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Roland Garlinghouse's Stearman


Roland Garlinghouse is an aviator and Stearman enthusiast. The Boeing Stearman is a biplane that was used as a military trainer aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s. There were over ten thousand built in the United States, and after the conflict was over, thousands of surplus aircraft were sold on the civilian market. For twenty-seven years, Roland owned and flew a Stearman biplane that would later be named the Spirit of Wisconsin.

The 1943 veteran Stearman that Roland owned was used to train military aviators

during World War II, first at the Minneapolis Saint Paul Joint Air Reserve Station and

later at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. Once retired from training,

the plane was purchased to work as a crop duster but instead sat in storage.

It found its way to Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee before finding

a permanent home with the Garlinghouse family in Arkansas.

Roland purchased the plane in 1991 and restored it as close as possible to its former glory. From the start, he knew it was a special plane. This Stearman runs on a nine-cylinder engine, rather than the typical seven-cylinder. It was the same engine used in General Patton’s tanks, and this made it easier for him to find surplus military parts.

Garlinghouse used the Stearman to travel locally and to vintage aircraft

gatherings, taking off from a grass strip located at his home in Arkansas,

and landing in places as far away as upstate New York. In later years,

he gave rides to retired Naval aviators who lived nearby.

When Roland heard about Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation (AADF), a nonprofit

that honors U.S. military veterans with free Dream Flights, he thought eventually

this might be a great place for his plane. He says, “Stearman owners never

really feel like they own their airplane. We’re just stewards.”

The road to Dream Flights began in June 2018, when Darryl Fisher, AADF

founder and president, and Karl Gratriex, a volunteer mechanic, visited

Roland Garlinghouse in Heber Springs, Arkansas, to inspect his 1943 Stearman.

The inspection and flight test went well, and the Stearman became the new Spirit of Wisconsin, the fourth in a fleet of Stearmans operated by Dream Flights. Fisher

and Gratriex returned to Heber Springs later that summer to pick up the plane.

The pair then flew the Stearman to Nevada, where fourteen volunteers from Nevada, Oregon, California, and Texas spent the next seven months restoring the bright

yellow biplane to meet the high standards set for an AADF Stearman. Some

gathered in the hangar located just outside Carson City, where the plane

was stored during restoration. Others worked remotely, carefully restoring,

packaging, and shipping parts that would be installed in the plane.

Restoration work included removing and replacing everything from the firewall forward with overhauled or new parts. A new 275 horsepower Jacobs R755-B2M engine with a new Hamilton Standard constant speed prop was hung on the engine mount to give the old airframe a little more get up and go than the previous 225-horsepower Lycoming. The inside of the fuselage was completely stripped, inspected, repainted,

and rewired. The seats were refurbished and new seat belts installed. New

instrument panels, with all-new instruments, new radios, and a new transponder,

were fabricated and installed. Other mechanical items, such as landing gear,

brakes, wheel bearings, and tail wheel were disassembled, inspected, and overhauled. 

The restoration was a labor of love – for aviation, for AADF’s mission, and for the

group of Wisconsin volunteers who spent two years raising money to bring

this vintage biplane to the town of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

The restored Spirit of Wisconsin made its first test flight on June 2, 2019, and except

for a few very minor issues, passed the test with flying colors. It was declared

ready to join AADF’s fleet to ‘give back to those who have given.’

Fisher and co-pilot Darryl Smith took off from Nevada on June 11, 2019, heading for Stevens Point Municipal Airport in Wisconsin, which would be the new home base for the Spirit of Wisconsin. The plane was dedicated on June 19, 2019, and Dream Flights presented its inaugural Dream Flight to 95-year-old World War II veteran Eddie Lamken.

Back in 2016, Eddie’s son, Dave Lamken, discussed with his dad the possibility of doing a Dream Flight, but Eddie was indifferent and showed no enthusiasm. Over the past year, Eddie had pulled away from life and resigned himself to a wheelchair. On the day of the flight, pilot Darryl Fisher and the ground crew helped Eddie out of his wheelchair and into the front cockpit. Watching his father in the front seat, Dave couldn’t believe his eyes. Eddie had a huge smile on his face and was giving a thumbs up and waving to people. Dave was ecstatic. He hadn’t seen Eddie so animated in over a year. When everything was set to go, Eddie continued to wave and smile as the Stearman taxied out to the runway. The blue and yellow Stearman returned half an hour later and made a smooth landing. Taxiing back to the hangar apron, Dave could see that Eddie was still waving and smiling ear-to-ear. Then with very little assistance, Eddie climbed out of

the cockpit, down the wing, down the stepladder and, as he stood there with his

cane, he was so happy he started to cry. Following his Dream Flight, Eddie got out

of his wheelchair and has walked with the assistance of a wheeled walker or a cane ever since. In addition, Eddie’s attitude has changed so that he again looks forward

to living. Dave says, “The big smile, tears of happiness, and overall joy my

father displayed when he landed are things I will remember forever.”

How Eddie’s initial Dream Flight in 2016 transformed his life was truly amazing,

and it inspired his family and community to raise the funds to purchase Roland Garlinghouse’s 1943 Stearman two years later. Roland has seen numerous

veterans respond with similar smiles and tears of happiness when they

take a Dream Flight in his plane. It brings him great satisfaction

to be able to ‘give back to those who have given.’

Since it started in 2011, AADF has given more than 5,000 Dream Flights to veterans

and seniors living in long-term care communities, including Shell Point.

To see more, click on the YouTube links below.

Hear Roland talk about his plane:

View a video recap of Dream Flights at Shell Point:

Read an article from the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of Shell Point Life magazine:

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