Monday, February 25, 2013

Ford's Stout

Though this post was originally published only a couple of weeks ago, I'm reposting it as the Archive just acquired a second photo of a Stout Pullman.

Unfortunately, the image isn't clear enough to determine which of FATS' five
Pullmans this one is.
In the early 1920s, with most of the contemporary airplanes being made of wood and fabric, the idea of a metal airplane enthralled a few engineers who could see the day when aircraft engines would be powerful enough to heft the heavier material. One of these was William Stout, who adapted some of the metal structure design aspects pioneered by the German designer Hugo Junkers. The most readily visible aspect of this technology was the use of corrugations in the metal skin to provide structural strength.

Unlike many engineers, Stout was also an astute salesman, and resorted to a gimmick to raise the capital needed to turn his ideas into reality. He sent letters to leading industrialists blatantly asking for a thousand dollars from each of them, stating, “For your one thousand dollars, you will get one definite promise: you will never get your money back.” Twenty people responded, and the Stout Metal Airplane Company started business in 1922. Two of the twenty people who responded were Henry and Edsel Ford. Henry’s success in the automotive industry led him to believe that there was a future in air transportation as well, if for no other reason than as a fast means of moving freight from one factory to another.

This photo comes from a different source than the one above, but the scene
is certainly similar.
The first Stout plane, the 2-AT Pullman (or “Air Pullman”), was a single-engine all-metal design powered by a 400-hp Liberty V-12. First flight took place on April 23, 1924, and the aircraft was christened Maiden Detroit. In all, eleven of the aircraft were built, and the Pullman lived up to the luxury hinted at by it's railroad passenger service-inspired name: passengers could expect a cabin with comfortable seats, pleasant decor including designer wall paper, and even a bathroom. In its cargo configuration, Stout advertised the 2-AT as the "Air Truck".

In 1924, Henry Ford did more than just invest a thousand dollars: he became a partner in Stout, and the company moved to a new factory facility at the Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan. In August 1925, while the Pullman was still under development, Henry bought out William Stout’s interest in the company, which then became the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company; Stout himself stayed on as chief consulting engineer. Henry also began sponsoring the Ford National Reliability Air Tour, an annual cross-country contest that was intended to promote aviation as a safe and reliable means of transportation. The 2-AT won the 1925 event with a perfect score.

Ford now had a capable airplane, but he still needed a commercial service to carry the freight he needed moved, so he took the first five aircraft (the Detroit plus Maiden Dearborn I, II, III and IV) and formed the Ford Air Transport Service, which flew the first scheduled commercial cargo flight in America between Ford factories in Detroit and Chicago on April 14, 1925. Besides those two cities, Cleveland was also served by FATS. While the media-derived nickname "Tin Goose" has come to be attached to the Ford Trimotor over the years, it actually was first given to the Pullman by a newspaper in December, 1925.

With the passage of the Kelly Act, which allowed commercial services to bid on U.S. Air Mail runs, Ford jumped into that game as well, and Maiden Detroit flew the America’s first commercial transport of mail from Detroit to Cleveland. On May 18, 1926, Maiden Dearborn I become the first US commercial aircraft to suffer a fatal accident, when the air mail flight crashed during poor weather. Despite the initial hype regarding the safety of the aircraft, in 1928 the Commerce Department declared that the Pullman’s wings were not safe, and so all remaining 2-ATs were scrapped.

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