America by Air

Flying was new and daring in the early years of the 20th century. Traveling by airplane was rare. Airlines, airliners, airports, air routes—none of these existed. But by century's end, you could travel to almost anywhere in America by air in a matter of hours. How did this revolutionary change happen?

America by Air explores the history of air transportation in the United States and shows how the federal government has shaped the airline industry, how improvements in technology have revolutionized air travel, and how the flying experience has changed. Highlights include a Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor, Boeing 247, and DC-3 airliners; a cockpit simulation of an Airbus A320; and a nose from a Boeing 747 jumbo jet that you can enter.


Boeing 747 Forward Fuselage in America by Air

Boeing 747 forward fuselage
Designed originally for Pan American to replace the 707, the giant Boeing 747 revolutionized long-distance air travel when it entered service in 1970. Carrying two and a half times more passengers than the 189-seat 707, the 400-seat 747 offered dramatically lower seat-mile costs and therefore much greater efficiency.

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing, America by Air Gallery

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing
The Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing was designed to carry air mail along the routes of the eastern United States. Efficient and economical, it helped build the route structure for what would ultimately become Eastern Air Lines.

The Mailwing NC-2895, on exhibit in this gallery, was built in 1927 and was the prototype for a series of Pitcairn mail planes. It combined a square-steel-tube fuselage with wooden wings, both covered by fabric. After it became obsolete as a mail plane, this airplane served several private owners, survived a crash, and saw use as a crop-duster.

More information: Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing

Fairchild FC-2, America by Air

Fairchild FC-2
Developed as an efficient camera plane in 1927, the Fairchild FC-2 was the production version of Sherman Fairchild's first airplane, the FC-1. It could cruise for long distances at high altitudes because it had an enclosed cabin to protect the crew and equipment. The basic design was so good that the airplane's duties rapidly expanded to include airmail delivery, passenger flights, freight hauling, and bush flying.

The Fairchild FC-2 on exhibit was one of the first airplanes flown by Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) in South America. It made the first scheduled passenger flight in Peru, from Lima to Talara on September 13, 1928. It could carry five persons, including the pilot.

More information: Fairchild FC-2

Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor, America by Air

Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor
The Ford Tri-Motor, affectionately known as the "Tin Goose," was the largest civil airplane in America when it started passenger service on August 2, 1926, with Stout Air Services. The airplane's all-metal, corrugated aluminum construction and the prestigious Ford name made it immediately popular with passengers and airline operators. Noisy but reliable, the Ford played a major role in convincing the public of the safety and practicality of air travel.

The 5-AT, a more powerful version of the earlier 4-AT, was powered by three Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engines and entered service in 1928. The Museum's Ford Tri-Motor was restored by American Airlines.

More information: Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor

Northrop Alpha, America by Air

Northrop Alpha
The sleek, single-engine Northrop Alpha carried passengers in an enclosed cabin, along with 465 pounds (209 kilograms) of mail; curiously, the pilot still sat outside in an open cockpit. It is remarkable for the strong yet light design of its multicellular wing, which is still used by aircraft designers today. The Alpha was used mainly for flying experimental routes, and was retired from service in the mid-1930s.

More information: Northrop Alpha

Boeing 247-D

Boeing 247-D
The Boeing 247-D was the refinement of the first truly modern airliner. The 247, a derivative of the Model 200 Monomail and B-9 bomber, showed a substantial improvement over the Ford Tri-Motor, cutting eight hours from the coast-to-coast flying time, and was capable of carrying 10 people. The Museum's 247-D flew in the famous England-to-Australia air race of 1934.

More information: Boeing 247-D

Douglas DC-3 in America by Air Gallery

Douglas DC-3
The DC-3 was a descendant of the DC-1 and was TWA's answer to United's Boeing 247. The DC-1 incorporated Jack Northrop's multicellular wing construction and light yet powerful engines, and carried 12 passengers in relative comfort. The DC-2 production model that followed has 14 seats. The 21-seat DC-3, later able to accommodate 28 or more passengers, was originally designed as a sleeper - the DST - to carry passengers overnight from New York to Los Angeles. With a full load, it was the first transport airplane that could fly passengers without mail and still make a profit. The DC-3's streamlined, versatile design and strong wing construction made it an exceptional aircraft; at least 400 of these airplanes are still flying today.