09 February 2013

80 Years Ago Today...

United Air Lines Boeing 247

In February 1933 the Boeing Aircraft Company -today enduring an extremely difficult period- flew a groundbreaking new plane for the very first time- the Boeing 247.

This design could be called the first true airliner, as it featured major innovations -plus the safety and power of twin engines- that made commercial long-range air travel feasible: all-metal construction (no wood frame), retractable landing-gear, variable-pitch propellers, pneumatic de-icing system- even autopilot.

With a top speed of 200mph/cruising at 189, the Boeing 247 was able to run a NYC to Los Angeles route in an impressive 20 hours (including 3 fuel stops), a 7.5 hour improvement on the previous state-of-the-art. The plane carried 3 crew, 10 passengers, and 400 lbs of mail, and 75 were built: Boeing Air Transport flew 60, United Air Lines took 10, and some even went to Deutsche Lufthansa.

Douglas DC-1

But Boeing refused to sell 247s to any other operator until it honored United's order for 60 units: this prompted competing airline TWA to ask the Douglas Aircraft Company (which was to become McDonnell-Douglas before being folded-into Boeing in 1997) to build a similar plane they could buy so as to compete with UAL on the NYC-LA route.  

Douglas was at first reluctant, but acquiesced and developed the 12-passenger DC-1, leading to the slightly-larger DC-2 (14 p) and then further stretched DC-3 (21+p).

Built at Douglas's Santa Monica, CA plant, the Douglas DC-2
-introduced in May 1934- was an instant sensation: within six months of service, the DC-2 established 19 American speed and distance records. 

TWA was delighted, and immediately put DC-2s on overnight flights from NYC to LA. In the spirit of long-distance trains, the flight was dubbed the Sky Chief: departing from New York at 4PM with fuel stops in Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque, it arrived at Glendale, CA (SFV) by 7AM: for the first time, the air traveler could fly coast-to-coast without losing a business day...

TWA Sky Chief  DC-2