Fayette County

Aviation Education Expo at Blue Grass Airport this weekend is all about a love of flying

A 1945 Navy Stearman biplane will be among the aircraft on display at the Aviation Education Expo 2014 this weekend at Blue Grass Airport.
A 1945 Navy Stearman biplane will be among the aircraft on display at the Aviation Education Expo 2014 this weekend at Blue Grass Airport. Herald-Leader

In Dr. George Smith's book, there's really only one way to go flying.

Take off on a balmy summer evening and spend an hour or so just cruising over the Bluegrass, enjoying the sunset from a 69-year-old open-cockpit biplane.

Smith does it several times a week in his 1945 Stearman.

"I usually take someone along; it's more fun that way," he said. "It makes for a nice summer evening, just going out to look at the sunset. That's all I do. I don't do aerobatics."

Smith, 62, took up flying at age 40. He owns two airplanes: the Stearman and a 2007 Aviat Husky bush plane, both of which will be on display at this weekend's Aviation Education Expo at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.

The event, to be held at the airport's Aviation Museum of Kentucky, will draw dozens of antique and modern planes Saturday and Sunday, including a World War I vintage trainer, a World War II combat aircraft and a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter and jets. Some planes and helicopters will be available for rides.

There also will be displays by vendors and schools that offer aviation programs, so young people with career questions can get answers, said Jerry Landreth, who is organizing the event.

"There are many careers in aviation other than flying airplanes. Every job in an airport, for example, is related to aviation and requires training," including administrators, engineers and mechanics, Landreth said. "It's just that the pilots get all the glory."

About 10,000 Stearman biplanes were built, starting in the 1930s, to train pilots for the U.S. Army and Navy. After they went out of military service, the planes' civilian uses included crop dusting and air shows.

Smith owns one of the last nine to be built.

He acquired it about five years ago after seeing a picture of the plane in its bright-yellow paint job.

"I had to have it," he said.

Smith, a Lexington radiologist, admitted that he didn't know much about biplanes back then. He said he wasn't even sure how to taxi or take off when he first bought the plane.

For the first few days, he just taxied around and around the airport, not even trying to get into the air.

"The people in the tower probably thought I was nuts," he said.

He soon caught on, however, after getting some instruction from a pilot with biplane experience.

He has added some modern touches to his plane, including GPS and radio communications. But its primitive character remains, and Smith likes it that way.

"You sit in it, and you think you're driving a tractor," he said. "Sounds like a tractor, handles like a tractor."

In the air, however, the old plane is a living, breathing legacy from the past, he says.

"It's not a modern aircraft; you have to watch it, or it will bite you," he said. "There are some quirky things about it. If you compare the altimeter in the front cockpit with the one in the back cockpit, there's a 200-foot difference. That's just Stearman altitude."

Smith says a 69-year-old plane attracts people in a way modern aircraft can't.

"There's always somebody around who wants to go for a ride," he said. "As soon as I pull the plane out of the hangar, they just show up.

"Whenever I can, I take them along."

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