Historic Wendover, Utah - WWII AFB

by H. Clay Gorton

EAA Chapter 23

Wendover Air Force Base was a former USAF base in Utah. During World War II, it was a training base for bomber crews before being deployed to the European and Pacific Theaters. In September 1944, the 393rd Bomb Squadron, nearing completion of its training as part of the 504th Bomb Group, was moved to the Wendover AFB. The 393rd Bomb Squadron was under the command of Col. Paul Tibbets, and the Wendover AFB hosted the top secret operation where B-29 crews were trained for the atomic assault on Japan. By late 1943 there were approximately 2,000 civilian employees and 17,500 military personnel at Wendover. Today the city boasts a population of about 1500.

Because of the highly classified nature of his operation, Col. Paul Tibbets chose Wendover as the base for training the B29 crews because of its isolation and the few civilians in the area. Today that historic location is chosen for the next Starduster Fly-in, not only because of its isolation, but also because of its location as a central point for the Starduster population in the Western U.S., and for its great flying weather.

The Starduster biplane materialized from the dreams of a boy who grew up the 30's–the romantic era of the development of aviation in the U.S. This romantic and nostalgic era, with the Bendix Transcontinental Air Races, the U.S. National Air Races and the Thompson Races, featuring such airplanes as the Gee Bee racer, the modified Curtiss Hawk fighter, the Wedell-Williams "44" and the Howard DGA-series, and such folklore heroes and heroines as Roscoe Turner, Jackie Cochran, Amelia Earhart, Jimmie Doolittle and Wylie Post, had every young boy searching the skies at the drone of an airplane engine and dreaming of being an aviator.

Lou Stolp was one of those boys, and he loved biplanes. Everyone who has seen a Starduster knows that! Lou designed it. As a kid, Lou rode his bike to the airport just to be around airplanes, and worked for several years without pay so he could learn the trade. During WWII he was a flight engineer and tail gunner on B25's.

Lou had the ability to take what he thought were the best of those childhood memories and put them together in the right proportion. The large spinner with stars on it, the Comanche nose bowl, the elliptical wing, the landing gear fairing and wheel covers, the turtle back head rest, along with the shape and outline of the tail–all these made up the beautiful lines of the Starduster Too. This makes it hard to believe that the airplane was named after a comic strip vacuum cleaner called “The Starduster”!

Lou Stolp moved to Riverside, California in 1957, near the Flabob Airport, the site of EAA Chapter 1, where he began designing and building his dream airplane. The first prototype of the Starduster Too, N94505, was completed in 1965, and the second prototype, N1330S, incorporating modifications that markedly improved the performance of the first prototype was finished shortly thereafter.

Since then, over 600 Starduster Toos have been built and flown. They have been powered by practically every engine imaginable, including Lycomng, Continental, Franklin, Jacobs, Warne, Ranger, Allison and Kinner, with horsepower’s ranging from 125 to 600. The fame of the Starduster has gone worldwide with current owners registered in Australia, Canada, England, France, Italy, Israel, South Africa, and Spain. There was even a Starduster Too built by Professor Hisao Takahashi and his students at the Tokyo Metropolitan College of Aeronautical Engineering in Japan.

Lou Stolp sold the company to Jim Osborn in 1973, who ran it until 1981, when it was purchased by Bill Clouse. In addition to furthers developing the Starduster Company, Bill initiated in 1993 the Starduster fly-ins at the Wautoma, Wisconsin airport, 40 miles west of Oshkosh, in conjunction with the annual EAA AirVenture. The annual gathering at the Wautoma Airport, with its wide grass strip and down-home hospitality, became a Mecca for Starduster pilots.

In 1997 ownership of the Starduster Company was transferred to Les Homan, who moved the site from Flabob to Oroville, CA. At Oroville annual Starduster open-house gatherings were sponsored by EAA Chapter 1112 that attracted many ‘Duster aficionados from around the Western U.S.

In 2003 Aircraft Spruce took over the company, and presently supplies all plans and parts for this beautiful airplane and the rest of the Starduster family, that includes the Starduster One, Acroduster, V-Star, Starlet and the Super Starduster. Aircraft Spruce is a co-sponsor of the next Starduster fly-in, scheduled for June 1-3, 2007 at the historic Wendover WWII Airbase.

The genius of Lou Stolp and his co-workers designed this beautiful airplane and started the company that marketed the plans and material for its construction. But since its inception many people, associated with the owner companies have contributed in major ways, often without fanfare and in some cases virtually unknown, to the continued success of this airplane. Their stories and their contributions would weave a fabric of expertise and often innovation in welding, forming, covering, rib stitching, painting, engine mounting and weight and balance, that have maintained the Starduster as a reliable, easy-to-handle, sport biplane.

There is one contributor, Dave Baxter, now of St. Helens, Oregon, and perhaps the only one, who has been with Starduster from the very beginning, and continues to make important contributions to the builders, owners and companies that in turn have owned the Starduster Corporation. Dave was born in raised in Riverside, CA, not far from the Flabob airport. He took his first airplane ride at that airport in 1955. He started flying at age 21, hanging around the Flabob airport. Being associated with Lou Stolp and co-workers, he started working on his own airplane in 1966, a single place Marquart biplane. Not long after he started working on his biplane Lou Stolp offered him a job. It was during the time that he worked for Lou that the second prototype Starduster Too was built.

Dave left the Starduster Company in 1969, but he has never to this day lost interest in nor contact with the company and the many Starduster owners. In 1980 he acquired a Skybolt project that he sold that for an Acroduster II, and sold that in April 1985 for a Starduster Too project about 50% completed. The Starduster Too was completed and first flown in June 1989.

One of Dave’s notable accomplishments was the publication of the Starduster Magazine from 1990 until 1998, for which he was also a major technical contributor. Principally through information published and contacts developed through that publication, he has become known as Mr. Starduster. He is presently building a Starduster Too for his son, and restoring a Skybolt. Dave has acquired from the FAA and maintains a list of the owners and tail numbers of all the currently registered Stardusters. He is scheduled to conduct a builder’s workshop during the forthcoming Starduster fly-in at the historic Wendover WWII Airbase.