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Brothers fly these working World War II planes out of Gulfport

See the world from above in a World War II military plane

Brothers Jimmy and Danny Miller of Shade Tree Airstrip in Gulfport fly their World War II military training planes on Thursday, November 10, 2016. The planes were used to train pilots during World War II and are rare to still be flying.
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Brothers Jimmy and Danny Miller of Shade Tree Airstrip in Gulfport fly their World War II military training planes on Thursday, November 10, 2016. The planes were used to train pilots during World War II and are rare to still be flying.

The Miller brothers fly rare birds.

At Shadetree airstrip in Lyman, they keep three airplanes manufactured in the 1940s, used to train World War II pilots and still flying today.

Danny Miller, who owns the airfield, says there’s nothing like owning one of these historic aircraft. Miller has the first plane aspiring Army and Navy pilots climbed into, a primary trainer known as the Boeing Stearman.

When he flies the plane, Miller thinks about the young cadets who climbed into it for the first time to earn their wings and fight for their country.

The airplane is basic. With an open cockpit, low horsepower, fixed landing gear and no radio. “It’s needle, ball and air speed,” brother Jimmy Miller explained: The ball tells you if you’re flying true, the needle if you’re turning and the air speed how fast you’re going.”

Danny Miller bought the plane six years ago from an owner in Dover, Delaware, who flew it down. The Millers say about 13,000 were manufactured, with only 1,000 still around.

Jimmy Miller has an even rarer bird, a Vultee BT-13, the basic trainer pilots graduated to after they mastered the Stearman.

“There’s fewer than 40 flying, and I got one,” he said. “I shopped four, five years until I found the one I wanted and then I went to California and flew it home.” That was a little more than a month ago.

He ran into some bad weather on the trip. “It took me five days to get it home,” Jimmy Miller said. “The airplane performed flawlessly. I flew a 1944 airplane from Monterey, California, to Gulfport Mississippi. There’s a small group of people in that club, and I’m one of them.”

In the Vultee, pilots learned radio communications and navigation with instruments. They also flew faster because the Vultee engine has double the horsepower of the Stearman.

The third training aircraft housed at Shadetree, an AT-6, an advanced trainer manufactured by North American, is owned by a Kiln resident. It is currently in Jackson for repairs, but also is air worthy.

Boeing describes the plane as transitioning World War II pilots from trainers to “first-line, tactical aircraft.”

The brothers take their planes to air shows in the region, but mostly, they enjoy giving friends and admirers rides in the unique aircraft.

Flying in the World War II trainers is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Both brothers graciously gave this nervous Sun Herald reporter rides on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

First, the Stearman. What a beautiful flight in an open, double cockpit. It wasn’t loud at all because of the 220-horsepower engine, or even overly windy with its compact windshield.

The sprawling subdivisions, lakes and piney woods of South Mississippi unfolded as the plane climbed to 500 feet. Danny Miller executed a hard left turn, advising his novice passenger up front before undertaking any maneuver. “We’re going to go low and fast,” he said, checking for obstructions on the runway.

And then he nodded toward the Vultee far below: “You’ve got to ride in that beast,” he said.

Really? OK. The Vultee was louder, a glass dome covering the double cockpit. It rattled, too. Pilots called it the Vultee Vibrator.

Both landings were like touching down in butter instead of on a grass airstrip. Way to go, Millers.

Thanks for unforgettable flights in these working pieces of American history.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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