A Century of 
Powered Flight

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh, Wisc., offered participants a look at aircraft ranging from 1903 replicas to concepts yet to come.

By Gary DiNunno, Editor-in-Chief
Air Line Pilot, October 2003, p. 22

In the beginning, only 10 were built. On display at EAA’s 51st annual fly-in, this venerable Boeing 307 Stratocruiser is the last of its kind—the only one of the ten still healthy enough to fly, to dance among the clouds. After the 7-day show, the airplane’s restorers guided it to its final resting place in northern Virginia. It is the 63-year-old, sole survivor of a nearly extinct lineage. Its caretakers worried that its safety was more important than its freedom.

The airplane’s body is still sleek. Its skin is bright and unblemished. Its voice remains clear, loud, and deep—a four-part harmony that draws audiences of young and old alike. Its muscles are still supple and strong. More powerful than a locomotive, able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, shaped like a speeding bullet, Clipper Flying Cloud remains a monument to another era when style and grace reigned, when design and function were entwined, and quality over quantity was a motivating force.

Despite its age, the long distances it has traveled, the diverse people and places it has seen, its use, abuse and neglect, and its uncanny phoenix-like ability to be reborn again and again, this Stratocruiser, in the livery of Pan Am Clipper Flying Cloud, will continue to shine—now, as a star attraction of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the new wing of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, located on the southwestern corner of Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia.

The Boeing 307 was the first pressurized passenger airplane and the first four-engine airliner in U.S. domestic service. This airliner (serial number 2003) was delivered to Pan Am with two others in 1940 and flew at a then-unprecedented maximum altitude of 20,000 feet, thereby avoiding much rough weather. It has a wingspan of 107.3 feet, is 74.4 feet long, and has a 12-foot wide cabin. The airliner cruises at 186 mph at 17,000 feet, with a range of 2,300 miles. The Boeing 307 originally carried 33 passengers and five flightcrew members and had a maximum takeoff weight of 45,000 lbs. Stratocruisers boasted berths for overnight flights, eight divans, and wood paneling in the cabin and lavatory. Fabric on some cabin walls of Pan Am’s Stratocruisers showed the airline’s logo, a world map, and exotic animals. Pan Am reconfigured the airplane to hold 45 passengers.

Clipper Flying Cloud flew Caribbean routes for 2 years. A one-way ticket aboard the airliner cost $1,000 in 1940 dollars (approximately $12,000 in today’s currency). During World War II, the airliner served in South America under the direction of the U.S. Army Air Forces. Following the war, Clipper Flying Cloud made daily flights between Bermuda and New York City. In the 1950s and 1960s, the airliner served various owners, including a stint for Le Corps d’Aviation de l’Armíe de Haiti as the presidential aircraft for dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier. The airliner finally landed in Arizona, where a new owner, Aviation Specialties, Inc., planned to convert the airliner to a fire bomber. A National Air and Space museum curator who was visiting the area in 1969 spotted the airliner, recognized its historic significance, and acquired it for the museum in 1972.

The airliner was later moved to the Boeing plant near Seattle for restoration. Boeing technicians and former Pan Am employees spent 6 years restoring the airliner to look brand new—as if it had just rolled off the assembly line. Clipper Flying Cloud appeared at the 2001 EAA annual show in Oshkosh to the delight of the crowd.

In 2002, Boeing B-767 test pilot Buzz Nelson was forced to ditch the airliner in Elliot Bay, near Seattle. The NTSB said the pilots relied too heavily on a cockpit fuel gauge rather than using a dipstick to measure their fuel on board before the flight. When the flightcrew experienced a problem lowering one landing gear and had to remain aloft longer than expected, they ran out of fuel before the wheel could be hand-winched into the down-and-locked position. Nelson managed a spectacular water ditching. The Washington Post reported that the airplane settled just a few feet from a Coast Guard Rescue Station. The cockpit crew walked to a rescue boat using the wing without getting their feet wet. The Boeing 307 had to be restored once again for its final journey, to Virginia.

Build it and they will come to Oshkosh

The 51st annual Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In and Airshow drew an estimated 770,000 visitors from July 29 to August 4, including some 2,250 international visitors from 68 countries. Pilots of all shapes and sizes flew some 11,000 aircraft into Wittman Field, the airport at EAA’s show grounds in Oshkosh and to surrounding airports to attend the show.

Controllers handled some 25,000 takeoffs and landings during the week, making Wittman Field the world’s busiest airport for the week of the show. During busy times, as many as 100 airplanes may be landing each hour on one runway. A record 2,960 show planes were placed into 11 judging categories, which included 825 homebuilts, 1,224 vintage aircraft, 405 warbirds, 357 ultralights, 129 seaplanes, and 20 rotorcraft.

Nearly 350 ALPA members and retirees came by the Association’s booth to say hello, ask questions about services, and see if some of their friends and colleagues had made the annual pilgrimage. Looking through the sign-in book, pilots found someone they knew from military service, or college, or their initial training class. "I flew with that guy at Eastern," one said. "We did our ATP training together," said another. "Look who’s here," said an excited retired member, "he was the best man for my first marriage—I lost track of him 20 years ago."

Scores of students, military pilots, and other airline-pilot wannabees stopped by with questions about the airline piloting profession and whether hiring might ever return to normal. Members of non-ALPA pilot groups wanted to know how they could get the Association on their property.

ALPA pilots who volunteered to staff the booth as part of the union’s Education Committee outreach program included the Committee’s chairman, Capt. Frank Mayne (Delta), Capts. Mike Fogerty and John Sluys (Alaska), Allistair Stanton and Lauren Elliott (Atlantic Coast), Randy Turner (Delta), Bob Fischer (United), and Chip Mull and John Feldvary (US Airways), and First Officer Austin Stanton (Atlantic Coast).

FAA officials take the stage

In one of the annual gathering’s more popular events—all of the seating in the large pavilion was filled before the presentation, and many individuals stood outside on the grass—the FAA Administrator speaks for a few minutes about priorities facing the agency, introduces several assistants and division heads, and then asks for questions from the crowd. This was Marion Blakey’s first time in the EAA spotlight as head of the FAA, and she knew that her predecessor, Jane Garvey, had won over the tough crowd with direct answers to difficult questions. Administrator Blakey announced that the FAA has finalized the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft Rules and submitted them to the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget for approval. Most of the following Q&A focused on the new rules, but one member of the audience asked if the FAA was going to change the Age 60 mandatory age limit for airline pilots. The Administrator said there was no movement within the FAA to change the rule.

Quite a sight with ORBIS

An ORBIS DC-10, a flying eye hospital, made its first appearance at the EAA fly-in. Volunteer flightcrews fly the airplane and medical teams to developing nations around the world to save people’s eyesight through hands-on training, public health education, and improved access to eye care, including major surgery, that would otherwise be unavailable. Since 1982, the ORBIS teams have completed more than 500 programs in 812 countries, training some 63,000 ophthalmologists, nurses, biomedical engineers, and other healthcare workers who then provide treatment and training in their countries. ORBIS specialists have treated some 130,000 patients.

Several ALPA members and retired members participate in the humanitarian flights as volunteer flightcrew members. Participating in the EAA fly-in demonstration were Capts. Hal Biestek (United, Ret.), Ken Burnham (United, Ret.), Gil Chase (United, Ret.), Gary Dyson (FedEx), Jim Nugent (United, Ret.), Jim Rosater (United, Ret.), and Mark Zenner (United), and First Officer Gordon Platt (FedEx).

Replicating speed, grace, and danger

The original Hughes H-1 Racer (Model 1B) established speed records 70 years ago as the fastest airplane in the world. Howard Hughes set an unlimited category speed record of 352 mph in 1935 and a transcontinental then-record speed of 332 mph in January 1937. The original airplane can now be seen in the National Air and Space Museum.

According to the EAA, Hughes considered the airplane one of his greatest achievements. Although he never flew the airplane again after setting the record, concepts derived from his design were widely used in many airplanes over the next decade.

Jim Wright (of the Wright Tool family) decided to replicate the historic airplane. After 5 years, some 35,000 hours of work, a million dollars in parts—most of which were hand-crafted—the sleek Racer made its first flight in July 2002. Wright also flew the replica to a world-record speed for the airplane’s class, reaching 304 mph at Reno, Nev., in September 2002 on the 67th anniversary of Hughes’s first record. Wright was an experienced aviator.

The Wright Tool Company website says that he "had a passion for high-speed flight that was well-known. His first aircraft was a Taylorcraft, then a Bonanza, and then a Glasair III. He routinely took his aircraft into speed realms approaching 300 mph and took great delight in the vertical performance of the aircraft."

The H-1 replica was a star on center stage at the EAA airshow to the delight of everyone who passed by the airplane. During the show, Wright noted that the aircraft design was practically "untested" as Hughes had put only 42 hours on his original airplane. Wright said that some bugs were still to be worked out.

And then, a tragedy occurred. On August 4, on his way home from the EAA show, Wright crashed and died in his H-1 replica in Yellowstone National Park. Witnesses said they thought that Wright tried to avoid crashing into areas where park visitors might have been hurt.

The Wright stuff

During a press conference on July 29 about the Countdown to Kitty Hawk, EAA officials announced that on December 17, at 10:35 a.m.—100 years to the moment from the historic Wright brothers’ first powered, controlled, manned flight—either Capt. Terry Queijo (American) or Dr. Kevin Kochersberger will try to re-create that historic achievement in an authentic reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer (see "Countdown to Kitty Hawk," May). Using the method the Wrights used in 1903, a coin toss will determine the final selection for the 2003 flight.

EAA President Tom Poberezny said that one of the finalists will try to fly the reproduction aircraft at 10:35 a.m., and the other will try to fly at 2 p.m. "Unlike the Wrights, who made four successful attempts before their Flyer was damaged by a gust of wind, we will only go for two flights," he said.

Capt. Queijo flies B-757s and B-767s out of Washington, D.C. Dr. Kochersberger, a mechanical engineer, is a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Capts. Ken Hyde (American, Ret.), who is the founder of the Wright Experience, the organization building the Wright aircraft reproductions, and Chris Johnson (American) were part of the team training to pilot the airplane and will serve as alternates. With support from Northrup-Grumman and Microsoft, all four pilots have undergone extensive training under the direction of Scott Crossfield, a legendary X-15 test pilot who was the first person to reach speeds of Mach 2 and Mach 3. The training included practice in a reproduction of the 1902 Wright glider and sessions in a virtual simulator.

After the flight reenactment, the Wright 1903 Flyer reproduction will be donated to the Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Mich., where it will join the Wright brothers’ original Dayton, Ohio, home and bicycle shop.

On August 1, FAA Administrator Blakey signed the reproduction aircraft’s airworthiness certificate following a safety inspector’s review. A 21-point operating limit document issued with the certification states that the 1903 Flyer reproduction may not be operated over densely populated areas and forbids aerobatic maneuvers. The U.S. government did not issue airworthiness certificates before 1926, so the Wright brothers never had to obtain permission to operate their Flyer.

Taking a tour

On September 8, a group of experienced aviators from more than 20 states and Canada took off from Dearborn, Mich., in vintage 1920s and 1930s airplanes for the National Air Tour 2003, which covered more than 4,000 miles across 21 states. The event, which was a re-creation of the National Air Tours that took place from 1925 through 1931, ran through September 24. In the mid-1920s, at a time when the United States did not even have a cross-country road, the tours promoted air travel’s safety and reliability and urged communities to build suitable airports and ground facilities.

Airplanes in the 2003 tour flew to 26 cities on a route that was planned, but never flown, for a 1932 tour. All of the 2003 Tour pilots were volunteers who, in some cases, have spent many years restoring their airplanes. More than a dozen of the vintage aircraft and their pilots who participated in the 2003 tour appeared at the EAA airshow this year to promote the tour re-creation and to demonstrate just how far aviation has progressed in the last 70 to 80 years. The aircraft included Stinson trimotors, Ford trimotors, a Sikorsky S-38, Stearman 4Es, a WACO ASO, and a Travel Air 6-B.

Getting spacy

Burt Rutan, noted aviation designer of experimental aircraft, always draws an interested crowd during the annual EAA airshow. He is known for coming up with something innovative that aviation enthusiasts may see in the future. Last year, Rutan brought and demonstrated his EZ-Rocket, the only rocket-powered airplane certified for flight. Like many of the EAA participants, Rutan is working on a homebuilt—with a twist, of course. He’s building a spaceship.

Rutan and his staff are developing SpaceShipOne—what they describe as the first private, manned craft capable of achieving suborbital space travel. The craft has three different control systems—stick and rudder for subsonic flight, electric for supersonic flight, and cold gas for space flight. No computers are attached to the flight controls. A twin-turbojet airplane carries three people to 50,000 feet. Upon release, the spacecraft fires a single rocket engine for 1 minute to reach an altitude of 62 miles.

After reaching its peak altitude, the craft descends steeply. Rutan says that the craft does not handle reentry heat in the same way that "conventional" spacecraft do—to make the craft less susceptible to errors in the angle of attack, the trailing edge of its wings and the twin tail sections attached to them move from a horizontal position to nearly vertical.