By Ivan van der Schaar Photos by Willie Bodenstein
ZU-IES started life in 1941 as a PT17 and was delivered to the US Army to train pilots at Devon Base in Florida. She shared the field with B17's, B25's and Mustangs. Her role was to train new recruits and get them ready for active duty on bigger more sophisticated war planes. According to records she had three landing incidents during her role as a trainer.
In 1945 the Second World War was over and the large volumes of training were not needed any longer. Thousands of Stearmans and pilots were now suddenly surplus. The aircraft were offered to the public for sale and many crop dusting operators snapped these sturdy Bi-planes up to convert them to crop dusters.
ZU-IES now having a grand total of 1500 hours followed suit. Her 220HP Motor was removed and replaced with a 450HP Pratt & Whitney. The front cockpit also got converted to carry a hopper. The main gear got converted to T6 brakes and wheels to carry the 2200lbs that was to be carried in the hopper..!
The Stearman continued service right up until 1970 when disaster struck…
She was involved in a Take-off accident whereby directional control was lost and she ended up going through a ditch and ended up in some trees. This was the end of the road for her, or was it?
In 2000 the remains were imported to Bloemfontein. A huge amount of work was conducted including removing corrosion from the fuselage. In 2012 Sonica and I bought the aircraft and we started the restoration process.
Sonica, Jack & Ivan with fuselage in the background
The collection of parts
Loading for the long trip home
Trying to make sense of it all
The parts are slowly finding their places
The odorous task of covering has started
Cracks repaired and parts are spray painted
The horizontal stabilisers taking shape
The engine is hung for the first time
Oil tank fitted, spray painting and covering continue
Seat and stick in and she is taking shape
Fuselage fabric covering almost completed
Sonica starting probably the biggest task, the covering of the four wings
Ivan proving that men can iron
One year into the built
Fuel tank & empennage installed, top of fuselage sheet metal work almost complete
Whilst the seemingly never ending work on the covering of the wings continue the interior and engine is coming along well
YEAR THREE 09.02.2014
Finally after what had seemed forever she got her wings
Finally the big day! Engine start and first taxi runs. But then a huge setback with the paper work that nearly put an end to the rebuild
YEAR FOUR 19.03.2015
And finally the ATF is issued and three year and one month later on Thursday afternoon 19th of March 2015 she took to the skies again. The test flight was uneventful and she continues to grace the skies…
The list of people involved is just too long but all the party's involved knows exactly who they are. So thank you...