Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Red Baron takes to the skies once again: Valley City brothers restore a favorite of aerobatics fans

Paul and Jarrod Lindemann talk about the flight characteristics of the 1941 PT-17 Boeing Stearman at North Valley Aircraft in Valley City. The brothers restored the plane as the Red Baron.
FNS Photo by David Samson 

VALLEY CITY — The Red Baron is back in the skies.

Brothers Paul and Jarrod Lindemann have restored a 1941 Stearman biplane that was part of the Red Baron Squadron, an aerobatic team that barnstormed air shows across the U.S. from 1979 to 2007.

The plane started as a U.S. Army Air Corps trainer in World War II, then got a second life as a crop-duster.

In its third life, the biplane twisted, turned and pleased fans of flight as it hawked Red Baron pizzas for the Schwan Food Co. of Marshall, Minn.

The distinctive red-and-white paint scheme of the Red Baron Stearman is topped with graphics similar to those it wore after it was modified into a 450-horsepower formation-aerobatics showstopper.

“We were always looking for one of these airplanes. This is the hot rod of the Stearmans,” Paul Lindemann said.

The brothers, who run a crop-dusting operation as North Valley Aircraft, bought the Stearman at auction in fall 2008. Once they got other aircraft restorations out of the way, it took them 11 months to restore it, finishing in July.

The plane, No. 5 of the Stearmans flown at air shows, had been disassembled. It was being readied for a complete restoration when the Red Baron Squadron was closed down. Most of the parts were in boxes and the wire harnesses had been cut and had to be replaced, the Lindemanns said.

“From the firewall forward, everything was missing. But you can find the stuff,” Paul said.

“A lot of guys don’t know how to work on them anymore. We grew up with them,” Jarrod said.

Compared to the Pitts Special aerobatics planes the brothers fly in air shows, the Stearman is slow and not nearly as agile. But it has an aura of romance, they said. They plan to fly and display it, too, at air shows.

The big, supercharged Wasp piston engine has a roar loved by air show crowds. And hearing the wind whistle through the struts and tension wires gives it the airplane feel of riding a motorcycle, the Lindemanns said.

“It’s great to fly,” Paul said. “They present well, and you can’t beat the old radial engine sound.”

“It’s got a lot of power,” Jarrod added. “I definitely love the nostalgic feel of this aircraft.”

The Red Baron Squadron had six planes, but usually flew four in formation, said Paul, who researched the group. The squadron flew in more than 2,000 air shows in 28 years. He said 42 pilots flew with the group, and more than 80,000 passengers got rides.

The planes were well taken care of and rebuilt often, Paul said. A mobile shop followed them from show to show.

The No. 5 plane was a workhorse. It was “along for the whole ride, 28 years,” Paul said.

The biplane, built by Boeing as the Model 75, was a U.S. Army PT-17 “primary trainer” in World War II, Paul said.

It was one of more than 10,000 PT-17s used to train Army and Navy pilots (the Navy called them the N2S) during the war. They were rugged and forgiving for beginning pilots

After the war, many Stearmans survived — unlike the thousands of bombers and fighters that were scrapped. That’s because they were easy to convert into cropdusters.

The brothers are glad they rebuilt this Stearman, not only for its ties to aviation history but to their own lives.

“I remember seeing them (the Red Baron Squadron) in Fargo as a kid in the mid-’90s. To own one is something special,” Paul said.

“It was the only airplane out of the squadron” not in flying condition when it was sold, Paul said. “It would be nice to get them all together again.”

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