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Old 01-07-2013, 08:00 AM   #1
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Interesting early american aviation history

Source: Denham S. Scott, North American Aviation Retirees' Bulletin.

How many of you know that in 1910, mighty Martin Marietta got its start in an abandoned California church? That's where Glenn L. Martin with his amazing mother Minta Martin and their mechanic Roy Beal constructed a fragile biplane that Glenn taught himself to fly.

It has often been told how Douglas Aircraft started operations in 1920 in a barbershop's backroom on L.A. 's Pico Boulevard . Interestingly, the barber-shop is still operating.

The Lockheed Company built the first of their famous Vegas' in 1927 inside a building currently used by Victory Cleaners at 1040 Sycamore in Hollywood ..

In 1922, Claude Ryan, a 24 year old military reserve pilot, was getting his hair cut in San Diego, when the barber mentioned that the 'town's aviator' was in jail for smuggling Chinese illegal's up from Mexico. Claude found out that if he replaced the pilot 'sitting in the pokey,' that he would be able to lease the town's airfield for $50 a month - BUT he also needed to agree to fly North and East - BUT not South!


Northrop's original location was an obscure So California hotel. It was available because the police had raided the hotel and found that its steady residents were money-minded gals entertaining transitory male hotel guests.


Glenn Martin built his first airplane in a vacant church, before he moved to a vacant apricot cannery in Santa Ana . He was a showman and he traveled the county fair and air meet circuit as an exhibitionist aviator From his exhibition proceeds, Glenn was able to pay his factory workers and purchase the necessary wood, linen and wire.

His mother, Minta and two men ran the factory while Glenn risked his neck and gadded about the country. One of his workers was 22-year old Donald Douglas [who WAS the entire engineering department]. A Santa Monica youngster named Larry Bell [later founded Bell Aircraft which today is Bell Helicopter Textron] ran the shop.

Another part of Glenn Martin's business was a flying school with several planes based at Griffith Park , and a seaplane operation on the edge of Watts where his instructors taught a rich young man named Bill Boeing to fly.


Later, Boeing bought one of Glenn Martin's seaplanes and had it shipped back to his home in Seattle . At this same time, Bill Boeing hired away Glenn's personal mechanic. Later, after Boeing's seaplane crashed in Puget Sound , he placed an order to Martin for replacement parts.

Still chafing from having his best mechanic 'swiped,' [a trick he later often used himself] Martin decided to take his sweet time and allowed Bill Boeing to 'stew' for a while. Bill Boeing wasn't known to be a patient man, so he began fabricating his own aircraft parts, an activity that morphed into constructing entire airplanes and eventually the Boeing Company we know today. A former small shipyard nicknamed 'Red Barn' became Boeing Aircraft's first home. Soon, a couple of airplanes were being built inside, each of them having a re mark able resemblance to Glenn Martin's airplanes .. that, interestingly, had its own re mark able resemblance to Glenn Curtiss' airplanes.


A few years later, when the Great depression intervened and Boeing couldn't sell enough airplanes to pay his bills, he diversified into custom built speed boats and furniture for his wealthy friends.

After WWI, a bunch of sharpies from Wall Street gained control of the Wright Brothers Co in Dayton and the Martin Company in L.A. and 'stuck them' together as the Wright-Martin Company. Wright-Martin began building an obsolete biplane design with a foreign Hispano-Suiza engine. Angered because he had been out maneuvered with a bad idea, Martin walked out taking Larry Bell and other key employees with him.

From the deep wallet of a wealthy baseball mogul, Martin was able to establish a new factory. Then his good luck continued, when the future aviation legend Donald Douglas, was persuaded by Glenn to join his team. The Martin MB-1 quickly emerged from the team's efforts and became the Martin Bomber. Although too late to enter WWI, the Martin Bomber showed its superiority when Billy Mitchell used it to sink several captured German battleships and cruisers to prove it's worth. He was later court martialed for his effort.

In Cleveland , a young fellow called 'Dutch' Kindelberger joined Martin as an engineer. Later, as the leader of North American Aviation, Dutch became justifiably well-known.

Flashing back to 1920, Donald Douglas had saved $60,000, returned to L.A. and rented a barbershop's rear room and loft space in a carpenter's shop nearby. There he constructed a classic passenger airplane called the Douglas Cloudster. A couple of years later, Claude Ryan bought the Cloudster and used it to make daily flights between San Diego and Los Angeles . This gave Ryan the distinction of being the first owner/operator of Douglas transports.

Claude Ryan later custom built Charles Lindbergh's 'ride' to fame in the flying fuel tank christened: The Spirit of St. Louis .

In 1922, Donald Douglas won a contract from the Navy to build several torpedo carrying aircraft. While driving through Santa Monica 's wilderness, Douglas noticed an abandoned, barn-like movie studio. He stopped his roadster and prowled around. That abandoned studio became Douglas Aircraft's first real factory. With the $120,000 contract in his hand, Donald Douglas could afford to hire one or two more engineers. My brother, Gordon Scott, had been schooled in the little known science of aviation at England 's Fairey Aviation, so he hired Gordon.


My first association with the early aviation pioneers occurred when I paid my brother a visit at his new work place. Gordon was outside on a ladder washing windows. He was the youngest engineer. Windows were dirty. And Douglas Aircraft Company had no money to pay janitors.
Gordon introduced me to a towhead guy called Jack Northrop, and another chap named Jerry Vultee. Jack Northrop had moved over from Lockheed Aircraft. And all of them worked together on the Douglas Aircraft's world cruiser designs.

While working in his home after work and on weekends, Jack designed a wonderfully advanced streamlined airplane. When Allan Loughead [Lockheed] found a wealthy investor willing to finance Northrop's new airplane, he linked up with Allan and together, they leased a Hollywood workshop where they constructed the Lockheed Vega. It turned out to be sensational with its clean lines and high performance. Soon Amelia Earhart and others flew the Vega and broke many of aviation's world records.

I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Ed Heinemann who later designed the AD, A3D and A4D. He told me how my Dad would fly out to Palmdale with an experimental aircraft they were both working on. They would take it for a few hops and come up with some fixes. After having airframe changes fabricated in a nearby machine shop, they would hop it again to see if they had gotten the desired results. If it worked out, Mr. Heinemann would incorporate the changes on the aircraft's assembly line. No money swapped hands!

In May 1927, Lindbergh flew to Paris and triggered a bedlam where everyone was trying to fly everywhere. Before the first Lockheed Vega was built, William Randolph Hearst had already paid for it and had it entered in an air race from the California Coast to Honolulu .
In June 1927, my brother, Gordon, left Douglas Aircraft to become Jack Northrop's assistant at Lockheed. While there, he managed to get himself hired as the navigator on Hearst's Vega.
The race was a disaster and ten lives were lost. The Vega and my brother vanished. A black cloud hung heavily over the little shop. However, Hubert Wilkins, later to become Sir Hubert Wilkins, took Vega #2 and made a successful polar flight from Alaska to Norway . A string of successful flights after that placed Lockheed in aviation's forefront.

I went to work for Lockheed as it 26th employee, shortly after the disaster, and I worked on the Vega. It was made almost entirely of wood and I quickly become a half-assed carpenter.

At this time, General Motors had acquired North American consisting of Fokker Aircraft, Pitcairn Aviation [later Eastern Airlines] and Sperry Gyroscope and hired Dutch Kindelberger away from Douglas to run it. Dutch moved the entire operation to L.A. where Dutch and his engineers came up with the P-51 Mustang.

Interestingly, just a handful of young men played roles affecting the lives of all Americans ..... as it initiated the So California metamorphosis, from a semi-desert with orange groves and celluloid, into a dynamic complex, supporting millions.

Although this technological explosion had startling humble beginnings, taking root as acorns in - a barber shop's back room - a vacant church -and an abandoned cannery - but came to fruit on as mighty oaks.

Source: Denham S. Scott, North American Aviation Retirees' Bulletin.
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Old 01-07-2013, 09:49 AM   #2
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Great read! Thanks!
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Old 01-14-2013, 05:04 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by BaltimoreLurker;
Still chafing from having his best mechanic 'swiped,' [a trick he later often used himself] Martin decided to take his sweet time and allowed Bill Boeing to 'stew' for a while. Bill Boeing wasn't known to be a patient man, so he began fabricating his own aircraft parts, an activity that morphed into constructing entire airplanes and eventually the Boeing Company we know today. A former small shipyard nicknamed 'Red Barn' became Boeing Aircraft's first home. Soon, a couple of airplanes were being built inside, each of them having a re mark able resemblance to Glenn Martin's airplanes .. that, interestingly, had its own re mark able resemblance to Glenn Curtiss' airplanes.[/FONT]
This part is untrue. Bill Boeing-- who was extremely wealthy before he even got interested in aviation--bought a Martin floatplane for the flying club he started on Lake Union. His decision to make a couple of planes himself had nothing to do with Martin or spare parts (I have never seen any reference to the Martin crashing in our archives).

He and a friend, Naval officer and engineer Conrad Westervelt, took a ride on a 4th of July with a guy named Terrah Maroney who was selling rides on Lake Washington in a Curtiss flying boat. On their way back to the city Westervelt calculated that Maroney's Curtiss was barely strong enough to hold itself together. He and Boeing, who had been interested in aviation for several years, felt they could design and build a better plane. Westervelt designed the plane using Boeing's flying club Martin as a rough concept guide.

At the time Boeing was having a yacht built at one of Seattle's larger shipyards, Heath Shipyard, named for its owner, Ed Heath. The main building in the shipyard was never known as the "Red Barn" until decades later.

Ed Heath was one of these guys who put more into his boats than he sometimes got out if them and this was the case with Boeing's Taconite. Heath went bankrupt and Boeing bought the shipyard for one dollar plus the debt. His sole motivation was to get his yacht finished.

Later when he and Westervelt hatched their plan to build their own plane they needed a place to do it and people to do it. The shipyard Boeing had acquired was the perfect place as it came with a stock of shipwrights who knew how to work with wood. Ed Heath, who was still there, designed the floats himself.

The two planes were identical and were named Mallard and Bluebill. But they became known as the B & W for Boeing and Westervelt. The planes were built at the shipyard and the parts trucked to Boeing's three-bay floating hangar on Lake Union. There they were assembled and they occupied the two bays next to the club's Martin.

Westervelt was transferred to another post so never saw the airplanes he designed fly. Boeing demonstrated the B & W to the Navy but they weren't interested. But shortly thereafter as the US prepared to enter the war they came back to Boeing and ordered an improved version of the B & W that Boeing called the Model C. IIRC the contract was for 50 of them.

Boeing formed a company to build them using the shipyard property. The company was originally called Pacific Aero Products. This was later changed to Boeing Airplane Company.

The Mallard and Bluebill were eventually sold to New Zealand where they were used as trainers until their demise. The B & W in the Museum of Flight today is a flying replica built by longtime Boeing test pilot Clayton Scott to commemorate the company's 50th anniversary. The last time it flew was in the mid-1980s when we used it (with Clayton flying) for a movie we produced for the museum.

The Model C (we have some amazing footage of them being built) led to other contracts for planes for the Navy and Army. Boeing also got into the passenger and mail plane business.

The aircraft factory never ran out of money or stopped building planes and Bill Boeing was so wealthy from timber and iron that he never had a problem paying bills. The Boeing boats were all built by Boeing of Canada in Vancouver which was a totally separate company. The furniture was a short-lived sideline at the airplane factory and was done simply to keep the workforce of skilled woodworkers busy when airplane production slowed down a bit.

Boeing himself was not involved in the day to day operation of the Boeing Airplane Company. Using his tremendous wealth he and his partners embarked on building up a huge aviation industry company which at its peak included United Air Transport (United Airlines), Varney Airlines, Pratt & Whitney, Stearman, Hamilton Standard, and a list of other companies as long as your arm--- literally. I have a copy of the company "tree."

The company was eventually broken up as part of the slew of anti-trust hearings held by Congress in the 1930s. When the company was broken up in the 1930s Bill Boeing quit in disgust, retired to his farm east of Seattle, and never had anything to do with airplanes or The Boeing Co. again.
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Old 01-14-2013, 07:29 PM   #4
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Heath went bankrupt and Boeing bought the shipyard for one dollar plus the debt. His sole motivation was to get his yacht finished.
Sorry about the thread creep but Boeing joined a boat owner's club that is still going strong ... it is amazing how often that still happens.
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Old 01-14-2013, 07:36 PM   #5
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Sorry about the thread creep but Boeing joined a boat owner's club that is still going strong ... it is amazing how often that still happens.
Was it the Seattle Yacht Club? That's the highest-class yacht club in Puget Sound and I think always has been.
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Old 01-15-2013, 06:01 PM   #6
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Was it the Seattle Yacht Club?
No, the "club" I meant is the one in which its members are forced to purchase the yard that was going broke building their boat. They either buy the yard and finish the project or lose their investment.
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Old 01-15-2013, 07:48 PM   #7
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No, the "club" I meant is the one in which its members are forced to purchase the yard that was going broke building their boat. They either buy the yard and finish the project or lose their investment.
Thanks for the clarification. This can happen on a huge scale, too. We (Boeing) ended up having to purchase the Vought and Global Aeronautica 787 manufacturing facilities in Charleston as it was the only way the company could see to solve the huge mess that Vought and Global Aeronautica had made of 787 fuselage manufacturing and assembly down there.

That's what got us into SC in the first place. Incidentally, the Vought and Global Aeronautica employees had already decertified the union on their own before our purchase of the place.

Not quite the same as Bill Boeing buying a boatyard to get his yacht finished but you do what you have to to protect your investment as you say.
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Old 01-15-2013, 07:59 PM   #8
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We (Boeing) ended up having to purchase the Vought and Global Aeronautica 787 manufacturing facilities in Charleston as it was the only way the company could see to solve the huge mess that Vought and Global Aeronautica had made of 787 fuselage manufacturing and assembly down there.

That's what got us into SC in the first place. Incidentally, the Vought and Global Aeronautica employees had already decertified the union on their own before our purchase of the place.
And none of that is happenstance. Every event that has played out in SC has been closely orchestrated. Vought didn't see it coming and had no way out of it and they got consumed in the end. Several other partners have faced similar outcomes. (and others still will most likely)

Great stories though. Thanks!
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