Inside the World War II-Era Airplane That Oak Cliff Residents Can't Stand

Steven DeWolf and his awesome (but loud) antique aircraft.EXPAND
Steven DeWolf and his awesome (but loud) antique aircraft.
Amy Silverstein

At the contentious town hall meetings between city of Dallas staffers who insist Dallas Executive Airport is going to expand and neighboring Oak Cliff residents who would rather it didn't, one airplane in particular has drawn flak. "At previous meetings, everyone has brought up the yellow airplane that was so loud," says James Nutt, one of the airport's unhappy neighbors.

Dallas Executive Airport, a small property in the Red Bird neighborhood, is owned by the city, which has been planning to renovate and expand it for the past four years. The neighbors-turned-activists who live next door say they wouldn't necessarily be against a bigger airport if the city had handled the expansion better. But they're unhappy they have largely been left out of the city's planning process, which has been secretive at times, as the Observer's Eric Nicholson reported last year.  

Among the questions neighbors have is how the city will limit further noise from the small planes already there before the airport gets bigger and hosts more planes.  People who live next to the path of the airport's longer runaway complain about the sounds from private jets, while people closer to the shorter runaway, where Nutt lives, deal with smaller aircraft. The small yellow airplane "is like a Harley Davidson going down the street," Nutt says.

The owner of the yellow airplane remained a mystery to the angry neighbors until another city-hosted meeting last month. Steven DeWolf, a Dallas attorney and successful wind energy developer, says the city invited him to speak, but he didn't realize that his airplane "was a big point of contention" and came to the meeting under the impression that he would have some sort of constructive talk with everyone about his plane, a model called the PT-17 Stearman, made by Boeing. The PT-17 was used as a primary trainer in the World War II era, and DeWolf says it was same model his father first learned to fly. He bought the plane in 1991 and practices patterns on early Friday mornings, dressed in the same style of jumpsuit pilots from that era wore. He wears a parachute with the outfit to be safe, but he's never had to use it. 

As DeWolf faced questions and complaints from angry neighbors at the August meeting, "I felt kind of bad for him," Nutt says. "I felt like the airport kind of threw him under the bus by asking him to speak."  Nonetheless, Nutt wanted to make his concerns clear with DeWolf directly. He recalls telling the pilot, "You're the reason a lot of the people here don't want the airport expanded, because we don't want more noise." The noise, Nutt says, is so powerful that it shakes his windows and scares his dogs. After the meeting, residents described the confrontation with DeWolf and their unflattering impressions of him in a public Facebook thread. When we called DeWolf shortly afterward to hear his side of the story,  he claimed that he flies only narrow patterns, inside the boundaries of the airport, and that he puts the engine to "idle" when he lands to reduce noise.

"Maybe I'm being overly sensitive," he reflected of his tense meeting with Oak Cliff neighbors. "Maybe it wasn't all directed toward me. They were nice enough to give me applause when I left," DeWolf said on the phone. Then he invited us to come to the DEA airport and see the airplane ourselves. Free ride in a biplane? Sorry, Oak Cliff. Watch our video inside his aircraft below: 

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