Friday, September 6, 2013

Pickwick's Bach Crash

While the Ford was the most well-known trimotor produced, a number of other companies also tried to break into the airliner business with three-engined designs, including L. Morton Bach's Bach Aircraft Corp, which started business at Santa Monica's Clover Field, before moving to the LA Metropolitan Airport at Van Nuys.

Bach built a number of different trimotor models, but one thing tended to differentiate them from other brands: they used smaller nacelle-mounted engines than what was used on the nose. Five ten-passenger model 3-CT-6 Air Yachts were built for Pickwick Airlines, and these used a Pratt 525-hp Hornet on the nose and two 130-hp Comet engines in the outboard nacelles.

The original negative for this image is very badly deteriorated, and a lot of work
was required to restore even this amount of detail.
Pickwick had started as a bus line serving cities up and down the California coast and their "Nitecoach" was one of the most innovative bus designs on the road. On March 29, 1929, they entered the airline business with twice-daily service between Los Angeles (Glendale Grand Central Air Terminal) and San Diego. Soon after, San Francisco was added to the routing, as was Mexico City and Guatemala City (sample timetables can be seen here). In order to publicize the upcoming LA to Central America service, Pickwick hired Pancho Barnes to fly the route, and she then claimed to be the first woman pilot to fly between LA and Mexico City (a claim contested at the time by aviatrix Mildred Morgan, who had been hired to fly the same route by Los Angeles radio station KTM, which ironically was also owned by Pickwick).

The Archive owns several original photos of Pickwick Air Yachts. The one seen above comes from the William Alman collection, and the rest come from the Archive's R.C. Talbot negative collection. On August 7, 1929 Air Yacht NC539E (c/n 7, the third of Pickwick's five Bachs) was being flown by Pickwick pilots John Woods and Elmer McLeod and carrying eight passengers when it lost power only five minutes after takeoff from Grand Central bound for San Diego, and made an emergency landing three miles away, in nearby Los Angeles River bed, overturning in the soft sand. Miraculously, no one was killed, and only moderate injuries were suffered. The official cause off the crash is listed as "engine failure due to gas-line stoppage" (more info and a copy of McLeod's log entry for the crash can be found at the DM Airfield webpage).

Pickwick had grand visions of combined bus/plane service from LA to Chicago, but with the Great Depression settling over the country and the company's inability to win an air mail contract, it was a terrible time to be operating a fledgling airline, and Pickwick's air service only lasted a year, folding in the Spring of 1930. The bus company, though, went on to merge with Northland Transportation Company of Minnesota to become Pacific Greyhound, the forerunner of today's Greyhound Lines (a detailed history can be found here).

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