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Tag Archives: Boeing Stratoliner

100 And Growing

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When one considers prominent German-Americans, names such as Eisenhower, Nimitz, Kaiser and Kissinger come to mind.  However, another German-American, not often cited, may leave perhaps a greater legacy.

William E. Boeing was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1881 to Wilhelm Boing from Hagen-Hohenlimburg Germany and Marie M. Ortmann from Vienna, Austria.  The senior Boeing was a mining engineer, who became wealthy as a result of holdings of timber lands and mineral rights near Lake Superior.  After study abroad in Switzerland, Boing added an e to his name, to make it sound more Anglo.  He then entered Yale, but left before graduating to join the family timber business in 1903. Buying a large tract of forest on the Pacific side of the Olympia Peninsula in Washington, Boeing began building  boats as well as acquiring several lumber operations.

During a business trip to Seattle in 1909, Boeing saw his first plane and soon developed a keen interest in aviation. Within a few months, Boeing was taking flying lessons at the Glenn L. Martin Plant in Los Angeles and had ordered a Martin TA Hydoraeroplane.  Martin even sent one of his test pilots up to Seattle to give Boeing lessons on site.  When the test pilot crashed the aircraft during a test flight, he informed Boeing replacement parts would not be available for months. The problem frustrated Boeing, who had just received his pilot’s certificate.  After studying both the plane and the parts distribution at Martin, Boeing approached a friend of his, Commander George Conrad Westervelt, USN.  When Boeing suggested to Westervelt that they could build their own plane in less time, Westervelt agreed and they formed their own aircraft company – B&W.  Their first aircraft, the B&W seaplane was an instant success with Boeing purchasing an old boat factory on the Duwamish River outside Seattle.

When the United States entered World War I, Boeing and Westervelt received a government contract for fifty of the B&W seaplanes, with Boeing changing the name of fledgling company to Pacific Aero Products Company.  By the end of the war, Boeing began to emphasize commercial aircraft, in addition to providing a government sponsored air mail service.

The air mail service was a result of the commercial aviation market flooded with surplus World War I aircraft, which were relatively inexpensive compared with the cost of new models.  Boeing had to diversify at this point, selling furniture, and a series of flat-bottomed boats called sea sleds.  Within a few years, Boeing began to realize a profit from the overhaul of government aircraft and the sale of a few new models.  During the 1920s and early 1930s, Boeing would become a major producer of fighter planes for the Army Air Corps.

In 1925 federal law allowed public bid for air mail contracts.  Boeing received the contract, but needed a fleet of twenty six planes to serve the Chicago to San Francisco route by July 1, 1927. As a guarantee, Boeing drew $500,000 of his own money to serve as a bond for the effort. These aircraft were composed of Boeing’s latest design, the Model 40, which had an open cockpit for the pilot with an enclosed cabin for two additional passengers.  The mail service proved to be an unexpected market coup for Boeing, allowing him to haul passengers for a fee and start a new airline, Boeing Air Transport.  It wasn’t long before Boeing cornered the market in both aviation sectors.

In 1929 Boeing acquired Pacific Air Transport, merging it with both the Boeing Airplane Co. and Boeing Air Transport. The new company was named United Aircraft And Transport Company. Later the same year, United purchased both the Pratt&Whitney engine and Hamilton Standard Propeller companies, as well as Chance Vaught Aircraft.  To expand its airline service, Boeing acquired National Air Transport the following year.

By 1934 Boeing’s success began to draw the attention of the federal government.  In June of that year the Air Mail Act was passed by Congress, by which aircraft manufacturers had to divest themselves of any airline services.  As a result of this split, Boeing’s holdings were formed into three companies:  United Aircraft Corporation, which manufactured aircraft in the eastern United States (now United Technologies Company), Boeing Airplane Company, manufacturing aircraft in the western United States and United Airlines, which served the air routes.

A week after the Air Mail Act was passed Boeing resigned as chairman and sold his stock in the firm.  However, shortly after his resignation, William Boeing received the coveted Daniel Guggenheim Medal for achievement in the field of aviation.  During World War II, he came out of retirement to act as an advisor to the company to meet the demands of combat aircraft development.  The company he started in 1916 went on to develop such influential aircraft as the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress, B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress.  Boeing produced an equally impressive series of airliners, starting with the Stratoliner in 1939, the world’s pressurized airliner, the jet powered 707, 727, 737, and the Boeing 747, the world’s first Jumbo Jet.  A recent first for Boeing was the successful development and production of the 787 Dreamliner, the first jetliner in service made of carbon-fiber materials.  Boeing is now involved in the space technology sector, in addition to the production of aircraft.  Not bad for someone who made the decision to build his own plane in 1916.

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This article is the last of a series about the heroes of aviation.

 

 

 

 

LOCKHEED AND HUDSON

The recent discovery of an aluminum panel on Nikumaroro atoll in the South Pacific has renewed interest in the search for the Lockheed Electra flown by the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. During this blog, we will follow the development of the Electra, as well as its civil and military roles.

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In spite of the Great Depression, the early 1930s was a time of expanded air traffic, in both the passenger and cargo categories.  Lockheed developed the Electra to compete with the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC 2.  The Electra was the first all metal plane built by Lockheed and complied with a 1934 federal requirement that all aircraft carrying mail had to be powered by more than one engine, due to a series of crashes with single engine planes.  It was also Lockheed’s first major move toward becoming a key manufacturer of transport aircraft.  The Electra was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders.  The prototype was first flown in 1934, with the Model 10 entering service later that year.  By the late 1930s the Electra was flown by eight major airlines, resulting in a production run of 148 aircraft.

However, it began to decline in both the cargo and passenger roles by the beginning of World War II, due to the introduction of larger aircraft types such as the Boeing Stratoliner.  The Electra was relatively easy to fly and could be modified for a variety of tasks.  A modified Electra was used to conduct wing de-icing tests with a system that utilized hot gasses from the engine exhausts.  Sidney Cotton, an Australian executive who used an Electra Model 12 for business trips, modified the plane to carry cameras, taking clandestine photographs of German and Italian military installations over a three month period just before the beginning of World War II.  Perhaps the two most famous flights of the Electra were that of Amelia Earhart, in her attempted around the world flight in 1937 and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler.

While civil interest in the Electra began to decline, the military potential of the plane increased.  Lockheed, in an effort to promote foreign sales, sent cutaway drawings of the plane in 1937 to various publications, displaying the aircraft as both a civilian airliner and a converted military bomber.  The following year, the British purchased a modified version of the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra airliner to supplement its Avro Anson maritime patrol aircraft, the Lockheed planes designated as the Hudson Mk I.  The aircraft quickly entered production with 78 aircraft available to the RAF by the start of the war in September 1939.  The RAF received an additional 410 planes via the Lend Lease program.  The Hudson was originally armed with two fixed Browning machine guns in the nose along with two .30 cal. machine guns in a dorsal turret.  As the war progressed, the Hudson’s armament increased with the addition of two waist guns and a single ventral gun.

Operationally, the Hudson achieved a number of firsts.  It was the first aircraft deployed from the British Isles to shoot down an enemy aircraft in October 1939.  A Hudson was the first US plane to sink a German U boat (U 656) and the first Canadian aircraft to do the same (U 754), both in 1942.  In 1941, an attack by an RAF Hudson based in Iceland forced U 570 to surface, causing the submarine’s crew to display a white flag and surrender – the aircraft being the first to capture a warship.  In the Pacific, the Hudson was equally effective, with an RAAF Hudson being the first to make an attack on the Japanese Troopship Awazisan Maru  off the Malayian coast, an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Saburo Sakai and other Japanese aces have praised both the durability and maneuverability of the Hudson in protracted aerial combat.

While outclassed by larger bombers later in the war, the Hudson was available at a time when it was most needed.  Although difficult to take off and land, it was easy to fly.  It was a versatile aircraft, performing a variety of missions ranging from antisubmarine patrols to transporting agents behind enemy lines, as well as a trainer aircraft for bomber pilots.  The Hudson was noted by its pilots for exceptional agility for a twin-engine plane.  Perhaps the most enduring tribute to the Hudson was it spawned the development of two other successful Lockheed aircraft, the Ventura and the P-38 Lightning.

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