Justly labeled the first modern airliner, the Boeing 247 revolutionized air transportation when it entered service with United Air Lines in 1933. It was 50 percent faster than its competitors, with its sleek, low-wing, all-metal construction; retractable landing gear; and supercharged, air-cooled engines mounted on the wings. This innovative design inspired the creation of a new generation of commercial airliners, beginning with the Douglas DC-2. The later Boeing 247-D version pioneered the use of controllable-pitch propellers and wing de-icer boots.
The airplane on display above is the first production 247-D. It was used by Col. Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn in the famous 1934 England-to-Australia International Air Derby, better known as the MacRobertson Race. It placed third overall and second in the transport category.
Transferred from the Civil Aeronautics Administration
Air transport; twin engine; monoplane.
The National Air and Space Museums Boeing 247D is important both as an aircraft type and as a famous plane in its own right. It was flown in the 1934 MacRobertson England-Australia Race by famed racing pilot Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn, finishing in third place; it then went on to three other productive careers before being given to the museum.
The first Boeing 247 made its initial flight on February 8, 1933, and the plane’s performance confirmed the wisdom of what had been to that date a daring gamble on the part of Boeing’s management. Three key men—President Phillip G. Johnson, Vice President Claire Egtvedt, and Chief Engineer C. N. Monteith — chose to develop the transport potential of their successful Boeing B-9 twin-engine bomber rather than stick to the orthodox trimotor and biplane design of the day.
The group of United Airlines predecessors (Boeing Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport, National Air Transport, and Varney Air Lines) determined to replace its entire fleet by ordering sixty of the 247s, thereby gaining a tremendous advantage over competitors, for the new airplane had made all other transports obsolete overnight.
The all-metal, low-wing 247 combined a retractable landing gear, two supercharged air-cooled engines, and, in later models, controllable pitch propellers, with totally new standards in passenger comfort. The ten passengers and three crew members enjoyed excellent soundproofing, a low vibration level, plush seats, and, for the first time, cabin air conditioning.
On May 22, 1933, the new 247 entered crosscountry service, making the journey from San Francisco to New York in 19 1/2 hours, compared to the previous 27-hour air travel time.
Curiously, the inability of other airlines to obtain the 247 worked to Boeing and United’s net disadvantage, for Trans World Airlines went to Douglas for a competitive aircraft, and the result was the famous DC series, which made the 247, in turn, obsolete.
The original 247 had a top speed of 182 mph and cruised at 1 70 mph compared to the 115 mph of the Ford Tn-motor then in general use. Boeing attempted to match the Douglas aircraft by creating the 247D, an improved version with a 200mph top speed and 189-mph cruise. Earlier 247s were modified to 247D standards, but the airplane did not have the necessary growth potential to compete and was soon relegated to shorter route segments and smaller airlines.
The museum’s aircraft made its first flight on September 5. 1934. It was leased from United by Turner and modified with extra fuel tanks to provide a range of more than 2,500 miles for the 1934 MacRobertson Race. Turner, Pangborn, and Reeder Nichols took off from Mildenhall, England on October 20, 1934, and landed 92 hours, 55 minutes, and 30 seconds later at Melbourne, Australia, finishing in third place. The race was won by an English de Havilland DH 88 Comet: second place went to a KLM-operated Douglas DC-2.
The 247 had an actual flying time of a little over eighty-five hours for the 11,300-mile distance and might have finished second were it not for some engine problems and a three-hour navigational error.
The airplane was returned to United where it served in regular airline service until 1937, when it was sold to the Union Electric Company of St. Louis for use as an executive transport. In 1939 it was purchased by the Department of Commerce Air Safety Board (CAS), which used it for fourteen years before presenting it to the museum in 1953. The aircraft served so well in so many experiments with the CAS that it received the affectionate nickname "Adaptable Annie.
To highlight the most interesting aspects of the 247’s career, the airplane is displayed with two sets of markings. The left side is marked as it was when flown by Colonel Turner in 1934, carrying the NR-257y registration; the right side is marked as the aircraft was flown by United, with the NC 13369 registration.
The original gray anodized aluminum finish of the 247 was badly weatherworn, and it was necessary to repaint it in a color as near to the original as possible. Fortunately, the two engine cowlings and the vertical tail surface were in relatively good condition, and they were left in their original unpainted anodized finish.
In 1974 United Air Lines made a grant that permitted the National Air and Space Museum to have the aircraft restored to its present status by CNC Industries, Camp Springs, Maryland.