My Other Vehicle Was a Spacecraft

Now that the space shuttle has retired, astronauts are rediscovering the joys of flying airplanes

(Robert Seale)

Tom Henricks - Boeing PT-17 Stearman

Tom Henricks
(Debra Hale)

You’d think a space shuttle would have little in common with a Boeing PT-17 Stearman. One rocketed into orbit with a crew of up to seven and could stay in space for more than two weeks. The other is a two-seat, open-cockpit biplane that was used as a World War II trainer and whose flight time is limited by the size of the pilot’s bladder.

To Tom Henricks, who became the first astronaut pilot to log 1,000 hours in the space shuttle, the Stearman is still a marvelous machine. He bought a one-third share of one for the pleasure of flying. And he discovered something it has in common with the shuttle: “They’re both machines that can kill you,” he says.


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