2010-06-03 / Local & State

Pa. Pilots To Fly Historic Planes To Film Premiere

BEAVER, Pa. (AP) – Five pilots from western Pennsylvania and Ohio will fly historic biplanes into Washington later this week for the premiere of a 3D IMAX film about the history of aviation.

The planes are Stearman biplanes, and US Airways pilot Jack Roethlisberger of Beaver says if you could learn to fly one of them, you could fly just about any World War II aircraft.

“That's what most aviators trained on,” Roethlisberger, 61, said at Beaver County Airport, where five Stearmans are kept and several others are in various stages of restoration.

Roethlisberger, no relation to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, will join Ron Gorr of Mt. Lebanon, Cam Youree of Hookstown, John Lebbon of Fredonia and Charlie Lines of Canfield, Ohio in flying restored biplanes in for the Washington premiere of “Legends of Flight,” a 3-D IMAX film about aviation history.

Gorr, 66, said they will fly to Manassas, Va., on June 7 to meet up with four Virginia based Stearman pilots, and the following day the group will fly into Washington's Reagan National Airport and watch the film premiere at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

The Stearman is one of several aircraft featured prominently in the film as an “innovation in flight,” film spokesman Ryan Lilyengren said.

Ken Miles, director of operations for the nonprofit Stow, Mass.-based Collings Foundation, which preserves and flies vintage planes, calls the Stearman “iconic.”

“It's the open cockpit biplane that everyone thinks about when they think about World War II aviation,” Miles said. Sixty to 70 percent of all WWII combat pilots trained in the Stearman, including nearly all of those in the Army Air Corps, he said.

After the war, many were auctioned off and used as crop-dusters, sport planes and on barnstorming tours. Of the 10,000 planes built in the late 1930s and early '40s, more than 1,000 remain in use today, Miles said.

“They are reliable, available, and they are built like a tank,” said Lebbon, 70. “They were built to go through training, so they had to be more rugged and easy to repair.”

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