THIS PHOTO WAS taken on November 12, 1936. Those were more innocent days; the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn’t be completed for six months and World War II was nearly six years away. Close inspection reveals 36 brand new PT-17 Stearman trainer aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The Stearman was a biplane that weighed one ton, cost $11,000 to make and had a 200-horsepower engine that allowed it to fly more than 100 miles per hour. Ray Dwelly of the Hamilton Field History Museum in Novato says, “This flight probably originated from Crissy Army Airfield, which was part of the Presidio until late 1936, when operations transferred to Hamilton Army Air Field.” According to him, more than 10,000 Stearmans were built by Stearman Aircraft, a subsidiary of Boeing; the plane was nicknamed the Kaydet. A decade later, World War II had ended, and airplanes were costing hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece and traveling at close to the speed of sound. Their names included Spitfire, Kingcobra, and Hellcat. And the Army Air Corps was soon to become its own master, the United States Air Force.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Swarming Trainers”.