastly video images of the gorgeous Stearman biplane locking its brakes and flipping over onto its back at Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

The high-profile gaffe took place during the promotion for Legends of Flight, a 3-D, IMAX movie that premiered Wednesday at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum in downtown Washington, D.C., and provides an amazing, behind-the-scenes look at building the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner.” Although the movie promoters wanted to get attention by bringing the legendary Stearmans to DCA, this wasn’t the kind of attention that anyone who loves aviation was looking for.

Still, there are a couple of bright spots that no one who sees the infamous video should miss.

First, make sure the sound is turned up so that you can hear the voice of pilot Mike Treschel.

His gorgeous, lovingly restored aircraft has been severely damaged, and he’s gone through a stunning, wrenching experience himself – yet his sole concern is the safety of his passenger, Ashley Halsey, a Washington Post reporter. Treschel calmly helps Halsey out of the damaged airplane and escorts him to safety.

There’s no feeling sorry for himself, or cursing, or blaming – just a stand-up guy doing his best to salvage what has to be one of the worst moments in his life.

And Halsey distinguished himself, too.

He wasn’t pointing fingers, or exaggerating the dangers of the roll-over accident. He complimented Treschel, sympathized with him, and said he would fly with him again tomorrow if given the chance.

Some have been critical of Halsey for letting his camera roll and posting the video online, but as much as we all regret the painful images, he’s a reporter with a job to do. When news happens – in this case an aircraft accident that shuts down DCA’s main runway for two hours – he’d be negligent to ignore it. The fact that instant media spreads the images around the world at such incredible speed is a fact of life for the age we live in.

Treschel was flying the second Stearman in a group of eight – and I was a passenger in the seventh airplane.

For those of you who ask, “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the movie?” I can tell you Legends of Flight is extraordinary. It captures the excitement, wonder, and grandiosity of Boeing’s grand endeavor of building a radically new airliner in a way that’s accessible and even joyful.

I hope and trust Treschel’s airplane will be rebuilt and made as good as new. Within hours of the mishap, plans were being made to get the aircraft to a repair facility and return it to the air.

10 Responses to “Behind the Stearman roll-over at DCA”

  1. Craig Smith Says:

    Looks like the brakes were on, to me. I did it myself once. In a tricycle gear plane, it’s a wake up call. In a tail dragger, it’s a disaster.
    Could perhaps the passenger unwittingly have activated the brakes somehow?

  2. bill tosheff Says:

    Am I losing it? I had a Sterman in 1951, Bloomington, Indiana. A 20 hp- stressed to 12 g’s. Why can’t I remember if I COULD locl the brakes….maybe toe ones………….help , I’m having a sebior moment at 84.

  3. bill tosheff Says:

    NAW…..Correction… a 200 HP.tail dragger……not 20ho ooooops, another senior moment.

  4. John Trail Says:

    I flew a 450 Stearman duster with a brake problem, the brakes would lock up anytime they were used, had to pull the airplane backward to release them. Luckily, we were able to fix the problem before there was an accident.
    I was great fun- flying the plane, not the brake problem.

  5. Laura Hoover Says:

    Mike Treschel is based at KHWY which has a paved runway. We are also based there and have watched him land dozens of times, often in gusty crosswinds. His landings are impeccable. It was obvious from the video that at least the left brake was locked up and the wind wasn’t an issue.

  6. Steve Hudson Says:

    Ex crop Duster
    The only way to salvage a locked up brake situation is to apply full power,pull back on the stick to relieve the weight on the tires and take off then 3 point on the grass and keep the stick all the way back until the airplane comes to a stop.
    Any time you are using maximum braking you have to compensate with back pressure on the stick to prevent the plane from nosing over.

  7. Sam Sharp Says:

    This is an example of why I never land an airplane when there’s an audience. I can always blame it on; “There was a wind gust”. “A coyote ran out in front of me”. “An un-authorized Jeep missed the taxiway and I swerved to miss him”. And my all time favorite; “The front passenger barfed, and it fouled my goggles”.

    That’s why I always carry a can of cream of mushroom soup in my flight bag for such emergencies.

  8. Wendell Levister Says:

    Having lived and flown various aircraft in the Republic of Honduras, I ferried Stearman aircraft (P&W 985 450 H.P & P&W 1320 620 H.P.) between Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Guatemala City, Guatemala for a great guy, George Byron Alder, who was contracted to spray banana plantations for United Fruit, and cotton fields for Honduran and Guatemalan cotton growers. They are great aircraft, and with those horse powers, when empty as I ferried them, they {leaped} off of the runway.

    It is obvious to me that the brakes were on when that pilot landed at Washington. In view of the fact that on takeoff from where he originated, the brakes were not on, otherwise he would not have effected the takeoff. For some reason or other, the brakes were applied while in flight or landing. Only the pilot knows.

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