Twenty years after leaving Lockheed as its president, Stearman returned to the company as a design engineer. The employment interviewer thought he was a “nut” until he called Hall Hibbard, Vice President for Engineering and an original 1932 employee. Hibbard said, “He was president here and he’s one of the best engineers you’ll ever see come in the door.”
- Stearman learned to fly in a Curtiss N-9 seaplane while in the U.S. Navy Reserve Flying Corps.
- In 1920, Stearman went to work as a mechanic for EM Lairs Company on the Laird Swallow airplane.
- Stearman learned the finer points of flying from another EM Laird employee, Walter Beech.
- Stearman became chief engineer of the Swallow Airplane Company in 1924. The Swallow airplane became one of the most coveted planes among America’s sporting pilots.
- In 1926, the first Stearman Aircraft Company was formed. The company produced the C-1, C-2, C-2m and the C-2C. In 1927, the Stearman C-2B was delivered to Western Air Express.
- In 1930, Stearman joined with others to purchase Lockheed Aircraft Company and became its first president.
- Stearman designed the famous Electra airplane during this period.
- In the late 1940s, the Stearman Aircraft Division of Boeing produced the Boeing Model 75 trainer for the Army and Navy and it became known as the Stearman.
- Stearman wanted to rejoin Lockheed but never told the employment office that he used to be the president. While at Lockheed, he assisted on designing the F-104, vertical takeoff and landing craft, re-entry vehicles, and the Lockheed Constellations.
Lloyd Carlton Stearman was born in Wellsford, Kansas on October 26th, 1898, the first child of Fred Carlton Stearman, a draftsman, and Icie May (Grimm) Stearman, a music teacher. Later brothers Waverly and Ivan, plus a sister Ruth would join him in the family. Lloyd attended elementary and high school in Harper, Kansas and it was when he was in elementary school that he saw his first airplane, one with Clyde Cessna at the controls. Little did the young Stearman realize that later in life he and Cessna would be aviation partners.
From 1917-18 Lloyd attended Kansas State College at Manhattan, Kansas, studying engineering and architecture, but his studies were interrupted when Lloyd enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve Flying Corps at Kansas City, Missouri on August 21st, 1918. Soon he received orders to Ground School at the University of Washington at Seattle. Upon completion, Student Officer Stearman transferred to Naval Air Station North Island at San Diego, Calif., where he learned to fly in Curtiss N-9 seaplanes. The end of World War I cut short Stearman’s Navy career on November 11th, 1918. In December of 1918 he returned to Wichita and took employment with the S.S. Voight Architectural Firm. By mid-1920 the first commercial airplane company in Wichita, the E.M. Laird Co., was turning out the Laird Swallow airplane.
Jacob “Jake” Moellendick, partner and the “money man” behind the E.M. Laird Co., hired Lloyd Stearman as an airplane mechanic, giving Lloyd his first exposure to airplane manufacturing. Stearman soon became the foreman over the Assembly Department, and now that he had a secure job he married his high school sweetheart Ethyl Trusty. Their union produced a son, William Lloyd, and a daughter, Marylin. Stearman advanced to Senior Draftsman with Swallow and then became Assistant Engineer. During this period another E.M. Laird employee, Walter Beech, taught Stearman the finer points of piloting an airplane. Stearman would take to the air every chance he got and became very proficient as a pilot, advancing his knowledge of aeronautical designs.
This would all serve a purpose when in September 1923 Moellendick and Matty Laird parted ways. Laird went back to Chicago and Moellendick re-organized the Wichita aviation firm and on January 22nd, 1924 the Swallow Airplane Co. came into existence with Lloyd C. Stearman as Chief Engineer. The Spring of 1924 would find Lloyd at the controls of the New Swallow airplane. The Stearman designed New Swallow had many innovative features, such as the first fully enclosed cowled engine, and it became one of the most coveted airplanes among America’s sporting pilots. In late 1924 Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech left the Swallow Airplane Co. and teamed up with Cessna to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Co. It was incorporated on February 4th, 1925.
Stearman put his design talents to work and again brought forth the first three place Travel Air No. 1 airplane or the model 1000, later as a production airplane to be known as the Travel Air 2000. At Travel Air Stearman served as Chief Engineer, designing three more new airplanes. But in October 1926 he resigned from Travel Air and headed for California. At Venice, California the first Stearman Aircraft Co., with Lloyd as president, received its charter on May 16th, 1927. However, it had actually started in late 1926. George Lyle and Fred Hoyt were Stearman’s business associates in this venture and four Stearman airplanes were produced, the model C-1 (later known as the C-lX), the C-2, both OX-5 powered, the Wright J4A powered C-2M and the Wright “E” Hisso powered C-2C Stearman.
Friends in Wichita persuaded Lloyd to return to Wichita, Kansas and in September 1927 Lloyd Stearman and the directors of the newly based Stearman Aircraft Co. held the first meeting. The first Wichita built Stearman C-2B was delivered to Western Air Express in December 1927. The C-2B designation was changed to C-3B in June 1928 due to the U.S. Government’s Approved Type Certificate program and by the end of July 1929 a total C-2/C-3 airplane had been built.
Business was progressing at the Stearman Aircraft Co., despite the ravages of the Great Depression, and the company became a part of the aviation conglomerate known as United Aircraft and Transportation Corp. The huge conglomerate also also controlled United Air Lines, Hamiliton Propellers, Pratt and Whitney Engines, Boeing Airplane Co., Standard Propellers, Sikorsky and Vought aircraft Companies. Stearman disagreed vehemently with UA&TC policies. Yet under his directorship, Stearman would design and build seven Stearman model M-2s which Varney Air Line pilots would dub “the Bull Stearman,” because of their rugged construction and ability to withstand rough punishment. The company constructed three Stearman LTs were built and delivered them to Interstate Air Lines, which used them for hauling paying passengers and the U.S. Mail, all in one flight. Forty sleek Stearman model 4s were constructed and major oil companies widely used these airplanes.
The Stearman model 4 was its namesake’s favorite airplane. An unusually designed aircraft, the market for Stearman CAB-1 “Coach” was primarily the wealthy, due to its yatch designed, 3601 visibility, five-place cabin. Only one Coach was ever built, but it was never sold. Lloyd’s Model 6 Stearman seemed like a step backwards to many after his very speedy and successful Model 4 design. The Model 6 was a “back to basics” type airplane and again proved to be a success. The company built a total of ten airplanes and sold four to the civil market as the Model 6 “Cloudboy,” and six to the U.S. Army Air Corps as the YPT-9 trainer airplane. Because of the entrenchment policy of UT&AC, Lloyd resigned as President of the Stearman Aircraft Co. unit in December 1930 and with Walter Varney and Robert Gross organized the Stearman-Varney Co. in Alameda, Calif. The newly designed Stearman was hardly off the drawing board at Stearman-Varney, when Lockheed Aircraft Co. went up for sale. Under the guidance of Robert Gross, Lockheed was purchased for $40,000.00. Under this talented group of individuals the famous Lockheed “Electra” airplane, featuring twin engines, evolved. Lloyd did much of the general and detail design work on the Electra. In May 1935 Lloyd resigned Lockheed and accepted a position with the Bureau of Air Commerce (now known as the Federal Aviation Administration). Stearman was sent to the Hammond Aircraft Corporation in Ypsilanti, Michigan to inspect the radical new Hammond Model Y airplane. Stearman approved of the design in general, but thought that it needed much improvement. This was another challenge that he could not resist. With Dean Hammond, Stearman formed the Stearman-Hammond Aircraft Corporation in San Francisco in late 1935. A complete new designed Stearman-Hammond model Y-125 soon resulted from this merger. The Y-125 had many innovative safety features and many rookie pilots soloed in the airplane with only a few hours training. A total of fifteen Stearman-Hammond airplanes were built and sold.
During 1938-39 Stearman would serve as Vice President of the Transair Corporation in San Francisco and in 1941 he became the Manager of the airplane division of the Harvey Machine Co., a branch of the Harvey Aluminum Co. In this capacity Stearman served his country by designing and manufacturing airplane cowlings for the military in Long Beach, California. Agriculture was still one of Lloyd Stearman’s interests. At the close of World War II in 1945, Lloyd resigned the Harvey Machine Co. and started designing agricultural aircraft under the banner of the Stearman Engineering Co. at Dos Palos, California. But the new Boeing Model 75 trainer, an airplane that met the requirements he needed for this purpose, was flooding the market. The U.S. Government was selling these off in bulk as surplus aircraft. With George Willett, Lloyd started up the Inland Aviation Co. at Los Banos, California, and started converting these grand Boeing Model 75 airplanes into duster and sprayer agricultural planes. The Pratt and Whitney model R-985 450 h.p. engine replaced the original 220 h.p. powerplants that powered these airplanes through countless flying hours. One interesting note is that the Boeing Model 75 military trainer, which was originally for the U.S. Army and Navy, commonly became known as the “Stearman” trainer, a term still applicable to the grand old airplanes today. The Stearman Division of the Boeing Aircraft Co. was a carryover company from Lloyd’s original Stearman Aircraft Co., in Wichita, Kansas.
In 1946 Willett and Stearman went their separate ways and Stearman became associated with the National Aircraft Co., San Fernando Valley Airport, Van Nuys, California. Here Lloyd continued in re-designing and improving the Boeing Model 75 airplane for agricultural work. Stearman focused his engineering talents on designing agricultural equipment such as the twin sickle hydraulic mowers for the Stearman-Hammel Co., Dos Palos, California, where Lloyd severed as Vice President and Chief Engineer. In 1955 Stearman would re-join the Lockheed Aircraft Co. as a Senior Design Specialist working on designs for switch-blade winged airplanes, Vertical Take-Off and Landing projects, and re-entry space vehicles, in addition solving many of the technical problems on the Lockheed Constellation airplanes. Stearman would return to Wichita, Kansas for the last time in 1956 when the Lloyd C. Stearman Elementary School was dedicated in his honor.
Lloyd retired from Lockheed in August 1968 and promptly formed a new company, the Stearman Aircraft Co., in Los Angeles. Here Stearman would design his last airplane, the Stearman MP, an aviation offering that departed from the standards of the day. The Stearman MP (Multi-Purpose, an airplane designed to haul passengers or to be converted over to an ag-plane) airplane was a twin boom, split V-tail airplane programmed to employ the 700 h.p. Garrett-AiRearch turboprop engine. Stearman planned to develop and to build the prototype Stearman MP and then to contract out the actual production. But ill health prevented this new Stearman airplane from ever becoming a reality. On April 3rd, 1975 America lost a great airplane engineer, designer, and aircraft builder when Lloyd C. Stearman died in Northridge, California. Internment was at the National Sawtelle Cemetery in California.
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