Stearman mishap temporarily shuts down Washington’s Reagan National

June 8, 2010

It was supposed to be a day celebrating legends of aviation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., complete with a promotional fly-in of eight Stearman into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. General aviation aircraft operations have been extremely limited at the airport since 9/11. After landing, the Stearman came to rest on its back one-quarter of the way down the 6,869-foot-long Runway 1.

Behind the Stearman roll-over

By now, millions of people around the world have seen the ghastly video images of the gorgeous Stearman biplane flipping over onto its back at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. Still, there are a couple of bright spots that no one who sees the infamous video should miss. AOPA Pilot Senior Editor was a passenger in the seventh airplane in the promotional flight. Read his blog >>

The pilot, Mike Treschel, of the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Warrenton, Va., and passenger Ashley Halsey, transportation reporter for the Washington Post, were not injured in the accident. Air traffic controllers immediately closed the runway and switched all arriving and departing airline traffic to the shorter 5,204-foot-long Runway 33, forcing the inbound airliners to make a shortfield approach. Two hours after the 10 a.m. incident, a crane had lifted the yellow biplane and turned it upright before it was moved from the runway.

“Fortunately, I just bought this camera, and it’s all on film,” Halsey said after the accident. “It happened so fast.” Halsey, who said his ribs were a little sore after the accident, was reluctant to take part in the flight. “I really was not sure what kind of story I could get out of it,” he said, adding, “I’m not a movie reviewer.”

The group of Stearmans had received a waiver to land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (the Transportation Security Administration screened all pilots and passengers and performed background checks prior to the group’s departure from the Manassas Regional/ Harry P. Davis Field airport). They were promoting “Legends of Flight,” a 3-D IMAX movie featuring the Stearman, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and Super Constellation. A special preview of the movie took place June 8 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Variable winds between the north and northwest, gusting to 15 knots around the time of the accident, made it difficult to land the Stearman on pavement.

Charlie Lines, a Boeing 737 captain for US Airways who piloted one of the Stearman in the group, said “These airplanes are tricky on pavement. You can’t relax until the airplane is in the hangar.”