An incredibly historic plane, which first flew in commercial flight in 1933, flew its last air journey from Paine Field in Everett, Washington to Boeing Field in Seattle on April 26, 2016. The Boeing 247 looks somewhat like the more recognizable DC-3, but the plane painted in United’s colors is actually a more significant aircraft in terms of technology and competition. In recognition of this plane’s importance to commercial aviation and airline manufacturing, a B-247 hangs in the National Air & Space Museum.
[note: that’s a DC-3 hanging above the Boeing plane]
There is no more iconic airplane than the DC-3; many would recognize it as the first “modern” airliner. That’s not true and actually, another plane, the B-247, predated it and was actually the catalyst for the Douglas’ emblematic trike aircraft.
Boeing at the time owned two subsidiaries: one named Pratt & Whitney, which made first rate engines, and another called the Boeing Air Transport (soon to become United Air Lines). The 247 was designed to fly 50 percent faster than contemporary airliners. The new design incorporated
- sleek, low-wing, all-metal, semimonocoque construction,
- retractable landing gear,
- supercharged, air-cooled engines mounted on the cantilevered wings control surface,
- trim tabs
- an autopilot and
- de-icing boots for the wings and the tailplane.
That short list of innovations (full compilation of advances in aeronautical development is detailed paragraphs long) is comparable, for its time, to all the engineering marvels Boeing included in its Dreamliner.
The technological importance of the Boeing 247 is definitely overshadowed by the commercial and competitive impact of this new bird.
First, the contract between the manufacturer and the airline stipulated that could not sell any 247s to other airlines until United’s order for 60 aircraft had been filled. That drove TWA to the Douglas Aircraft Company and they insisted that the Santa Monica-based manufacturer produce a competitive plane. That was the origin of that most famous early commercial airplane, the DC-3.
The second economic consequence occurred in 1934 when the Department of Justice convinced Boeing to or compelled it to break-up of the Boeing, P&W and United combination. The competitive reaction to the 247’s exclusivity with United was responsible for the creation of the DC-3 and governmental support of competition.
On this last flight of the 247, it is appropriate to remember its inaugural operation and its historic significance.
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