Airline Expansion and Innovation (1927 - 1941)


Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing

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

The Mailwing 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.

The airplane was repurchased by employees of Eastern Air Lines, restored, and presented to company president Edward V. Rickenbacker, who later donated it to the Museum. The airplane was restored in 1975 by veteran Eastern pilot Capt. Joseph Toth.
Gift of Edward V. Rickenbacker

Wingspan: 10 m (33 ft)
Length: 6.7 m (21 ft 11 in)
Height: 2.8 m (9 ft 4 in)
Weight, gross: 1,139 kg (2,512 lb)
Weight, empty: 731 kg (1,612 lb)
Top speed: 218 km/h (136 mph)
Engine: Wright Whirlwind J-5-C, 200 hp
Manufacturer: Pitcairn Aircraft, Inc., Philadelphia, Pa., 1927

Fairchild FC-2
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Fairchild FC-2

Developed for aerial photography, the Fairchild FC-2 was the production version of Sherman Fairchild's first aircraft, the FC-1. It could cruise for long distances at high altitudes, and its enclosed cabin protected the crew and equipment. The design was so good that the aircraft's duties rapidly expanded to included air mail delivery, passenger flights, freight hauling, and bush flying.

The Fairchild FC-2 was one of the first aircraft 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.
Gift of Pan American-Grace Airways

Wingspan:13.5 m (44 ft)
Length: 8.7 m (30 ft 11 in)
Height: 2.7 m (9 ft)
Weight, gross: 1,630 kg (3,600 lb)
Weight, empty: 930 kg (2,050 lb)
Top speed: 196 km/h (122 mph)
Engine Wright J-4, 220 hp
Manufacturer: Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Corp., Farmingdale, N.Y., 1928

Northrop Alpha
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Northrop Alpha

Introduced in 1930, the Northrop Alpha represents a transitional air transport design, a blend of old and new aircraft technology. It could carry six passengers in a snug, comfortable cabin, but the pilot remained exposed to the elements. The aircraft was all metal and streamlined, but had fixed landing gear and only one engine.

Designed by John K. "Jack" Northrop, the Alpha was a great step forward in metal aircraft design. Many of its features, particularly the multi-cellular wing, were later used in the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3. Although more powerful twin-engine aircraft made the Alpha obsolete for passenger service, it continued to serve as a fast express cargo plane.

This airplane was restored by volunteers from Trans World Airlines.
Gift of the Experimental Aircraft Association
and Trans World Airlines

Wingspan: 13.4 m (41 ft 10 in)
Length: 8.7 m (28 ft 5 in)
Height: 3.3 m (9 ft)
Weight, gross: 2,043 kg (4,500 lb)
Weight, empty: 1,208 kg (2,660 lb)
Top speed 272 km/h (170 mph)
Engine: Pratt & Whitney Wasp, 420 hp
Manufacturer: Northrop Aircraft Corp., Burbank, Calif., 1930

Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor

Affectionately known as the "Tin Goose," the Ford Tri-Motor was the largest civil aircraft in America when it first flew on August 2, 1926. Its all-metal, corrugated aluminum construction and the prestigious Ford name made it immediately popular with passengers and airline operators. Noisy but reliable, the Ford Tri-Motor played a major role in convincing the public that air travel was safe and practical.

The 5-AT, a more powerful version of the earlier 4-AT, had three Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engines and entered service in 1928. This airplane was restored by American Airlines.
Gift of American Airlines

Wingspan: 23.7 m (77 ft 10 in)
Length: 15.2 m (49 ft 10 in)
Height: 4.2 m (13 ft 8 in)
Weight, gross: 5,738 kg (12,650 lb)
Weight, empty: 3,470 kg (7,650 lb)
Top speed: 217 km/h (135 mph)
Engine: 3 Pratt & Whitney Wasps, 420 hp
Manufacturer: Stout Metal Airplane Co. (a Division of Ford Motor Co.), 1928

Boeing 247-D
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Boeing 247-D

The world's first modern airliner, the Boeing 247 revolutionized air transportation when it entered service with United Air Lines in 1933. With its sleek, low-wing, all-metal construction; retractable landing gear; and supercharged, air-cooled engines, the Boeing 247 was 50 percent faster than its competitors. Its innovative design launched a new generation of commercial airliners, notably the Douglas DC-2. The Boeing 247-D version pioneered the use of controllable-pitch propellers and wing de-icer boots.

The airplane display at the Museum is the first production 247-D. Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn flew it in the 1934 England-to-Australia International Air Derby, better known as the MacRobertson Race. The airplane placed third overall and second in the transport category, completing the 18,180-kilometer (11,300-mile) journey in just under 93 hours. It was returned to United Air Lines and flown as the airline's flagship until replaced by DC-3s.

The airplane is displayed with its racing numeral, NR 257Y, and its commercial registration, NC 13369.
Transferred from the Civil Aeronautics Authority

Wingspan: 22.6 m (74 ft)
Length: 15.7 m (51 ft 7 in)
Height: 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
Weight, gross: 6,192 kg (13,650 lb)
Weight, empty: 4,055 kg (8,940 lb)
Top speed: 322 km/h (200 mph)
Engine: 2 Pratt & Whitney Wasp S1H1-G, 550 hp
Manufacturer: Boeing Airplane Co., Seattle, Wash., 1934

Douglas DC-3
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Douglas DC-3

First flown in 1935, the Douglas DC-3 became the most successful airliner in the formative years of air transportation, and was the first to fly profitably without government subsidy. More than 18,000 DC-3s, both civil and military versions, U.S. and foreign built, were produced. Many are still flying.

An enlarged variant of the popular 14-seat DC-2, the 21-seat DC-3 was comfortable by the standards of its time and very safe, because of its strong, multiple-spar wing and all-metal construction. The airlines liked it because it was reliable, inexpensive to operate, and therefore profitable. Pilots liked its stability, ease of handling, and excellent single-engine performance.

The airplane on display flew more than 56,700 hours with Eastern Air Lines. Its last commercial flight was on October 12, 1952, when it flew from San Salvador to Miami. It was subsequently presented to the Museum by Eastern's president, Edward V. Rickenbacker.
Gift of Eastern Air Lines

Wingspan: 29 m (95 ft)
Length: 19.7 m (64 ft 6 in)
Height: 5 m (16 ft 11 in)
Weight, gross: 11,430 kg (25,200 lb)
Weight, empty: 7,650 kg (16,865)
Top speed: 370 km/h (230 mph)
Engine: 2 Wright SGR 1820-71, 1,200 hp
Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Co., Santa Monica, Calif., 1936