Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kansas-built Boeing plane featured on aviation license plate

SNOHOMISH — There will be no bombers on the backs of Buicks.

Instead, a vintage biplane that was built in Kansas would be depicted on a proposed specialty license plate to support aviation programs in Washington state.

A sample of the proposed plate uses an image of the Stearman Kaydet. The image is cut from a photo, taken in 1944 in a cloud-filled Kansas sky, and superimposed on an image of Mount Rainier. The words “Celebrate Aviation” run along the bottom of the plate.

The Stearman Kaydet was used primarily as a military trainer for novice pilots in the U.S. Army and Navy through World War II. Later, the Kaydet added civilian roles, like crop dusting. Many of the biplanes still were flying in the early 1990s.

“We wanted something that transitioned from all sides — general aviation, military, commercial,” said John Dobson, vice president of the Washington State Aviation Alliance, a key partner in the license plate effort. “Everybody used (the Stearman) at one time or another.”

It’s also technically a Boeing plane. Stearman Aircraft Co. was acquired by a Boeing holding company in 1929 and became a division of Boeing in 1938. Its founder attended the University of Washington.

For alliance members, the choice of the Kaydet reflects their mission to unite the different wings of aviation interests.

“The only thing it doesn’t have is it doesn’t have seaplane floats on it,” Dobson noted.

The aviation alliance, now a nonprofit based in Snohomish, traces the roots of its own history to 2010, when different aviation groups came to Olympia to lobby against a proposed aircraft excise tax. The tax was defeated.

Realizing they could have a greater impact by speaking with one voice, the nonprofit effort took flight and was formalized in 2015, becoming an increasingly active voice in Olympia. It held its first full membership meeting in March in Bellevue.

“We speak with one voice,” Dobson said.

Awareness, safety top list

Washington has 138 public airports. Snohomish County is home to six of them: Arlington Municipal, Darrington Municipal, First Air Field in Monroe, Harvey Field in Snohomish, Sky Harbor in Sultan, and Snohomish County Paine Field in Everett.

“Most people don’t really understand small general aviation and the amount of money it generates for the community,” Dobson said.

In 2012, public airports statewide generated more than $50 billion in total economic activity, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division. The WSDOT agency is the proposed plate’s official sponsor.

Some of the proceeds of the specialty license plate, should it move forward, would go to raising awareness of that impact. Money also would help prepare airports to better withstand as well as respond to emergencies, such as earthquakes, and improve public access.

In all, $28 of the $40 one-time fee would support aviation-related efforts.

It’s too early to say what specific improvements would be made or which airports would see money, said Kandace Harvey, owner of Snohomish’s Harvey Field. Harvey represents the Washington Airport Management Association with the aviation alliance.

“Safety and security improvements on airports are always number one priorities,” Harvey said. Education is another opportunity, she said. “Much more than flying takes place on an airport.”

The aviation alliance likely would play a key role in deciding what gets funded through the WSDOT-managed fund. Harvey said they would focus primarily on programs that aren’t eligible for federal aid.

Plate already popular

The Stearman is a widely admired plane, though some have wondered about placing a Kansas-built aircraft on a Washington state plate.

All of the Kaydet series airplanes were built in Wichita, Boeing historian Michael Lombardi said. The specific aircraft featured on the proposed plate is a Boeing N2S-5, a U.S. Navy version of the U.S. Army PT-13D Kaydet trainer.

When WSDOT approached him for the photo, Lombardi said he let them know it was built in Kansas.

“I do like the Kaydet; it is a Boeing airplane after all. But I would have suggested one of the famous Boeing planes built here in Washington,” Lombardi said. “My first choice would be the B-17 Flying Fortress, but any of our commercial jets would be good representatives, especially the 707, 737 or 747.”

Aviation alliance members briefly considered putting a Piper Cub on the plate, said Dobson, the vice president.

“The Cub was another one we always thought about. But the Cub is really a specific (general aviation) trainer. (The Kaydet) had much broader appeal,” Dobson said. “It really was a unanimous choice. It was just the only plane to go with.”

Regardless, an online survey to gather signatures in support of the plate shows there’s plenty of love for the proposal. Within 10 days, the group had gathered 4,000 signatures of support. Hundreds more have come in since then.

The proposal needed 3,500 signatures to be considered by the Legislature.

Organizers still seek people to sign the petition to bolster the plate’s chances. Signatures will be gathered until the end of the year.

If approved by lawmakers, the plate would be available to purchase in summer 2017.

Would you buy it?

Proponents seek more signatures on a petition supporting the proposed aviation license plate at


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