Sporting a pair of silver aviators rested atop a bristled mustache, a pair of worn flip flops picked up from a local convenience store and a shirt that reads, 'Don't just stand there, go fly something', Harry Greene quickly disappears through a side door of a hangar at Kalaeloa Airport, Oahu.
“This will just take a second!” he yells.
Moments later, an enormous hangar door opens revealing a bright yellow Boeing Stearman Kaydet Primary Trainer plane nestled safely inside as if it had been taking a nap. Greene walks out of the hangar into the sunlight, admiring the plane with the trademark grin his crew at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point knows all too well.
Harry Greene flashes a shaka while flying his Boeing Stearman Kaydet Primary Trainer airplane over Kalaeloa Airport, Oahu, Jan. 31, 2016. Greene is a helicopter pilot at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and an aircraft enthusiast in his off-duty time. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle)
“She's a beauty isn't she?” he says, blue eyes lit up like a child seeing the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. He takes a quick glance up as a few clouds in the sky reflect back in the lenses of his glasses, “Today looks like a great day for a flight.”
“Well,” says Greene as he claps his hands together and motions to the plane, “Shall we?”
Built in 1934 in Wichita, Kansas, the Boeing Stearman Kaydet Trainer was used during WWII as a trainer plane for novice pilots in the Army Air Corps and the Navy. The planes were delivered to bases in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, where they served the entire time from March 1941 through the end of the war. Approximately 50 percent of all U.S. military pilots who fought in WWII received initial flight training in the aircraft and 8,430 Stearmans were built before manufacturing ended in 1944. As a cadet in the Navy, former president George Bush Sr. soloed in a Stearman in 1942. Post WWII, many of the Stearman remained in service until the early 1990's and served as crop dusting and spraying planes due to their slow, low-level flying capabilities. Over 1,000 Stearman trainers remain in flying condition today.
One of them belongs to Greene.
“It's actually my wife's plane,” said Greene chuckling out loud. “I was deployed to the Middle East around 2009. A friend of mine had it but was getting rid of it to buy a different plane. I had always wanted one and had a bunch of models people would give me as jokes saying, “Here! I bought you a Stearman!”
While Greene remained deployed, his wife Evelyn began to search around for one in their price range but always found one a little too late before a new buyer snatched it up.
“My wife had full power of attorney while I was gone,” said Greene. “One day I got an email saying, ‘Look what I bought!.' I was like, get out of here! For real?”
“We don't have kids so this was our ‘What have we done moment?'” said Greene smiling although clearly not regretting the decision. “Then we started thinking, oh my gosh, we have to find a hangar for this thing! We gotta get gas and there's the maintenance. It's a big expensive toy that requires a lot of care and feeding.”
While the Stearman remains near and dear to Greene's heart so does his love for flying and general aviation. Greene has been flying since 1989 and serving in the Coast Guard since 2002. With 2016 marking 100 years of Coast Guard aviation, Greene's 27 years of flying experience contributes significant knowledge, experience and skill to his fellow Coast Guard aviators.
Before joining the Coast Guard, Greene was conducting maintenance and running a small flight school in Arizona when the helicopter bug bit him. While at his school, he explained how he ran into a Coast Guard helicopter crew on their way through to their air station in Mobile, Alabama.
“I remember saying to the crew, ‘Hey that's a really fancy helicopter you've got,' (pretending to motion to theirs on the tarmac). ‘Mine is the rinky dink one over in the corner,'” he recalls laughing.
In conversation, Greene learned more regarding what the jobs entailed for pilots and crew serving while in Coast Guard.
“You can do that as a job?” recalls Greene excitedly. “It was a total epiphany. I went down to the recruiter the next weekend, signed up and lucked out. I was selected for Coast Guard Officer Candidate School and then went right to flight school immediately after.”
Greene now serves as an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot at Air Station Barbers Point, which boasts one of the largest areas of responsibility for search and rescue in the Coast Guard.
“While the Stearman is my favorite aircraft to fly, I absolutely love the Dolphin,” said Greene. “It's a fantastic helicopter. It has its limitations but it's a lot of fun to fly. Both aircraft put a grin on my face.”
Being stationed in Hawaii keeps Greene incredibly busy both at Air Station Barbers Point as well as in his personal life. When he's not at work, Greene and his wife serve as life members of a local non-profit organization, General Aviation Council of Hawaii.
“We work with them and serve on the board of directors,” said Greene.
“The main focus is to get people out flying as well as getting general aviation safety out to folks within the islands. We also give Young Eagles rides in our plane. Their mission is to introduce kids into the world of aviation.”
The Stearman remains as somewhat of a famous icon being visited on and off by several historians, aviation buffs as well as some VIPs.
“Two of the original Tuskegee Airmen, William ‘Bill' Holloman and Alexander Jefferson, have flown this plane multiple times,” said Greene. “It was pretty amazing so we had them sign the inside of the baggage compartment.”
Tuskegee Airmen refers to all who were involved in the so-called Tuskegee Experience, the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
“Jessica Cox has also flown in it,” said Greene. “She is the only armless pilot in the world that we know of at this time and does everything with her feet. She's pretty remarkable.”
With all the attention, keeping the Stearman airworthy, especially in its old age is no easy task. It's something only those willing to dedicate time, patience and love can accomplish.
“The propellers, engine, and many other parts have all been replaced over the years and we have a lot of parts aside on hold for when it needs to be overhauled again,” said Greene. “New wings are being built right now as we speak. It's a cycle of maintenance. The joke is, I have George Washington's hatchet that cut down the cherry tree but I have only replaced the blade twice and the handle four times but it's the original ax. It's just kind of the way aviation is. So it's a 1941 aircraft but it's just got a lot of new parts on it.”
The Greene's have a personal goal of flying the Stearman together over Pearl Harbor in 2041 for the 100th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the plane itself.
However lofty a goal it might be, at the end of the day, it's straight passion fueling his love of the Stearman and flying.
“You're right there,” said Greene, eyes glazing over as though he's envisioning himself already in the cockpit. “You smell the exhaust. You feel the wind blowing your hair around. It's close to riding a motorcycle in the air and it's why I love flying. We don't do this for money or to gain anything out of it. It's the caretakership of the machine and preserving the history and love of aviation.”
Taking another quick glance at the Stearman waiting on the open tarmac and through that trademark grin, Greene ends, “And it's a hell of a lot of fun.”
By U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article