THE latest arrival at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAM) in Hood River, Oregon is an airworthy example of the Stearman 4D Junior Speedmail, acquired from Ron Rex of Ocala, Florida. This aircraft was the 25th Model 4 Stearman built, and was originally registered as N796H, fitted with a 300hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior. It was purchased new from the factory in Wichita, Kansas for $15,000 by Long Island socialite Aline Rhonie, a fascinating lady who learned to fly at the age of 20 and studied art in Mexico under Diego Rivera, later painting a 113ft mural on a hangar at Roosevelt Field telling the story of aviation on Long Island. Aline served as a volunteer ambulance driver in France during the early part of the Second World War, returned to the US for a while as a Women’s Air Ferry Service (WAFS) pilot, and then spent a year in the UK as an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilot.
Now registered N774H, the Stearman has been painted as a Western Air Express aircraft which originally carried that registration. It makes a fitting addition to the WAAM collection, where it joins an example of the earlier Stearman 3, an M-2 mailplane, and the prototype Model 70, which later to become the ubiquitous wartime Model 75 Kaydet trainer.