The legacy of Lindbergh's flight
BY MIKE LOMBARDI
Seventy-five years ago, following on the heels of Lindbergh's historic flight, William Boeing took a giant step of his own. July 1, 1927, was the inaugural flight of Boeing Air Transport and the opening of its first route between San Francisco and Chicago. William Boeing was moving into the new business of commercial aviation, and this pioneering business endeavor would soon expand into one of the largest corporations in America.
In 1926 the U.S. Postal Service began selling its airmail routes to private carriers. In May 1927 Boeing won the bidding for the San Francisco-to-Chicago airmail route with a bid of $2.89 per pound of mail half of what it cost the Postal Service to fly it. Boeing was able to offer a lower bid based on the performance of a brand new Boeing plane, the Model 40A.
The Model 40A was the company's first successful commercial aircraft; was more economical to operate and could carry more mail and passengers than its competitors. The biplane had a crew of one, a compartment for and a small cabin for two passengers. Boeing built 25 of the model 40As and delivered all of them within 40 days.
To manage the new airline, William Boeing formed a new company, Boeing Air Transport, headquartered in Chicago. He nominated Phil Johnson as President.
The inaugural flight began with William Boeing's wife, Bertha, christening one of the brand new Boeing Model 40As and Boeing himself ceremoniously taking the first bag of mail from Postmaster James E. Power. The christening was a bit controversial, as it was Prohibition, and the press debated whether Mrs. Boeing had used actual champagne or orange juice with a fizz. (She was certain it was champagne.)
On schedule, the flight left Crissy Field, San Francisco, headed for Chicago. Along the way, Boeing Air Transport had established several fields where planes could be fueled and pilots could be changed (it would be a few years before non-stop flights). By the next morning, the mail made it to Chicago on schedule.
On the return trip, another milestone was set when Boeing Air Transport carried its first passenger and also became the first transcontinental carrier of passengers by air. The passenger was Miss Jane Eads, a 21-year-old reporter for the Chicago Herald and Examiner.
Leaving Maywood, Ill., her flight lasted almost 24 hours, returning to San Francisco. Eads wrote about her adventure while curling up in the Model 40's cramped passenger cabin. Her story suggests that the flight would not be considered very comfortable by modern standards there was no in-flight food service or air air conditioning, and the ride was very rough, including several stops and plane changes. On the other hand, she had a spectacular sightseeing adventure while flying under 10,000 feet and around 100 mph.
After its first month of operation, Boeing Air Transport was making a profit, and by the end of 1927 the airline had made more than William Boeing's original investment.
In that six-month period, 525 passengers flew over 357,494 miles without incident an amazing feat considering that it included flying in a biplane over the Rockies during November and December.
In just 18 months after the inaugural flight of Boeing Air Transport, William Boeing would transform his small airline and aircraft-manufacturing company into one of the largest and most successful corporations in the United States.
Joining with Fred Renschler of Pratt & Whitney, they would combine their companies and acquire several other aircraft manufacturers and airlines to create United Aircraft and Transport Corporation. UATC was broken up in 1934, but its business units survive to this day as The Boeing Company, United Technologies and United Airlines.
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