Friday, June 21, 2013

Bill Boeing's Big Trimotor

When Bill Boeing decided to get into the airmail act, he designed and built his Model 40, a single-engine biplane which could also carry passengers, though the mail was the priority and thus comfort was secondary.

With business booming, Boeing followed with their much larger Model 80, a trimotor, in 1928. Because of harsh operating conditions on some of the Rocky Mountain airports along the San Francisco - Chicago airmail route, Boeing elected to go with a biplane configuration, as instead of the monoplane used by Ford and Fokker. With the demand for passenger service growing quickly, the Model 80 could carry 12 people in relative luxury (a lavatory with running water was even included.

After building only four of these, Boeing stretched the fuselage and installed more powerful engines so that up to 18 passengers could be carried in the 80A. To care for all these folks, Boeing Air Transport hired a small crew of registered nurses, who became the industry's very first airline stewardesses. The 80As were originally built with just the main vertical stabilizer, but the longer fuselage wasn't enough to compensate for the more powerful engines, so in 1930, Boeing added two supplemental stabilizer/rudder units to each horizontal stab, and the plane became the Model 80A-1.

Boeing Air Transport was merged into United Airlines in 1931, and the Model 80A-1s continued to be operated until they were replaced in 1934 with the much more modern Model 247s. Though retired from main line passenger work, the big Boeings continued to be used, and a number of them found their way to Alaska, where they were operated by famed Alaskan bush pilot Bob Reeve for the Morrison-Knudsen Construction Company. By cutting large doors in the slab side of the fuselage, Reeve could haul up to 11,000 pounds of cargo, more than twice the load that the Boeing engineers designed it to carry.

NC-229M (Boeing c/n 1087) was the seventh Model 80A built and, along with sister aircraft NC-224M (a rare color photo of 224M can be seen here), became part of the MK fleet. At some point, 229M became damaged, then when 224M was wrecked at Anchorage on Marcy 21, 1943, parts of 229M were used to get 224M back in the air. After WWII, 224M was retired in 1946 and sat in storage outside Reeve's hangar, and eventually ended up derelict in an Anchorage dump, and in 1960 it was salvaged and beautifully restored (presumably still incorporating parts of 229M), and is now on display at Boeing's Museum of Flight in Seattle; it is the only surviving Model 80.


  1. Aviation seems to move at a snail's pace compared to a century ago. Or maybe it always appears that way when you're living it.

    1. Oh, totally an example, the SDD contract for the F-35 was awarded in 2001, and here we are in 2013 and the type is still in test, and won't be operational for several more years. In a similar 15-year period, say from 1935 to 1950, we went from wooden-wing Fokker Trimotors to the jet age. The P-51 went from first sketches to first flight in a mere 90 days!

  2. NC 224M was saved from the Anchorage dump by my dad Philip L Redden. I have photo of just how it looked when my parents found it, they had to get a permit from the city of Anchorage to move it across town because of its size. Around 1962 dad gave the airplane to Jack E Luffler to take to the lower 48 to be restored. A very nasty editorial was written about my Dad Philip Redden in the Anchorage Times for letting a part of Alaska history leave the state and the ______ that wrote the article is now the person that gets credit for saving the airplane in some circles, even though there is no history of him having saved one airplane in AK.. were as Philip Redden has a long history of saving many airplanes in AK along with the last of the Sikorsky S39s. But some good did come from the articular my dad went to the state of AK and convinced them if they did not want the airplanes /artifacts leaving AK Build a Museum. so for the Alaska centennial in the late 60s with the state my dad built the Air Transportation Museum in Anchorage. If any one would like more about how my dad saved this airplane or other planes you may contact me at