Happy 90th Birthday to Stearman NC8811

90 Years Ago Today

On April 11, 1929, the Stearman factory in Wichita, Kansas completed manufacturing work on another of their aircraft, a model C3B, serial number 221, registered NC8811. A week before, the aircraft had been sold to Rogers Aircraft, Inc. at Rogers Airport, 3901 Angeles Mesa Dr., Los Angeles, California. (near Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Ave. today)

Rogers Airport, Los Angeles, 1922

Well designed with unmistakable thoroughbred lines, the Stearman C3B is considered one of the all-time greats in early aviation and was the basis for every subsequent “Stearman” airplane built. The C3B was rugged and dependable, well suited for the early mail routes and airline feeder service on which it was used.

Introduced in 1927 at designer Lloyd Stearman’s factory in Venice, Calif., early models were equipped with Curtiss OX-5 and Hisso engines of lesser horsepower. Production was moved to Wichita, Kan. In late 1927 and certification came in mid-1928, after which the C3B was powered by a 9-cylinder Wright “Whirlwind” J5 engine producing 220 h.p.

NC8811 in 1953 in service with Atwood Dusters in northern California.

It quickly earned a reputation for performance and utility and many were used for advanced pilot training and aerobatics training. After larger aircraft took over mail and airline routes, C3B’s served in the emerging crop dusting industry and continued in this demanding practice well into the 1960s. NC8811 was used as a crop duster from about 1935 to 1954.

Al Kelch in NC8811 shortly after restoration in 1997.

To satisfy popular demand at the time, Stearman produced a sport model of the C3B, painted in “Stearman Red” for the “play-boy” pilot and barnstormers who wanted a high-performance airplane for personal use.

Al Kelch acquired NC8811 in 1979 as a “basket case” along with the remains of two other C3B’s that were in poor condition. Fully restored by Kent McMakin at Brodhead Airport, it was returned to service in 1997 in the original sport configuration. The aircraft does not have a starter and must be hand-propped.

Stearman C3B from Kelch Museum at Brodhead, Wis. Photo by Jim Koepnick.