A History of United Airlines
by Marvin E. Berryman - DENTK (Retired)
VARNEY AIR LINES
THE BIRTH OF UNITED AIR LINES - The First Flight on Contract Air Mail route No. 5
At 5:30 am on the morning of April 6, 1926, six sacks of letters arrived at the Pasco, Washington airport on an old-fashioned six-horse stagecoach (above). The sacks containing 9,285 pieces of mail and weighing 207 pounds were then loaded onboard Varney’s Swallow mail plane. One of the six sacks was to be delivered to the cities of Boise, Elko, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City.
In addition to the rubber-stamped “First Flight Air-Mail” envelope cancellations, the Pasco, Washington Post Office affixed this “U.S. Stagecoach - Mail Stamp” to the back of the envelopes.
This was but one method Walter T. Varney used in advertising his company’s inaugural CAM No. 5 flight. He promoted it in Washington State’s Tri-city area of Richmond, Pasco and Kennewick and many other mid-Columbia towns as the “Air-Mail Jubilee”. This promotion attracted some 2,500 cheering spectators, reporters, photographers and postal officials to the Pasco airport on April 6, 1926.
The day-long jubilee included a baseball game, a golf tournament and over-flights by National Guard planes. At 11:00 am the formal part of the celebration began and a granite slab commemorating the beginning of Air Mail service was erected at the airport.
At 6:20 am, after 20 minutes of “hand-pulling”, the Swallow’s balky 150 hp Curtiss C-6 water-cooled engine finally started. Varney’s chief pilot Leon Cuddeback then roared down the crowded field and into the air, bound for Boise, Idaho (above).
When Cuddeback arrived at Boise at 10:00am another large crowd awaited. There were more photographers, more officials and more speeches. Two additional mail sacks and two prize Idaho potatoes addressed to President Calvin Coolidge were loaded aboard the Swallow. These items joined the bottles of grape juice and the box of asparagus mailed from Pasco. The flight then departed for Elko, Nevada at 10:55 am.
Yet another large crowd and additional ceremonies awaited pilot Cuddeback when he arrived at Elko. One of the less-known events on this historic day was the increasing pressure on Cuddeback’s bladder. He had no opportunity to relieve the pressure at Boise due to the ceremonies … so he made “good use” of one of his gloves before landing in Elko.
After Cuddeback landed at Elko he warned pilot Franklin Rose about the strong winds and thunderstorms he had encountered in the mountains north of Elko. As soon as the Swallow was refueled, the mail was exchanged and Rose took-off on the Elko-Boise-Pasco inaugural return-flight.
When Rose failed to arrive in Boise by 6:00pm, the Varney staff began to call the few ranches along the route that had telephones. A search began the following day, April 7, 1926, using government & private planes, cars, horses and on foot. The other Varney pilots reluctantly agreed to continue flying their scheduled mail routes rather than join in the search.
Rose had been blown 75 miles off-course and landed in a desolate, muddy area just north of the Idaho-Nevada state line. The plane was undamaged but was stuck in the mud. Rose hiked to a ranch and borrowed a horse. He then rode 30 miles and finding a house with a telephone, called Boise - 48 hours after he had gone down.
By the end of his first week in business, Varney realized he needed more powerful engines for his Swallows. He asked the Post Office for permission to suspend service for 60 days and they consented. He contacted Vern Gorst of Pacific Air Transport for help. Varney had decided he needed air-cooled 200 hp Wright Whirlwind J-4 engines to replace the Swallows’ water-cooled Curtiss C-6 engines.
Gorst had a contract with the T. Claude Ryan factory in San Diego for the first ten production-line Ryan M-1s with the Whirlwinds, so they made a paper-deal and Varney got his new engines. After installing the engines and a week of trial-runs, Varney resumed mail service in June 1926.
By late 1926, Salt Lake City had replaced Elko at the CAM 5 route’s south end. Varney Air Line’s first fatal accident occurred April 15, 1927 on a flight between Salt Lake City and Boise, killing Pilot William E. Sanborn. Following this accident Varney contacted Stearman regarding a replacement for the Whirlwind engined Swallows.
In early 1929, Varney began taking delivery of Stearman’s newly designed 525 hp Cyclone engined M-2 “Speedmail” planes. With 91 cubic feet of cargo space, these planes carried a thousand-pound payload and cruised at 125 mph.
After receiving the CAM 5 contract, Varney continued to bid for additional CAM routes. Finally in 1929, the Post Office awarded him the route linking Portland, Seattle & Spokane to his Pasco, Boise, Salt Lake City service. Varney Pilot Joe Taff flew the inaugural flight in mid-September 1929, flying through forest-fire smoke so thick that he couldn’t see the recently-installed beacons along the Columbia River Gorge.
PACIFIC AIR TRANSPORT (PAT)
With today’s city, state and federal government financing and maintenance of airports and the federal navigational services, it is often overlooked that many of the people who started the Contract Air Mail companies had to “do-it-themselves”.
December 31, 1925, Harry S. New, the U.S. Postmaster General awarded Vern C. Gorst CAM Route No. 8. On January 7, 1926 Gorst incorporated The Pacific Air Transport Company (PAT) under the laws of Oregon for $500,000. Following incorporation Gorst had much to do and many decisions to make before PAT’s inaugural airmail flight.
The new Ryan M-1 monoplanes with 200HP Wright Whirlwind air-cooled engines were determined to be best for the 1100 mile route extending from Seattle to Los Angeles. (Restored M-1 above left). Seven M-1s were purchased at the price of $3,700 each, plus $5,100 for the Whirlwind engine. Eleven parachutes were purchased for $3,660.
Before the first CAM No. 8 flight, one 400 hp De Havilland, two Travel Airs (one Whirlwind & one C-6A engined), one OX-5 Swallow and one OX-5 Waco were added to the PAT fleet.
A “relatively inland” route was picked to avoid the coastal fog, however this route meant flying over mountainous terrain. Hangars and airfields were chosen, schedules established, pilots & mechanics hired and aircraft maintenance shops were opened.
Standard Oil Company was persuaded to paint town-names on their building’s roofs (below right). Five Model T Fords (two delivery trucks & three roadsters) were purchased to transport mail pouches to-and-from the five post offices.
Airport lighting was installed as were beacon lights on barns, windmills, light poles and in the Oregon Siskiyou mountain range. In remote areas with no electricity, Kohler light plants were installed by the PAT personnel (including Gorst himself) to power the beacons. At some airports, as a temporary measure, automobiles’ headlights were used to outline the runways.
Pacific Air Transport’s “1926 First Annual Report” stated, regarding Sept. 15, 1926’s first day flights: “Such was the simple, yet dramatic, beginning of a new era in rapid transit on the Pacific Coast.”
The first CAM 8 northbound flight departed Los Angeles at 12:01 am with stops at Bakersfield, Fresno and San Francisco. This flight returned to L.A. via Fresno and Bakersfield, arriving at 5:00 pm
The first southbound flight, piloted by Vernon Bookwalter, departed Vancouver, Washington’s Pearson Field at 5:25 am carrying 100 pounds of mail from Seattle and 84 pounds from Portland.
At 8:38 am Bookwalter landed in Medford and exchanged the mail for ten mail pouches flown from San Francisco by A. D. Starbuck. R. B. “Pat” Patterson made the return flight to San Francisco.
Bookwalter departed Medford at 9:20 am and landed in Vancouver at 11:30 am to an enthusiastic crowd of 6,000, including Oregon Senator Robert Stanfield, Portland postmaster Jones, Portland mayor Baker and the Portland chief-of-police.
Following the ceremonies, Grover Tyler flew the M-1 to Seattle, arriving at 1:30 pm with one Portland mail pouch and five from California.
Southbound Seattle mail was transported by train to Vancouver until the Washington state airport and beacon lighting installation was complete.
The first airfields used by PAT were Naval Sand Point Airstrip (Seattle), Pearson Army Field (Vancouver), Newell-Barber Field (Medford), Crissy Army Field (San Francisco), Fresno Airport, Bakersfield Airport and Angeles Air Mail Field (37th & Angeles Mesa Dr., Los Angeles). PAT ceased using Pearson Field when Portland’s Swan Island airport opened in 1927.
In January 1927 PAT carried its first two passengers. By August 1927 - 216 passengers had flown. The fare was $132 for the 18-1/2 hr. flight - Seattle to Los Angeles.
San Francisco’s Crissy Army Field ca. 1921 (left) - Detail from a 1926 pilot’s “roll-up” map showing Crissy Field near the Golden Gate (right).
Flying CAM 8 proved very hazardous due to the mountainous terrain and the frequently dense fog along the coast. Several planes and three pilots were lost in the first year of operation.
By March 1927, Gorst’s “financial shoestring was nearly broken” when he entered the San Francisco Wells Fargo-Nevada Bank hoping for a $5000 loan. He explained to 27-year-old William Allan Patterson that he wanted to use part of the loan to raise a plane out of the San Francisco Bay and salvage the engine. During their conversation it was concluded that the salt water had probably damaged the engine beyond repair.
Intrigued about the struggling airline and eager to bag his first new account, Patterson visited PAT’s hangars at Crissy Field that same afternoon.
Gorst got his $5000 loan, but the next day Patterson was standing before Frederick L. Lipman, the bank president. He was told to “stick by those flying-machine men until they pay it back”.
Gorst repaid the $5000 loan promptly. When he received a $15,000 check from the Post Office, Patterson convinced him to invest in government bonds. These bonds were used as collateral for credit and to acquire a new loan from Wells Fargo.
Gorst was still strapped-for-funds to pay for planes, fuel and to meet his payroll, so Pat Patterson spent his “off-duty” hours at the bank setting up an orderly accounting system for PAT.
There was a demand for bigger planes carrying more passengers and mail. PAT had acquired a five-passenger Fokker Universal (shown aboveright and on business card center). On a passenger-less flight in fog north of San Francisco, the pilot parachuted-out leaving the Fokker to run-out-of-gas. The plane nearly make a perfect landing by itself, unfortunately it hit a mound of dirt in the middle of a field and cart-wheeled into a total loss.
In the three winter months of 1927/28, three planes were lost due to pilots jumping. After the loss of so many planes, Vern Gorst, Chief Pilot Grover Tyler and W. A. ‘Pat’ Patterson met with William Boeing. They wanted to rebuild the PAT fleet with $25,000 Boeing Model 40C planes (above left), but Boeing refused to sell the planes on credit.
Patterson then suggested that Boeing buy PAT, paying $200 per share for all the PAT stock. Boeing agreed to this and to Gorst’s stipulation that all of PAT’s personnel be retained. Gorst was made a Boeing vice president and put on Boeing Air Transport’s Board of Directors.
Gorst was paid $94,000 for his controlling interest in PAT. He promptly bought a new Boeing B1-D Flying Boat to start an Alaska airline, hoping to receive an Alaska airmail contract.
As word of Boeing’s buyout spread, PAT’s nearly worthless, $100 par-value, shares skyrocketed to as much as $666 per share.
Shortly after the PAT sale, Boeing president Philip G. Johnson phoned Patterson at the San Francisco Wells Fargo Bank regarding a Boeing Air Transport license to fly inside Mexico. After investigating, Patterson recommended against the venture.
Johnson then offered Patterson a job as his assistant in Seattle and on January 22, 1929 at age 29, ‘Pat’ Patterson was officially in the “aviation-game”. One of Patterson’s first assignments was to track-down owners of 4,500 nonvoting shares of Pacific Air Transport.
NATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT (NAT)
During WWI, Clement M. Keys was Financial VP of the Curtiss Aeroplane Company. In 1920 he acquired controlling interest, buying-out the Willys-Overland interests.
In 1925, Keys founded North American Aviation (NAA) as a holding company for the development and financing of airlines, aircraft manufacturers and other aviation services. Dec. 6, 1928, NAA was incorporated in Delaware. March 1930, it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Also in 1925, Keys and Carl B. Fritsche, General Manager of the Aircraft Development Corp. of Detroit, proposed raising $2,000,000 to finance an airline to operate between New York, Detroit and Chicago. Keys quickly raised $1,000,000 in New York City. The balance, $500,000 each, came from Detroit and Chicago investors.
May 21, 1925, National Air Transport (NAT) was incorporated in Delaware with Howard E. Coffin, (VP, Hudson Motor Car Corp) as President. Keys was Chairman of the Executive Committee and Col. Paul Henderson was General Manager. Vice Presidents were Charles L. Lawrance (Wright Aeronautical Corp.); Wayne Chatfield-Taylor (Chicago) and Eugene Lewis (Detroit). Fritsche was elected Secretary and John J. Mitchell, jr. (Chicago) became the Treasurer.
Late in 1926, NAT ordered a Ford Tri-motor 4-AT with an “open-cockpit” (above). The first flight was in November 1926, Kansas City - Wichita - Tulsa - Oklahoma City - Dallas - Fort Worth. After the return flight, it was sent back to the factory to enclose the top. It was then used for sight-seeing flights.
Keys was awarded the 995-mile CAM No. 3 route, Chicago - KC - Dallas. NAT began operations May 12, 1926 with 10 Curtiss Carrier Pigeon airplanes and 35 U.S. surplus Liberty engines as spares.
April 2, 1927, after rescinding the contract it had previously awarded North American Airways, the Post Office Dept. announced that Keys and NAT had won the 724 mile CAM No. 17 contract. This New York - Chicago leg of the Transcontinental Air Mail Route connected with BAT’s CAM 18 route.
NAT began flying CAM 17 on September 1, 1927, initially using Carrier Pigeon mail planes from the CAM 3 route. Later Douglas M-3 and M-4 mail planes replaced the Carrier Pigeons.
The Douglas planes came from a variety of sources including 18 M-4s from the U.S. Post Office. One M-4, the “Booze Ship”, had been seized by the Government while illegally smuggling liquor from Cuba.
NAT mail planes only had room for a single passenger who sat among the mail bags. Passengers were issued a “typical flying-outfit” of coveralls, helmet, goggles and a parachute (rarely were they given instructions on how to use the parachute). They were also subject to being “bumped” by mail.
The fare was a steep $200 for the Chicago - Cleveland - NY flight. Hadley Field, NJ was used until Newark opened. In spite of these obstacles, NAT flew 168 passengers the first year (1927/28), most of them connecting from BAT’s CAM 18 route, San Francisco - Chicago.
In 1927, NAT bought 5-passenger Travel Air Model 5000s and carried 1560 passengers between Chicago and Kansas City in 1928 (above, but inside the cabins!).
Early in 1929, NAT acquired seven 625 hp Curtiss Falcons for the Chicago - Dallas night-service mail flights, these replaced the smaller Carrier Pigeons. D. A. Askew (above right) flew the final Carrier Pigeon flight. He had flown this same plane on the inaugural CAM No. 3 flight May 12, 1926.
In early 1930, NAT quit flying passengers and focused on the more profitable mail flights. Passenger flights didn’t resume until October 1, 1930 following the Stout - NAT merger within Boeing’s United Aircraft and Transport Corp.
“Midnight - the Mail Flies West!” (from June 1930 Popular Science magazine)“Mechanics at Hadley Field, NJ are grooming one of the huge nocturnal birds for a flight west with the midnight mail.”… “Wearing khaki overalls, with a red arrow piercing the letters NAT on the backs, a dozen mechanics were checking over the planes in the hangar.” One man spends all his time washing the ships. Another does nothing but test and care for the radio equipment. Others are expert motor doctors, and still others are riggers who check over and trim the ships. At the Chicago field of the NAT, there is a ‘propeller man’ in charge of adjusting all ‘props’, and at Cleveland a ‘parachute man’ examines and repacks every ‘chute once a month.”
“When a plane arrives at Hadley Field, while the mail is being unloaded, the fuel tanks are filled from a red pump before the main hangar. 158 gallons pour into the big tanks of the Boeings and from 128 to 131 gallons into those of the Douglas planes.” “After the ship is run into the hangar, it is gone over from propeller to tail. The batteries are taken out and tested. The 18 gallon radiators that cool the Liberty engines are examined and filled.” “All told the NAT has approximately fifty planes in operation.”
NAT’s three hangars at Chicago Municipal Airport, including the “largest clear-span hangar in the U.S.” NAT Time Table images both from the April 1929 “NAT Bulletin” - UAHF collection
STOUT AIR SERVICES
William B. Stout and a Stout-built “Pullman” airplane (above) from “So Away I Went, W. B. Stout. Stout Air Lines, an often forgotten predecessor of United Airlines, was “the first regularly scheduled passenger airline in the United States”.
In mid 1924, William B. Stout persuaded Henry and Edsel Ford to finance an airport and a factory for the Stout Metal Airplane Company on Ford property at Dearborn. The factory was built and began operating on October 15, 1924.
On July 31, 1925, Henry Ford purchased all the stock and assets of the Stout Metal Airplane Company, retaining Stout and the employees.
Following the sale, W. B. Stout founded Stout Air Services, Inc. with Stanley Knauss as General Manager in charge of airline operations.
Stout Air Services was awarded CAM No. 14 on July 31, 1926. Flights from Detroit to Grand Rapids, MI began two days later using single-engine Stout-built “Pullmans”, and later, Ford Tri-motors.
In September 1927, after finding the passenger service profitable, Stout added twice-daily service from Dearborn to Cleveland and ended the Grand Rapids flights, surrendering the CAM 14 mail contract.
Henry Ford did not allow Ford Field to be operated on Sundays so all Stout Air Services flights were advertised as “Daily Except Sundays”.
Stout’s passenger fare included free air-line bus transportation to the airports in Detroit, Chicago & Cleveland and 30 pounds of luggage (above left).
Other Stout Air Line innovations included: the first Uniformed Airline Pilots (above right); the first Passenger Terminal (at Ford Field); the first Hotel Ticket Center (at Book-Cadillac Hotel, Detroit); Ticket Refunds (if cancellations were made two hours before flight); America's first Aerial Couriers (stewards); Infants-in-Arms flew free and “48-Hour Stopovers” were allowed (except at Chicago and Cleveland).
Stanley Knauss also developed Flight Report sheets for a systematic control of operation, piloting, weather reports, maintenance checks, etc.
By April 1930, Stout Air Lines had carried 105,000 passengers and was flying 14 daily flights (except Sunday) between Cleveland, Detroit & Chicago with stops at Toledo, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo & South Bend. En-route stops were allowed “if reservations were made 1/2 hour before the plane was due”.
When Boeing’s United Aircraft and Transport Corp. acquired Stout Air Lines in June 1929, United president Fredric Rentschler stated: “We didn’t buy airplanes, we bought a company that has developed the idea of running an airline as a commercial organization”.
Some of Wm. B. Stout’s inventions and innovations:
- The “Imp Cyclecar” (V-2 motorcycle engine, friction drive & 4-speed automatic transmission)
- The first cantilevered internally-braced all-metal airplane wing (and the equipment to build it)
- The “Batwing Plane” (below, left 1918)
- The all-metal “Torpedo Plane”
- The Stout Air Sedan, first commercial all-metal airplane built in the U.S. (and with folding wings!)
- The 4-bolt attachment for rapid airplane engine exchanges
- The divided airplane landing gear (no solid axle)
- The “first” Ford Tri-motor (above 1926)
- The “Bicar” motorcycle (two-speed automatic shift & side-saddle seating for women)
- The railroad “Pullman Railplane & Club Car”
- The rear-engine "Scarab" automobile (1932)
- The sliding automobile seat
- The first rear-engined passenger bus (1934)
- The first motor-home
- Prefabricated housing
- The “Skycar” flying automobile (below right, 1930)
In 1954, Stout bought rights to the Ford Tri-motor design from Henry Ford II, intending to manufacture a modified version, however this venture failed.
BOEING AIR TRANSPORT (BAT)
William Edward Boeing was a wealthy Seattle lumber company owner. On July 4, 1914, during Seattle’s Independence Day celebration he took his first flight aboard a “pusher-engined” Curtiss seaplane piloted by barnstormer Terah Maroney. This 30 minute ride “hooked” Boeing on flying.
Following lessons at Glenn Martin’s flight school in Los Angeles, Bill Boeing took delivery of a $10,000 Martin-built seaplane in October 1915.
He soon “cracked-up” the fragile plane. When the Martin company informed him that a replacement would take six months, Boeing declared that “he could build a better airplane, and do it faster!”
Navy officer Commander Conrad Westervelt, a good friend of Boeing’s, was astonished when Boeing asked him to design the new plane. Using the wrecked Martin as a guide, a new plane was constructed in less than six months. The wings and floats were assembled at Boeing’s Heath Shipyard on Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay. The fuselage was built in a hangar on Seattle’s Lake Union.
“Bluebill” (shown above) the first of two “B & W”s (Boeing & Westervelt) was test-flown by Boeing in June 1916. With a 125 hp Hall-Scott A-5 engine, it cruised at 70 mph and had a range of 320 miles.
As WWI came nearer, the Navy transferred Commander Conrad Westervelt to the East coast. The “Pacific Aero Products Company” was incorporated on July 15, 1916 with Boeing, President and his cousin E. N. Gott, Vice-President.
Boeing crated-up the second “B & W”, contacted the U.S. Navy, asked for test flights and for a government contract to build the “B & W”.
After failing to interest the Navy in the “B & W” seaplane, William Boeing hired T. Wong, a gifted airplane designer, to develop another seaplane. The result was the “all-Boeing” Model 2 “C”, a twin-float seaplane. During test flights it proved unstable and a larger rudder was installed.
Following the modification, Boeing again headed East to try to sell the new plane to the Navy. They liked it and ordered 50 “C”s to be used as trainers.
T. Wong resigned and Boeing once again needed airplane designers, draftsmen and engineers. He contacted the University of Washington where three recently graduated engineers were recommended. They were Philip G. Johnson, Clairmont L. Egtvedt and Roland Mayer.
Boeing hired all three at $90 per month. Johnson was a production man and a salesman. Egtvedt was a draftsman and became a master at aircraft stress design, remaining with Boeing for 50 years.
In April 1917, the organization was renamed the “Boeing Airplane Company”. Later in 1917, the Army contracted with Boeing for two land-based trainer versions of the “C”. Boeing designated the planes as Model 4 “EA”.
Boeing’s “C” seaplanes used 200 hp Hall-Scott L-6 engines and had tandem seating, the Army wanted 90 hp Curtiss OX-5 engines and side-by-side seating. (above photo)
Boeing used a sequential numbering system for each “design change”. The “B & W” was Model 1, the first “C” was Model 2, the second version of the “C” was Model 3, etc. This design-numbering method continued through 1933 and the “100” series. Thus the 1925 Boeing Model 40 was the 40th airplane design built by Boeing.
On March 3, 1919, Edward Hubbard and William Boeing launched a Seattle-Victoria International mail service using the Boeing Model 2 “C” (above left). They were the first two civilian airmail pilots in America.
Hubbard was an Army Pilot Instructor in San Diego during WWI, then an experimental pilot at Boeing from 1917 to 1920. In 1919, following the first international airmail flight, he began operating a private contract airmail service between Seattle & Victoria, BC. For the next five years he flew under the name of “Seattle-Victoria Air Mail Line”, carrying between 25,000 and 50,000 pounds of mail annually, mostly in the Boeing Model 6 B1 (above right).
Another of Edward Hubbard’s ideas was United Air Lines. Hubbard died in Salt Lake City, December 18, 1928, a day after the United’s formation. His title was Vice President of Operations United Air Lines.
The “Red Barn” - Boeing Headquarters - June 1917. Military guards are due to war manufacturing.
During WWI the Boeing Airplane Company accepted a government contract to build 50 Curtiss-designed HS-2L flying boats for the U.S. Navy.
Following the November 1918 Armistice, military spending was drastically cut. The Navy canceled half of Boeing’s HS-2L order and hundreds of war-surplus aircraft flooded the civilian market.
With the entire aircraft industry faltering and attempting to retain his employees, Bill Boeing reverted to non-aircraft activities such as power-boat building, furniture and cabinet manufacturing.
In 1919, having had a moderate success with the Model C aircraft, Boeing began developing a new series of small flying boats. The result was the B-1 (Model 6) and BB-1 (Model 7). Neither the B-1 nor BB-1 went beyond the prototype stage until 1927 (following Lindbergh’s flight). Also developed in 1919 was the BB-L6 (Model 8) a land-plane with a front-mounted 214 hp Hall-Scott L-6 engine.
In 1920 the Boeing Airplane Co. lost $300,000. Then the company received a military contract to modernize a large number of the wartime Liberty-engined De Havilland DH-4 aircraft (above). This contract probably saved the company.
In early 1924 the Air Mail Dept. of the Post Office opened a competition to design a new air mail plane using the Liberty engine. Boeing’s entry was the Model 40. A single “40” prototype was built and bought by the government, however, the contract was awarded to Douglas for their “M” series of planes. Boeing then “shelved” the design.
1926 saw major changes in the management of Boeing Airplane Company. President Ed Gott resigned, Phil Johnson became president, Claire Egtvedt was named vice president and Wm. Boeing assumed the chairmanship.
The company had been designing and building various models of military aircraft under government contracts since receiving the DH-4 modification contract in 1919. In general, business was good.
In the Fall of 1926, Claire Egtvedt was thinking of starting an airline passenger service connecting Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria when Eddie Hubbard told him some exciting news.
The Post Office Department, which had awarded CAM “feeder-contracts” during the previous year, was about to let private contractors bid on the Transcontinental Trunk Route!
The route was to be divided into two legs - San Francisco to Chicago and Chicago to New York. The stipulation for winning a leg was that the successful bidder must furnish 25 planes and begin service by July 1, 1927.
Hubbard believed that Boeing could win the CAM 18 San Francisco - Chicago contract and successfully fly the leg with the Model 40 (above photo). Substantially underbidding Western Air Express, Boeing won the contract on January 15, 1927. The design of the Model 40 was changed to allow 2 passengers in an enclosed cabin and the new air-cooled 410 hp Pratt & Whitney “Wasp” engine replaced the water-cooled Liberty engine.
In anticipation of winning the CAM 18 contract, Wm. Boeing organized the Boeing Air Transport company (BAT) with offices in Salt Lake City. After winning the contract, the 25 Model 40As were built, pilots were hired and flights began on July 1, 1927.
While Bill Boeing was pleased with the success of Boeing Air Transport and the Model 40A, he realized a larger airplane was necessary to be competitive with the Ford Tri-motor and other passenger-carrying aircraft. The result was the Boeing “Model 80”. The first Model 80 was delivered to Boeing Air Transport (BAT) in August of 1928 and was immediately put into service on the San Francisco to Chicago CAM 18 route.
The Model 80 was a Tri-motored biplane accommodating 12 passengers in a heated cabin. It had hot and cold running water, individual passenger reading lamps and leather upholstered seats. Powered by three 425 hp Pratt & Whitney “Wasp” engines, it had a cruising speed of 115 mph with a range of 545 miles and a service ceiling of 14,000 ft. The gross weight was 15,276 pounds.
The pilot and co-pilot sat in a separate forward cabin and were kept informed of changing weather conditions by two-way radio. The plane was soon redesigned to carry 18 passengers and designated the Model 80A (photo below). The “80A” was powered with three 525 hp Pratt & Whitney “Hornet” engines with a cruising speed of 125 mph and a range of 460 miles. The gross weight was 17,500 pounds.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, airline passenger travel was primarily the realm of Business people, the Rich and the Adventurous. The average person preferred to travel by train, boat or by private automobile.
An airline passenger paid up to $900 (one-way) to fly across the United States and upon arrival often found it necessary to transfer to a train or car to reach their final destination. Airports were few and were often located in relatively remote areas. Worst of all, the airplane cabins lacked sound-proofing. In addition to the unsettling noise, vibration was also a problem, one passenger stated that his glasses kept sliding down his nose the entire flight.
By 1931, the Post Office Dept. had authorized 2 round-trip flights per day over the Chicago to San Francisco C.A.M. 18 route. One of the daily flights was flown with Boeing 80A tri-motored aircraft. Although designed for eighteen passengers, weight restrictions imposed by the volume of air-mail limited the number of passengers to eight on the Chicago - Salt Lake City leg and to twelve on the Salt Lake City - San Francisco leg. The mail loads westbound were lightened and loads eastbound were increased at Salt Lake City, where “feeder lines” connected with the transcontinental route.
The second daily fight was flown with single-engine Boeing 40Bs and 95 mail-planes. Both the tri-motors and the single-engined planes were alternated at the Cheyenne maintenance base, the operating headquarters of BAT. After 20 hours of flight-time all planes were given a detailed inspection at Cheyenne. This was in addition to the daily examinations after flight legs. The engines were overhauled at approximately 200 hours and planes were overhauled after approximately 1000 hours of flight-time.
Boeing company doctors determined that pilots tired quickly at high altitudes and recommended flying at the lowest altitude consistent with safety. Pilots were limited to a maximum of four flight hours a day and about 70 hours per month, with one day of rest between runs. The doctors believed that exercise was a cure for this “air-staleness” and found that the majority of BAT pilots preferred to play golf for exercise. It was not uncommon to see a pilot carrying his golf clubs onboard his flight. The “BeeLine” logo, featured below, was chosen from submissions by BAT employees.
NOTES: On flights marked “*” the planes stop only to accept or discharge passengers.
Mail planes flown on schedule in columns marked “X” carry passengers when mail loads permit. On the 9:30 a.m. schedule from Chicago and 8:00 p.m. schedule from Oakland Airport eight-ton tri-engined passenger transports are flown. San Francisco passengers on Boeing System lines board and leave planes at Oakland airport, on east side of San Francisco Bay. Schedule from the June, 1931 issue of Aviation magazine - Denver Public Library.
U.S. Air Mail cargo between New York and San Francisco weighed between 400 to 750 pounds and occupied about 45 cubic feet of space. Air Express boxes added revenue.
In 1931, two years into the Great Depression, the United Air Lines division of United Aircraft and Transport Company earned a $2,700,000 profit on a gross of $30,000,000 (approx. $350,000,000 in 2008 dollars). 10,300,000 miles were flown by the company’s 125 airplanes.
On an average Transcontinental flight with three passengers, the fares totaled $480, income from Air Mail and Air Express totaled $2,095 for a Gross of $2,575 and a Net Profit of $577 per flight. Flight costs were: Pilot $240; Copilot $81; Stewardess $12; fuel (2,400 gal.) $218; Oil (125 gal.) $100; Misc. $30. Ground costs were: Ground Operations $207; Maintenance $888; Administration $111; Traffic & Advertising $111. From the April 1932 issue of Fortune magazine - Denver Public Library.
In May of 1930 the airline industry’s first female “Stewardesses” began flying onboard Boeing Air Transport’s Boeing 80As on the San Francisco to Chicago route. Previous to this, in 1926, Stout Air Services had hired young men as America’s first inflight personnel. They were known as “Aerial Couriers”. In 1929, Pan American Airways had hired young men as “Stewards”.
One evening during a slightly-delayed flight from Reno to San Francisco, Steve Stimpson, Boeing Air Transport Pacific Coast Traffic Manager, had noticed the BAT passengers looking out the windows, searching for landmarks and repeatedly glancing at their watches. Entering the cockpit, Stimpson checked with the two pilots regarding their location and the estimated time of arrival. He passed this information along to the passengers and then adjusted the heating system. After noticing the collective sigh-of-relief among the passengers, he recalled how steamship Stewards had impressed him with their service and attention to ship passengers. He wondered if male Air Stewards would make the same impression on BAT’s passengers.
Stimpson had received permission from the company to hire the Stewards when Ellen Church stopped by Stimpson’s office and suggested hiring female nurses instead of the male Stewards. Ellen had previously visited Stimpson’s office, intrigued by the airline advertising in the window. She was a nurse at the nearby San Francisco French Hospital and wanted to fly, even to be a pilot.
Boeing managers initially rejected the idea of hiring female nurses, but W. A. “Pat” Patterson, assistant to the BAT company president, gave his permission for the Stewardess program on a three-month trial basis. Stimpson then hired Ellen Church and gave her the title of Chief Stewardess. She quickly recruited seven more nurses from San Francisco and Chicago. These eight Stewardesses became known as the “Original Eight”.
The “Original Eight” Stewardesses - Cheyenne, Wyoming May 15, 1930 - (back l-r) Ellen Church, Alva Johnson (front l-r) Margaret Arnott, Inez Keller, Cornellia Peterman, Harriet Fry, Jessie Carter & Ellis Crawford.
The following “Stewardess-related” items are from the UAHF collection of The Boeing News. The July 1930 issue of Boeing News contains the first company mention of Stewardesses.
July 1930 issue
“ Dr. Walter Kleffel, German aeronautical authority, recently made a trip between Oakland and Chicago, flying to Salt Lake City in a 40-B and on to Chicago in an 80-A. Dr. Kleffel commented upon the excellent type of aircraft being operated on our lines, stating that he felt the 80-A was the sturdiest ship he had yet encountered. Dr. Kleffel expressed interest in the new stewardess idea and asked that after a three or four months’ trial, he be given the company’s candid opinion in regard to this feature.”
“Two new names have been added to the stewardess personnel, those of Miss May and Miss Novelli. We
hear good reports of the conduct of Miss Stuart, stewardess of (flight) 224 and Co-Pilot (Elrey) Jeppesen for their cool headedness and assistance in the changing of mail and passengers after an accident at Sacramento.”
“Ev Carr, (Oakland’s) P.A.T & B.A. T. traffic agent, made a trip to Cheyenne a week ago. This time for a
tri-motor’s departure came and no stewardess had arrived at the field. It developed that the stewardess had not received instructions for transportation to the airport. With a load of passengers booked through to Chicago, something had to be done, so Ev en-planed and presided at the urn all the way to Cheyenne. The mechanics did their best to find a dress for him, but none was available.”
September 1930 issue
“Someone should warn Miss Church, who is chief stewardess, or she may run afoul the law which says ladies mustn’t work over eight hours a day, or 48 hours a week. We never did count the hours or days she works, but she’s on the job all the time. Two new stewardesses are on the line, Miss Evans and Miss Kuel.”
November 1930 issue
“ Stewardess Evans is resigning in order that she may attend a sister who is very ill. On this account Stewardess Hasle is being transferred to the Oakland-Salt Lake run and Miss Ratcliff is being employed for the Cheyenne-salt Lake run.”
UNITED AIRCRAFT & TRANSPORT CORPORATION
William Boeing became acquainted with Frederick D. Rentschler during WWI when Boeing’s military planes were powered with engines from the Wright-Martin plant and later from Wright Aeronautical Works. Because of his foundry background, Rentschler had been assigned by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Aviation arm to test airplane engines built for the Allies at Wright-Martin Aircraft in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
After the war, he was invited to head the new Wright Aeronautical Corporation. He assembled a staff of designers and builders and soon the company was the number-one source of military and commercial aircraft engines. They made the remarkable “Whirlwind” radial engine, this engine carried Lindbergh across the Atlantic.
Rentschler and Wright’s engine-designer George Mead had an idea for an even better radial engine. The company’s directors objected to the development cost, since they already had the best engine in the field. After his proposal was turned down, Rentschler resigned.
While searching for new backers, he found the idle Pratt & Whitney plant in Hartford, Conn. He persuaded the plant owners, the Niles-Bement-Pond machinery company, to let him have the Pratt & Whitney plant, the name and $1,000,000 in working capital. Mead and other engine designers quickly went to work. Their first “Wasp” engine exceeded all expectations, producing 410 hp and only weighing 625 pounds. Recognizing the engines potential, Wm. Boeing switched to Wasps for all his military airplane designs.
In the fall of 1928, after Boeing had demonstrated that Wasp-powered commercial planes could make money carrying cargo and passengers, Rentschler broached the idea of a “well-rounded” aviation holding company. At this time business mergers were rampant. Additionally, the east-coast “Keys Group” of North American Aviation was entering the aviation market in the west. They had purchased stock in Varney Air Lines and were supporting Maddux Air Lines and Transcontinental Air Transport. In early 1929 Boeing set in motion Rentschler’s proposal by absorbing the Chance Vought company.
Then, through a stock swap with Pratt & Whitney, United Aircraft & Transport Corporation was formed as a holding company. Frederick Rentschler was named President; William Boeing, Chairman of the Board; Chance Vought and Philip Johnson of Boeing were Vice-Presidents. William Boeing swapped stock in Boeing Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport and the Boeing Airplane Company for United Aircraft & Transport Corporation stock.
Next, Rentschler bought Hamilton Propeller Company, Standard Steel Propeller Company, Stearman Aircraft, Northrop Aircraft and Sikorsky Airplane works. In June 1929, he acquired Stout Air Services and its fleet of Ford tri-motors. This gave United Aircraft and Transport their first passenger service in the east, flying between Chicago and Cleveland via Detroit.