In March of 1944, a P-17 Stearman biplane came to Eagle Field, near Dos Palos, and was stricken from U.S. Army Air Force records in June 1945 at the end of the war. The plane disappeared from the official records and went missing from all documents relating to its whereabouts.
Ultimately, the plane came into the hands of former Pocket-area resident (and pilot) Nancy Ginesi-Hill in 2008. It is particularly interesting that Ginesi-Hill is the current owner of this aircraft, as she lived and worked at Eagle Field for several years. Now she owns an aircraft that was once attached the famed airfield.
“I have been coming to Eagle Field for many years, and I have always wanted to own and fly a Stearman,” says Ginesi-Hill, “But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever own one that had been stationed at this particular field. When I bought the aircraft in Santa Rosa from Jacques Gandolfo, I had no idea it had been at Eagle Field. But once I got it, and started going through the log books, I found these entries indicating it had been there.”
Although the plane is normally housed in a hanger in Lincoln, Ginesi-Hill felt a flight to the plane’s former home field would reconnect the plane – and its pilot – to a part of history that defined U.S. aircraft development and solidified a woman’s role in the wild blue yonder.
Connecting to history
During World War II, women pilots who were part of the Women’s Army Service Pilots, or WASP, moved aircraft from the factories and depots to the active bases. These young women, first organized by Jackie Cochran, flew all types of aircraft, in all kinds of weather. With all of the qualified men at war, Cochran, a race pilot, proposed that women be taught to fly the trainers, fighters, bombers and transports, and it proved very successful. Many of the WASP have been and are currently members of the Ninety-Nines International group of Women Pilots. As a member of the group, Ginesi-Hill has had the fortune of meeting some of them.
Ginesi-Hill joined the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Ninety-Nines International group of Women Pilots 20 years ago. She is vice chairman of the chapter and she adds that the group is very active in promoting aviation in young and old alike and is a big part of the FAA Safety Team at which Ginesi-Hill is a representative. She also attends air shows with her Stearman P-T 17, organizes and volunteers at various shows throughout the year.
“Sitting there listening to WWII aces and pilot stories I could do all day long,” said Ginesi-Hill. “I love the history of our men and women of the military and I proudly fly my Stearman in their honor.”
At one time, Ginesi-Hill seriously considered starting a military style flight school in partnership with Joe Davis, owner of Eagle Field. The plan was to teach students using “tail draggers,” which many say is the “only” way to learn to fly.
Bringing the Stearman home
Ginesi-Hill brought the Stearman back to Eagle Field June 12 for the first time in 65 years. She departed Lincoln Airport at 11:00 a.m. and arrived just in time for the big dinner, dance and Fly In. The plane, its pilot and the flight were all welcomed eagerly by the airfield, as one of their own had come home.