Photo Play

By Nancy Axell

December 2016

I was born in Seattle in 1930. Growing up, I knew about Boeing, and during the war I remember how it was camouflaged to look like a neighborhood from the sky.

When I was 10 years old, I was hired to be a child model in an advertising photo shoot of the interior of the Boeing Stratoliner. I remember being in awe of the big hangar at Boeing Field and then seeing the beautiful, big Stratoliner. The resulting photos, which showed myself and others pretending to be in flight in the cabin and then in a made-up bunk bed for overnight sleeping, appeared in Collier's magazine and other publications. Only 10 Stratoliners were ever built.

My husband, Dick Axell, who had a long career at Boeing, called me from work one day and said, "Guess who's on the cover of the Boeing management magazine?" It was that old promotional picture of me showing up on the June 1981 cover of "The Manager."

In March of 2002, one of the two surviving Stratoliners left in the world was taking a test flight out of Boeing Field. It had been lovingly repaired by Boeing retirees and was due to be flown to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Sadly, it ran out of fuel and plunged into Elliott Bay just off Alki Beach. It was widely covered in local newspapers, using the same picture I was in from the 1940 Seattle Times photo file. The plane was able to be raised and repaired, and in 2003 it was successfully flown to the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, where it resides today.

There is a very interesting story about the Stratoliner and its importance in aviation history in the Boeing Frontiers magazine of December 2013-January 2014 on Page 12. Accompanying the article yet again are the 1940 photos of me in the cabin and a made-up berth in that luxurious airplane. I knew the smaller little girl in the photos, and her father was the one who got us the job.

Nancy Axell (foreground, second from right), age 10, peers out the window of a Boeing Stratoliner in this advertising photo from 1940.

Boeing Archives