The above model was made for the ownerand restorer of the original plane
Dreams take off with restored biplane Boeing 40C crashed in Oregon in 1928
Addison Pemberton flies a restored Boeing 40C over the Spokane Valley in February during its first test flight after a nine-year restoration project. Courtesy of Addison Pemberton (Courtesy of Addison Pemberton)
Event today See the plane The public debut of the restored Boeing 40C takes place at 2 p.m. today at Felts Field, with a flight to follow.
Boeing 40C flies again Jim Camden Staff writer
March 15, 2008
hen the big Boeing biplane lifts off from Felts Field this afternoon, its open cockpit and wood-paneled passenger cabin will carry the history of American aviation back into the skies.
It will fly again after nearly 70 years on a mountainside, a few years in a horse trailer, and nine years in a hangar at Felts, where some 61 volunteers spent about 18,000 hours meticulously restoring it to life.
Its damn near a miracle, said Mike Lavelle, an employee of the Boeing Museum of Flight, who has researched this type of plane, the 40C, and its key role in American aviation and the Northwest company.
The miracle of Pacific Air Transport 23, as the plane was designated after it rolled off the Boeing assembly line in Seattle in 1928, had a short and inauspicious beginning. Its first life spanned only about six months from first flight until it crashed in the fog on the daily mail and passenger run from Medford to Portland. Its rebirth is the testament to the dream of Addison Pemberton, a Spokane-area aviation executive, pilot and antique airplane aficionado, who was captivated by the story of the Boeing 40 in general and one such plane in particular.
Pemberton can recall his father telling stories of Boeing 40s flying overhead every night when he was a boy growing up on an Iowa farm. The farm was on the transcontinental mail route of the 1920s and 1930s, and the planes were so reliable you could set your watch by them, his father used to say.
It became Pembertons dream to find and fly one.
Pemberton owns an aviation business, Scanivalve, has flown since he was a teenager and restored planes for decades. When he went looking for a Boeing 40 to restore more than a quarter-century ago, a friend in England who does aviation research said there werent any left. A total of 82 were made – a huge production run for the 1920s – but most had been scrapped, 30 had crashed, and eight had been flown off to uncertain fates in Honduras and New Zealand when they were no longer wanted in the United States.
Pacific 23 went down in southern Oregon. The fiery crash, the pilot who walked off the mountainside and the passenger who died were all part of the lore of that region.
And, of course, there were the diamonds.
Crash in the fog
Grant Donaldson climbed into the open cockpit of Pacific 23 for the run from Medford to Portland the morning of Oct. 2, 1928, with one passenger and 5 pounds of mail in the enclosed cabin. It was overcast, with fog ahead in some areas, but that wasnt unusual for the route through southern Oregon that time of the year. Donaldson and his passenger, D.P Donovan, a diamond broker headed for Seattle, lifted off at 9:10 a.m.
Donaldson had been trained as a pilot for World War I, but fighting ended before he flew in combat. With the skills he learned in the Army, he became a barnstormer, or stunt pilot, before landing a job flying the mail and passenger routes for Pacific Air Transport, a joint venture that included the Boeing Co.
Boeing was one of the nations many fledgling aviation companies when it landed two key government contracts, the mail routes from Seattle to San Diego and from San Francisco to Chicago. The postal service was looking for planes to fly the routes, and the Model 40A could carry 1,200 pounds of mail and two passengers in the cabin between the engine and the open cockpit for the pilot. The Model 40C was redesigned to carry 500 pounds of mail and four passengers.
Tickets were expensive – $200 for the flight from San Francisco to Chicago, which would be about $2,000 in 2008 dollars – but the combination of mail and passengers made the Model 40 the companys first commercial airliner.
Like other planes of the day, it had no radar or other instruments that could help a pilot navigate through bad weather. They followed roads during the day and light beacons at night. When Donaldson hit fog, as he did south of Canyonville, he did what all pilots of his era would do: He dropped close to the ground, looking over the sides of the cockpit to pick his way through the soup.
He dropped too low. A lower wing hit one tree, then another and another until the plane plowed into the side of Canyon Mountain. Donaldson crawled out of the cockpit and tried unsuccessfully to pull the lifeless Donovan out of the wreckage. Seriously burned, Donaldson stumbled down the mountain to the road below, where a car driven by a Lutheran minister from nearby Albany picked him up and took him to a doctor in Canyonville.
By then, Donaldson was incoherent. Canyonville authorities contacted Pacific Air Transport, who asked about the passenger. That was the first local residents had heard about a passenger. A search party eventually found Donovan – burned beyond recognition – and some of the diamonds hed been carrying in a satchel.
Donaldson was flown to Portland, and later to Seattle, for medical treatment. He married his longtime sweetheart, who waited by his bedside for nearly a year while his burns healed. He never flew again, but he worked for Pacific Air Transport and its successors, which eventually became United Airlines, until he retired in the 1960s.
For years after the crash, people would hike to the site for souvenirs and sift through the dirt for diamonds. A few lucky ones found them. Pieces of the wreckage found their way into town, too. The tail cone was placed on a vacant lot and for years served as a jungle gym for the towns children.
The crash site was more than nine miles from the town, and over time it became more of a legend told around campfires than a destination for an adventure. The forest grew back up around it, and the location faded from memory.
Cornerstone of Boeing
Despite the crash of Pacific 23, the Boeing 40 was considered a safe plane. The overall design wasnt much evolved from open-cockpit military planes of World War I, but the engine, the Prattamp; Whitney Wasp, was new, and powerful. Boeing made some version of the Model 40 until 1935. That production allowed Boeing to weather the stock market crash of 1929 and the early Depression years when some other companies folded.
The plane also led to a joint venture between Boeing and Prattamp; Whitney; Boeing Air Transport took over Pacific Air Transport to fly the coast route and the San Francisco-Chicago route. In 1934, that merged into United Aircraft and Transport Corp., the predecessor of United Airlines.
When aviation made a leap forward in design, with metal bodies and more aerodynamic shapes in the 1930s, Boeing was strong enough to get a piece of the new industry that soon would include military planes and later commercial jets.
It was Boeings first commercial aircraft, said the Museum of Flights Lavelle, who researched the plane for a presentation to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Everything that Boeing became was made possible by its first big success, the Model 40.
By 1980, only two Model 40s were known to survive in museums and neither could fly.
This is indeed the granddaddy of them all, Lavelle said. It is, as far as anyone can tell, the oldest Boeing plane that can fly.
Rebuilding a dream
Addison Pemberton heard the story of Pacific 23 – in southern Oregon the legend had attained the status of the Flying Dutchman – and spent years looking for the wreckage. He could never find it and by the end of the 1980s, he gave up.
Ron Bartley, a member of the Oregon Aviation Historical Society, didnt. Bartley, a geologist with a knack for finding crash sites and the author of a book on Pacific Air Transport operations, had been to the wreck as a boy. He found it one foggy day in 1993 on federal forest land high above Interstate 5. After getting federal permission to salvage the plane, Bartley and other members of the historical society hauled more than 200 pieces and parts off the site.
Tim Talen, who was part of the salvage crew, said the original plan was for the historical society to display the wreckage as part of an exhibit on Pacific Air Transport. Some may have had secret hopes of restoring it, Talen said, but that wasnt within the societys capability. Storing the parts was a problem, though, and the wreckage was kept in members barns, sheds and, in one case, a horse trailer.
Society members knew of Pembertons reputation for restorations, and when he approached them with the idea to restore it, they sold it to him.
That began a nine-year effort at Felts, with a crew of about 61 volunteers working to rebuild a plane by remaking thousands of parts to the 1928 specifications. Some changes were made: The original planes skin was Irish linen; the restored model has a composite fabric thats lighter and wont need replacement as frequently. Fortunately for the project, Pembertons wife, Wendy, is an accomplished plane fabric seamstress as well as a pilot.
Pemberton estimates 61 volunteers spent more than 18,000 hours on the project, with about 21 involved to a moderate degree and nine to what he calls a diseased degree. Its a family disease, with his wife and sons Ryan and Jay, also pilots, sharing the bug.
One day, while Pemberton was working on the plane, a woman from Salem showed up at the Felts Field hangar. Rita Brown said she read about the restoration project in a Smithsonian magazine and had to see it for herself. She showed Pemberton a diamond ring on her finger.
The diamond was found at the crash site by her father, she said, and made into a ring for her mother when they got engaged.
Retracing the routes
Test flights of the Boeing 40 have convinced Pemberton that those early Boeing engineers really knew their craft. The plane is smooth and stable in the air, a dream to fly, he said. Still, he marvels at the skills of pilots who flew cross-country at night, with dead-reckoning and no more instruments than a watch and a compass.
After its public debut today, Pemberton and his family have a busy schedule for 5339, as the plane has been reregistered. It includes an appearance at the Oregon Aviation Historical Societys meeting in April and a visit to the Museum of Flight and Boeing Co. offices in Seattle in June. It will make the rounds to the big antique aircraft shows this summer, and Pemberton plans to fly the original transcontinental airmail route – 14 stops from New York to San Francisco. On the New York leg, he hopes to circle the Statue of Liberty in the plane.
He has another antique plane to start work on, and next year, he hopes to fly 5339 on the Pacific Coast mail run, from Seattle to San Diego, with all the stops in between.
Beyond that, he has no firm plans, but hes sure plenty of things will materialize involving the plane.
Dreams are never finished, he said.
Boeing 40C Pacific Air Transport Model
Production Time 8 to 10 weeks
Shipment is by FedEx, UPS or DHL International Express Courier with a normal door-to-door delivery time worldwide of within 2-3 business days after dispatch. Due to the current volatility of world fuel prices, the amount mentioned here is our best estimate for DHL and UPS and may be subject to change at the time of shipping.
Product statisticsLength: 12.75 in (32.39 cm) ;
Wingspan: 17 in (43.18 cm) ;
Height: 4.7 in (11.94 cm)
Manufacturer: Boeing Corporation
Production Time 8 to 10 weeks
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The above model was made for the ownerand restorer of the original plane
|12.75 × 17 × 4.7 in