Looking Back at Some of the National Biplane Fly-Ins at Bartlesville OK
The 1994 and 1995 National Biplane Fly-Ins were held in the northeastern part of Oklahoma, at Frank Phillips Field in the town of Bartlesville. There’s a lot of interesting history that I learned about during my two visits to these fun-filled and educational fly-ins. Here’s a quick recap of my journeys, including mention of some of the VIPs that attended the weekend-long gatherings, plus a good look at just some of the aircraft that participated.
First, let’s look at some history. Frank Phillips was the man behind Phillips Petroleum – and the Phillips 66 fuel company. The company was based at Bartlesville in the rolling hills north of Tulsa, and the airport where the fly-ins occurred served not only as a regional airport, but some of the Phillips company’s jets were hangared there too. Nearby is Woolaroc, a museum and nature preserve that Frank Phillips set aside. One can drive through the countryside and round a corner only to stop to let a herd of buffalo to pass by, or watch antelope graze near the roadside. The winning aircraft to finish the 1927 Dole air race from California to Hawaii, a Travel Air 5000 named Woolaroc after its sponsor, is contained in one of the museum’s buildings.
The National Biplane Fly-In began in 1986, and the annual event was held at Bartlesville until 2009. Charlie Harris, Chairman of the National Biplane Association, and the staff of the organization invited VIPs who participated in discussions about aviation, and eventually about biplanes. In 1994, highlights included the appearance of (Lt. Cmdr.) George Gay, the only survivor of VT-8 during the Battle of Midway during World War II.
A Navy Grumman F3F-2 biplane fighter, one of only four flyable examples in the mid-1990s, was flown to the show from the Lone Star Flight Museum by Mike Burke too. Although the type was in use while Ensign Gay was learning to be a Naval Aviator, he said that he didn’t remember flying one during his time with the Navy.
In 1995, a larger list of legendary people attended. Retired Colonel Travis Hoover, who flew the second B-25 during the Doolittle Raid spoke. Paul Poberezny, founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association, had hoped to fly into the event, but poor weather that year prevented it. He said that he was going to ride his Harley motorcycle if weather prevented his flying into Bartlesville, but enroute conditions were so poor, that he had to “commercial it” into Tulsa to arrive in time for the Fly In. The featured speaker that year was Frank Price, who was the first American to win the World Aerobatic Championships in 1960. He brought the Aresti aerobatic diagram system back with him, as well as the acrobatic Bucker Jungmeister biplane, the type which he then flew during the filming of the movie The Great Waldo Pepper.
Around a hundred aircraft would attend a weekend’s event, but in 1995 the Oklahoma weather featured heavy thunderstorms and rain which kept attendance low. Old-time favorites like Beech Staggerwings, WACOs of many varieties, Stearman trainers, and Fleets were to be found, and newer designs like Pitt Specials and Starduster Toos as well. Rarer aircraft such as a Rose Parakeet, a Kreider-Reisner KR-31, a Bucker Jungmeister and a few Great Lakes aircraft showed up too. Many aircraft were flown throughout the day, and a New Standard D-25 biplane was offering rides in the true barnstormer fashion.
Here are two groups of photos, one from 1994 and one from 1995, showing the variety of biplanes that flocked to the Midwestern event. Seeing the aircraft and listening to the various VIPs speak was a treat, but talking with the other two hundred or so VIPs who flew their biplanes into Bartlesville was equally entertaining and educational too.
Although the final Bartlesville OK National Biplane Fly In was held in 2009, 2020 saw the Fly In resurrected by the EAA Chapter 1364 at Freeman Field (K3JC) in Junction City Kansas. We’ll have to see if 2021 will bring us another National Biplane Fly In… filled with history and the entertainment of watching biplanes in flight.