Volume 04, Issue 6
BY EVE DUMOVICH
Clayton L. Scott was there when the first airmail flights headed down the Pacific Ocean coastline. He was there when William Boeing needed a personal pilot. He was there when Boeing military airplanes for World War II needed testing. Renton Municipal Airport, near Seattle, is now also known as the Clayton L. Scott Field, and this summer, he flew into Boeing Field for his 100th birthday.
"I wouldn't change a thing," he said, his eyes twinkling as he remembered 80 years of aviation history.
Known as "Scotty" to his numerous friends and colleagues, he was born July 15, 1905, in Coudersport, Pa., and moved to Portland, Ore., in 1911. His dream of flight took shape in 1922, when he and a girlfriend climbed aboard an OX-5 Jenny biplane at Seaside, Ore.
"They charged $5 per person. I counted my money and I figured I had $7. She had to come up with the other $3—so we went for a ride from that beach," Scott recalled.
After graduating from high school, Scott studied bookkeeping and, in 1926, began work as a teller at Portland's U.S. National Bank. But not for long. That year, Vern Gorst had set up ship searchlights to guide his mail planes over the Siskiyou Mountains, made the first complete mail run from Los Angeles to Seattle, and started Pacific Air Transport. When Gorst started coming into the bank, Scott made contact. "I made it a point to take him to the booth and talk to him. One day, I told him I would like to work for him," Scott said.
Gorst hired him as a station attendant at Pearson Field, in Vancouver, Wash. Scott's job included driving a Model T truck, with a large white "T" painted on its roof, so it was visible from the air.
Back then, air mail from Seattle would be sent at night by train to Portland. Scott picked it up in the morning and took it to Pearson Field. But if the weather was bad, Scott said he'd have to take the mail by truck down a highway to Medford, Ore. "When the weather cleared, the pilot would take off and follow the highway until he could find a farmer's field where he could land," Scott said. "I would pull over, give him the mail and then I would turn around and go back to Pearson Field."
Scott took flying lessons from Gorst's pilots and soloed for the first time in 1927 in an OX-5 Waco. Scott's pilot's license No. 2155 makes him the oldest active pilot with the lowest-number license, said Douglas Murphy, FAA regional administrator.
A move to Seattle
After William Boeing bought Pacific Air Transport in 1928 and made it a division of Boeing Air Transport (later United Air Lines), Scott followed Gorst to Seattle. He became operations manager for Gorst Air Transport, which included the Seattle Flying Service and the Bremerton Air Ferry.
In that capacity, Scott became the first pilot to land an airplane on Boeing Field. On March 28, 1928, bad weather forced him to make an unscheduled landing while the runway was still under construction. He was able to fly the plane out at 5:30 the next morning before the authorities noticed.
Scott also was the first pilot to take a commercial transport across the Gulf of Alaska. In May 1929, he flew a Keystone Loening "Air Yacht" between Juneau and Cordova, with Gorst as co-pilot. A year later, Scott was stranded for two days on the beach at Ice Bay, Alaska, when the engine of a Boeing Model 204 pusher-prop, civil flying boat "swallowed a valve" and forced him to land in the surf. The airplane was destroyed.
Scott first met Bill Boeing at the gas pump in Carter Bay, B.C., on Sept. 17, 1931. Scott was fueling up a Keystone-Loening Commuter. Boeing was refueling his twin-screw diesel yacht, the Taconite, built by Boeing Aircraft of Canada in 1929.
"He (Boeing) walked over to look at the airplane and we casually got talking to each other," Scott said. They became acquainted, and when Boeing, two years later, wanted a personal pilot to fly his B-1E Model 204 to carry supplies and mail to the Taconite, he asked Scott to come and see him.
"He was a really good fellow, very congenial. He enjoyed fishing and when he was out on a trip he was just a normal person ... no airs or anything," Scott said.
At the end of the season, Boeing arranged for Scott to work for Boeing Air Transport as co-pilot for the Boeing Model 247 between Portland and Salt Lake City.
After 1934 legislation forced the breakup of Boeing's United Aircraft and Transport Corporation, William Boeing left the aviation business. Scott continued as his personal pilot, flying Boeing's Douglas-built Dolphin amphibian, "Rover," and later, his DC-5. Celebrities aboard Boeing's planes included Howard Hughes, accompanied by Ginger Rogers.
As second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, Scott made his first "test acceptance flight" July 7, 1940, in a Boeing P-12F biplane fighter. As World War II approached, Scott parked the DC-5 at Mines Field in Los Angeles. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government restricted all civilian flights along the West Coast. However, by June 10, 1941, Scott was already a flight acceptance pilot for Boeing production planes.
The first of these were 240 Douglas DB-7B attack bombers. Scott remembered flying a DB-7B over Whidbey Island, Wash. "At about 7,000 feet, I hit the flap switch. ... The flap tore loose from the outboard end of the wing. I flew back to Boeing Field and landed with one flap sticking straight up in the air. ... It was a little fast—but not too fast."
By 1943, Scott had accumulated more hours of B-17 Flying Fortress production check flying than anybody else. In all, he flew 1,000 different B-17s. In addition, he flew B-29s and B-50s, C-97 Stratofreighters and Model 377 Stratocruisers and was chief of Production Flight Test from 1947 to 1966.
The first jet he flew was the XB-47 bomber out of Wichita, Kan. "It had so much performance," he recalled. "It was my first experience with anything like that ... that performance and that speed."
He tested 707 and 727 passenger jets, B-52 bombers and KC-135 Stratotankers. In all, he accumulated about 8,000 hours of flight time. "Every new airplane was an improvement over the last," he said. "Each one was a mighty fine ship to fly."
Scott retired to run an aircraft modification and repair company called The Jobmaster Company. He also built a replica of The Boeing Company's first airplane, the B&W, for the company's 50th anniversary in 1966. It now hangs in Seattle's Museum of Flight.
These days, he spends time in his office at the south end of the Clayton L. Scott Field. Each Monday, he meets old friends for lunch and reminiscences.
He thinks any young person dreaming of becoming a pilot can reach his or her goal. "Get as much information as you can about airplanes," he said. "Become exposed to them. I encourage you to follow through."
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