Historic Tuskegee Stearman makes final flight

August 8, 2011 by Mike Collins

After arriving at the Udvar-Hazy Center, the Stearman gets an engine swap.

Matt Quy, right, helps pull the Stearman's engine.

Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport on Friday would have seen this: the first half of an engine swap on the Spirit of Tuskegee, a PT-13 Stearman biplane conveyed to the Smithsonian by Matt and Tina Quy. After buying the airplane as a wreck, they discovered that it had been used in 1944 and 1945 to train Tuskegee Airmen at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala. Since its restoration was completed, they’ve been using the airplane to honor the airmen; a number have flown in the airplane and dozens have signed the inside of its baggage hatch.

The Spirit of Tuskegee flies over refurbished World War II hangars at Moton Field, Ala.

The Spirit of Tuskegee over Moton Field, Ala.

Less than a week earlier, Quy took the plane to Moton Field in Tuskegee, revisiting its first duty assignment after being built by Boeing in 1944. His passengers included Leroy Eley of Atlanta, an 84-year-old Tuskegee Airman who drove to Tuskegee to see the historic aircraft.

Matt Quy flies the Spirit of Tuskegee over the Alabama countryside.

Matt Quy pilots the Spirit of Tuskegee.

For the past month, Quy–a captain in the U.S. Air Force–has been making his way to Washington with the airplane. On the trip his stops included the Air Force Academy in Colorado; EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh; Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala.; and Andrews Air Force Base, the latter for the 7oth anniversary reunion of the Tuskegee Airmen. Quy discussed the airplane and his journey with AOPA Live during AirVenture. Dik Daso, a National Air and Space Museum curator, accompanied Quy on the flight from Tuskegee to Washington, and blogged about the experience.

The Spirit of Tuskegee flies past an Alabama sunset.

The Stearman punctuates an Alabama sunset.

The Spirit of Tuskegee made its last flight on Friday, Aug. 5, when the Quys flew it to Washington Dulles International and taxied to the Udvar-Hazy Center. Even then, however, the airplane continued to make history: It’s the first artifact to be worked on in the museum’s new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, a just-opened, 235,000-square-foot facility where visitors can watch restoration projects from elevated viewing areas. Among other details, Quy and the Smithsonian crew are swapping engines and brakes on the airplane, to return it as closely as possible to its original appearance.

The Spirit of Tuskegee will be displayed temporarily at Udvar-Hazy; in 2015, it will move to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in downtown Washington, D.C. It will be the only aircraft displayed in the museum. Look for a story on this historic airplane in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.

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8 Responses to “Historic Tuskegee Stearman makes final flight”

  1. Ralph Hood Says:

    RE: The Spirit of Tuskegee Stearman

    I think I flew this airplane once. Was it ever based in Gadsden, AL, or anywhere else in North Alabama? Do you have much past history on this airplane?


    Ralph Hood

  2. J Ritchie Says:

    Great story and video; but for the life of me I just can’t fathom putting such a magnificent bird into a museum! But, it’s his plane, of course he can do with it as he pleases.

  3. vaughn Price Says:

    Please Clarify How a Boeing PT-27 Built in 1944 Could be Called restored when Painted Pre War Blue and Yellow and was the engine change replacing the Kycoming with the original Continental??

  4. Ben Coombs Says:

    Flying examples of history DON’T belong in a museum… They belong in the AIR!

  5. Mike Collins Says:

    The airplane got the larger Lycoming engine when it served as a cropduster after World War II, and is getting the original Continental model installed now. At least some of the Stearman biplanes flying at Tuskegee wore the blue-and-yellow paint during the war. @Ralph, not sure where the airplane operated when it was restored the first time (and subsequently was wrecked); if I can find out from Matt, I’ll try to work it into the upcoming magazine article.

  6. Erik Box Says:

    Nice photos. I didn’t even realize the Stearman was at Tuskegee at the time. Do you know if it will be there for the Fly-In the first weekend of Sept? Or has it already been taken to the museum?

  7. Carl Abejon Says:

    Hi folks,
    I did some lettering and marking work for Robt Cross, who owed this airplane and did the air show circuit for awhile in uniform with supporting articles of the era.
    He spoke of putting her in the museum, but
    tragically, Mr. Cross became ill and passed.. We lost touch, but I am sure he is smiling down
    on us all now.. It’s wonderful to see she has found her place at last..

  8. spiritual psychic Says:

    spiritual psychic

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