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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Automotive … Planes and Trains Too

article number 532
article date 02-25-2016
copyright 2016 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Boeing Enters the Aluminum Age, Part 5: Giant Aircraft Need Better Testing, 1938-39
by Harold Mansfield
   

Extremity

. . . “Not seaworthy?” asked reporter Piersol.

The ’Atlantic Clipper’ had been lightly loaded and the fuel was in the wing tanks instead of in the sea wings, so the center of gravity was high. That may have made her unstable.

Next test they’d ballast. Saturday, June 4, 1938 they put 2,600 gallons of gas in the sea wing tanks, and a ton of lead shot in the passenger compartments. Tomorrow she’d fly: 6 A.M. was cast-off time.

The bay was still as a mill pond. The newsmen were aboard the picket boats with questioning gaze as the boats cut the water again on the trail of the 314. Things went better on the water, but there were no indications of flight.

All day the ship taxied back and forth. Occasionally it stopped while mechanics came out to work on the engines. It grew late. Eddie headed back. Then, turning into Elliott Bay, the wing tip went in the water again: Again they got it out.

The newsmen demanded to see Claire Egtvedt. “What is the trouble?” they asked.

“Remember,” Egtvedt said, “no one has operated a boat like this before. The co-pilot gunned the engines on the wrong side by mistake. We may decide to lower the tips of the sea wings some to make it steadier.”

André Priester of Pan American Airways stepped in. “Those troubles are trivial,” he told the reporters. “The real news is in the high-speed runs. The spray curls back clean, under the sea wings. This is a real airplane—not one that covers itself with spray so it can’t get off well.”

Tuesday the plane was loaded to 77,500 pounds, just 5,000 pounds under its maximum, and was set for flight, but there was a strong wind up. At five o’clock a message came from up-Sound that the wind was slackening. It was a good omen.

Eddie headed the Clipper west. With throttles open, he skipped off the water past Duwamish Head and Alki Point, then taxied downwind. At the end of a long run he put about and prepared for a take-off to the north while Beall in the lead picket boat got the other craft into position.

At 6: 17 P.M. the great roar of the Cyclones sounded across the water and Eddie was moving toward the picket boats. They raced full speed ahead to stay parallel. Salt spray in the face and high excitement aboard, they bounced through the waves as the big-hulled flying boat roared past them, sailing high on the step.

Everything was rushing: water, wind, airplane. Ahead, the great hull skimmed the surface, lifted up, straight on up, steady into the air, up and up into the northern sky. Yells of applause broke into the wonderful freshness of the wind. They watched the flying Clipper sail out of sight.

After a thirty-eight-minute flight, Eddie Allen landed on Lake Washington, where further testing was to be based. Beall caught up with him at Matthews Beach later in the evening.

“We had power to spare,” said Allen. “But when I got off the water I couldn’t turn. Just not enough rudder for that big body. When we got to 2,000 feet I used the ailerons and power on one side for a wide ten-mile turn.”

Beall looked at Allen, painfully. “I was wrong,” he said. “I guess we don’t know as much about control surfaces as we thought we did.”

The Clipper model went back in the wind tunnel with a double instead of a single tail. When the change was engineered and installed in the ship, Eddie Allen came back to fly it again. The twin rudders turned it all right, but now the plane had a peculiar, weaving course of flight, not straight and stable.

There were some things you just couldn’t learn in the wind tunnel. You got approximate results and then you had to try them out in flight.

A central fin was added between the two tails, giving the ship a triple tail. This worked, both for control and stability. The angle of the sea wings was also lowered for better stability on the water.

These were expensive changes, with six of the big planes under construction. From the cost figures, Claire Egtvedt could see plainly that the Clipper contract was going to come out with a loss. The Stratoliners would too, unless they could sell some more of them, to take advantage of the engineering and tooling that they’d already paid for.

The cost of research and engineering for big airplanes, though Egtvedt thought of it as an investment for the future, was tremendous. He looked at the charts. The original 299 Flying Fortress had taken 153,000 man-hours of engineering. They had thought that was a lot. But 280,000 hours were going into the B-17B. The Clippers were taking 380,000.

   
Prototype Boeing Model 314 originally had a single vertical tail. It turned poorly in flight.

Egtvedt wondered if anyone quite realized what this meant. You wanted to build something new that would be an advance to aviation, something that was needed. You had to guarantee what your new thing was going to do before you had ever built one of them. You couldn’t sell enough to make it a good production job—and yet you had to put a price on it that wouldn’t scare the customer clear away.

You knew it would take you three or four years to finish the job. The cost of labor and materials might go up in the meantime. You had a plant full of new people who had to learn how to do the job. Then there were changes that you hadn’t figured on and other changes the customer wanted. They all cost money.

You had $14 million worth of orders to fill and only $4 million working capital. Your capital was already spent for plant and equipment, for materials and work in process, so you had to borrow from the banks to make your payroll.

You could get more capital to work with if you could make a profit. But not if you were operating at a loss. And you were the man responsible. Everybody looked to you. Employees, stockholders, customers.

Wearied and worried, Egtvedt sat at his desk and pulled out his slide rule, wishing desperately that the little white stick in the friendly brown case could solve this as it would an engineering problem, but it could not.

Fred Laudan came in to say that union negotiations were deadlocked. Last year the union got an increase and now it was back for more. “Ten cents an hour or strike.”

“We can’t do it,” said Egtvedt. “Our wages are already 20 per cent above the rest of the industry average.”

“We’ve told them that again and again,” said Laudan. “We’re at the end of our rope.”

Egtvedt had the union spokesmen in his office and told them the facts.

“All right,” was their reply. “We strike tomorrow.” One of the men got up and stalked the floor, shouting angrily about cooperation.

Egtvedt’s face was white. “You just want to break the company and put your own men out of a job. I tell you”—Egtvedt’s fist came down on his desk—”you walk out and there won’t be any jobs to come back to.”

That brought a furious rebuttal. In the middle of it, burning with frustration and unaccustomed rage, Egtvedt walked out of the room. For minutes he stood at the window of his outer office, searching for calm. Finally he turned. “I guess I can go back in now.”

Then he gave it to them again, straight and cool. Every week’s payroll required a new bank loan and this would be the last straw, they probably wouldn’t be able to get any more loans. The union backed down.

Jake Harman was out from Dayton to see about the B-17A which was getting its turbo-superchargers installed underneath the engine nacelles.

“It’s going to work,” said Ed Wells. “We have the structure licked and the wind-tunnel data looks good.”

Behind the 17A on the assembly floor were the bullet-round bodies of the first three Stratoliner transports. Lysle Wood, project engineer, and N. D. Showalter, who supervised the Stratoliner body design, were optimistic.

Wells showed Jake Harman through the transport with pride. This was a good chance to give the proposed pressurized version of the B-17 a plug.

“We can get you better than three hundred miles per hour at 25,000 feet, and a bomb load of 9,900 pounds,” he told Harman.

Jake didn’t spark. “Got some bad news for you on that,” he said finally. “The War Department turned down Oliver Echols’ request for a pressurized bomber project.” Then he added, “This won’t make you happy either: they’ve asked us to put no four-engine bombers in our estimates for fiscal 1940 and ‘41.”

Ed Wells went back to his engineering.

   
Prototype Boeing Model 314 acquires two vertical tails. It turned better in flight than the original single surface but rudder was still inadequate.

Hitler was shouting at Nurnberg about rebuilding an empire strong enough to last a thousand years. “The German Reich has slumbered long. The German people is now awakened and has offered itself as wearer of its own millennial crown.”

Hitler’s shrill voice drilled sharp into the ears of Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House. The President wanted to know how much the airplane industry could expand its production if need should come. Then he called in his military men. If it was going to be war, it would be in the air, he told them.

Hap Arnold, made chief of the Air Corps when Oscar Westover was killed in an accident, listened soberly, glad that the White House realized this. Oscar Westover had said that the future of aviation, both military and civil, was “indelibly linked with the success of the big airplane,” and he’d called the Flying Fortress “the most successful type of plane, everything considered,” ever developed for the Air Corps.

But Arnold was concerned about Boeing’s ability to produce. None of the B-17Bs was delivered yet, not even the B-17A; only the first thirteen B-17s. He asked Boeing to work out a license agreement with the Consolidated Aircraft Company in San Diego, so they could produce the B-17 if need be.

Consolidated engineers were quick with an alternate plan. “The Fortress design is four years old,” they said. “Let us design something new that’s faster, longer range. We could get it out in a hurry.” Arnold couldn’t deny that that made sense.

Consolidated got started on the B-24. A replacement for the B-17?

Strange, that at the hour the warning bell was ringing in Europe and in Washington, the future of the Flying Fortress should be in doubt.

Still, new things were happening. On December 31, 1938, Eddie Allen and a crew of four took the first Stratoliner up. The flight went well. The B-17A with its turbos was also finally proved out and made ready for delivery in January. Finally the Atlantic Clipper was tested and approved by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. It, too, would be delivered in January.

The year finished with a $500,000 loss and Claire Egtvedt felt the horns of a dilemma. The only hope of recovering the loss was to keep the B-17 in production. But the 17 might be losing out.

Egtvedt had memories of what had happened to the B-9 and the 247. The only way they could prevent that would be to come up with a new bomber design. But that would take time and money. They didn’t have the money to do it without Army support, and passage of time simply meant more loss. The commercial ships were dragging them more and more in the red.

To gain a little more freedom to grapple with the problem, Egtvedt put Bob Minshall in the job of assistant general manager, a position Monteith had resigned because of ill health. Jack Kylstra became chief engineer.

Egtvedt set out with Ed Wells to talk to the Army about the pressurized bomber design based on the B-17 and the Stratoliner. The new plane would at least use the wings and tail surfaces they were already making.

Oliver Echols was unenthusiastic. “The only official requirement I have is for 3,000 miles range and three hundred miles per hour,” he said. “That’s the specification Consolidated is designing to. It’s only a shade better than the B-17B. Your improved model could do that easily.

But that isn’t what we need. What we need we’ve known for a long time. We need at least 4,000, better 5,000, miles. And we don’t want to sacrifice speed and altitude to get it. We need better armament. Nothing less than fifty-caliber. Tail guns especially.”

“We can put in a lot of armament and cut down the performance, or we can keep the performance up and stay out of the fighters’ way,” said Wells. “Which is better?”

“Both,” said Echols. “We ought to have both.”

At Langley Field, Bob Olds was equally earnest. “Our job,” he said, “is to defend these coasts. If there’s an aircraft carrier approaching our shores, we have to be able to go out and bomb it before it gets close. Thank God, we have the B-17. It’s the only thing that can do it.

"But we’re skating on thin ice. We have to bomb them by daylight, and we only have enough radius to reach the carrier on its last day. We want radius enough to work them over the second day out. But we haven’t been able to get any money for that kind of airplane.”

The operating people always talked about radius rather than range. The radius was the distance to the target, plus the return trip, plus allowance for spare fuel, military load, head winds, and contingencies. The B-17 had a range of 3,000 miles but the Air Corps called its radius 1,000 miles. To do what Bob Olds was talking about would require a range of 5,000 miles.

   
Boeing YB-17. Despite the Air Corp’s praise of the B-17, Boeing was slow to deliver on a new order for B-17B’s.

Egtvedt and Wells took stock on the way back. “It’s obvious the airplane they’re buying and the airplane they need are two different things,” said Wells.

Egtvedt knew it, too, but the idea came hard. More new development. More research. More expense. High speed and long range both, Echols wanted. You couldn’t do it with any conventional design. They were going to have to head out again into the unknown.

“On everything we’ve done so far,” Claire said, “we’ve started out with a purpose—an honest purpose. That’s what we’ve got to keep doing. We’ve got to build the airplane that we think best meets the need.”

Back in Seattle, Wells got Giff Emery, now heading the preliminary design group, started on a superbomber study. “See if you can find some way to get the drag down,” he said. “Way down.” That was their only hope of accomplishing what Oliver Echols asked.

They started on the engine nacelles. These were the big drag items on the wings.

“Let’s try putting water-cooled engines inside the wings. Do away with the nacelles; just have a propeller shaft coming out.”

It was at least a new approach. It didn’t look too promising at first. Then the engine manufacturers said they could build a flat type engine that would fit better in the wings. That brought a new ray of hope. Ralph Cram and his staff worked on the aerodynamics side. Things were beginning to go together.

The day arrived for delivery of the Atlantic Clipper to Pan American Airways. It was January 29, 1939. Under a lead-gray sky, pilot Earl Ferguson lifted the big flying boat from Lake Washington on its delivery flight to Astoria, Oregon, where the ship would change hands. Frank Gledhill and other Pan American people were along to complete the transaction. Wellwood Beall, as seller, co-pilot and radio operator, was having his day.

The course was set to the mouth of the Columbia River. The plan was to fly visual contact with the ground; there was no commercial airway radio beam over this route.

They stayed low because of the covering clouds. It seemed odd droning along in a huge boat over hills and treetops. They were more than halfway across when the clouds darkened, and in an instant they were blind in a sky full of snow.

“The forecast didn’t give us anything like this,” said Beall. Ten minutes passed. Instead of coming out of the storm, they were getting in deeper. Pilot Ferguson veered west to be sure he was clear of some hills. The big ship was being buffeted heavily. Another five minutes passed.

Beall wanted the worst way to know where they were. What were the wind drift and the new compass heading doing to them? His heart pounded.

“Shall I call Grays Harbor Coast Guard to give us a bearing?” he asked Ferguson. The call might be regarded as an emergency procedure.

Ferguson nodded. “Go ahead.” His forehead was wrinkled. Beall requested the radio bearing from Grays Harbor. A voice blared in his earphones.

“You’re right over us. We can see you.”

Relieved, they headed out to sea until they emerged from the snow cloud, then swung around under it up the huge mouth of the Columbia River. They sat down nicely opposite Astoria and anchored.

A rowboat came out and took them to shore. They had to scramble up the muddy slope from the river’s edge.

   
The Boeing 314 was produced with three vertical tail surfaces.

An Astoria banker led them to his office, where the sale was to take place by means of an elaborate telephone conference with Pan American’s New York office, a New York trust company, and the Civil Aeronautics Authority in Washington. It was approaching the 2 P.M. deadline for the call.

The lawyers had mimeographed a fifty-four step routine. “Is the airplane at Astoria in fit and sound condition?” asked New York. Beall affirmed that it was.

“Is Mr. Gledhill there to receive it?” Gledhill said “Yes.”

“Mr. Beall, have you the certificate of title?” An electric shock struck Beall. He’d forgotten the certificate. It flashed before his eyes, there in its metal frame on the wall of the stairway to the control cabin, out there in the middle of the river. He had no voice.

Quickly, Frank Gledhill fished out a blank piece of paper and nodded vigorously to Beall. Beall stammered, “Yes, yes, I’ve got it here.”

“Will you sign it and pass it to Mr. Gledhill?” Beall signed the blank paper.

“Civil Aeronautics Authority, will you record the transaction?” It was recorded in Washington.

The $100,000 final payment check was handed to Beall. Phones clicked. Beall looked around at worried faces.

“What the hell have we done here?” asked the Astoria banker.

“It’s all right,” said Gledhill. Then he turned sternly to Beall. “Beall, you happen to be the most valuable guy in the world at this moment.” He grabbed Beall by the back of his coat collar. “Let’s go get that damn piece of paper.”

Beall’s feet sank ankle deep in the mud bank. What if the certificate wasn’t there? What if the rowboat overturned in the choppy water? What if . . . They got out to the ship. The certificate was there. The screwdriver shook in Beall’s hand as he got it off the wall. He gave it to Gledhill and sat down. Limp, happy.

“You need a vacation,” said Gledhill. “Better come along on the maiden flight to Hong Kong.”

Pan American was planning to start operation first on the Pacific, then the Atlantic. On February 22, the Clipper Ship—Number Two—soared out over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Aboard, Wellwood Beall thought of the time he had headed out this way before, five and a half years ago.

Beall wished his wife Jeannie could be with him now. Hawaii, Midway, Wake, westward in the sky. Beall thought of the people at the Cathay, his words of wisdom: “Just a stunt. . . ." Those people would know better now. They’d know that he knew better.

Over the blue expanse between Honolulu and Wake Island they passed above the sailing clipper ’Trade Wind.’ Captain W. A. Cluthe circled a salute.

With stops en route, the trip lasted three weeks. On March 1. Beall stepped onto the Pan American dock at San Francisco. The newsboys on the dock were shouting something. News of their flight?

He could hear a little better now: “Nazi troops in Czechoslovakia.”

In Washington, an apprehensive Congress was considering Roosevelt’s proposal for a half billion dollar defense program, $170 million of it for airplane procurement.

Claire Egtvedt, with Jim Murray, the company’s vice president and eastern representative, was holding close to Washington and Dayton. They found the Air Corps people brutally frank about Boeing’s chances.

“You are good at design, but poor on production. You haven’t delivered a single B-17B.” Egtvedt felt no one realized the struggle they had with turbo-superchargers and other modifications. There had been no opportunity to work on a production basis. But the record didn’t look good.

They learned that the B-17 would be in the defense program, all right, but maybe its production would go to one of the California plants.

The schedule now called for delivery of the first two “Bs” in May. Fred Laudan said it was going to be tough to make that. “We’ve got to,” said Egtvedt. Laudan hired more men, though he knew that new hands couldn’t get them finished.

   
Boeing B-17B lifts into the air.

Sales manager Fred Collins and his new assistant, Ben Pearson, were working hard to get more orders for the Stratoliner transport.

Eddie Allen had finished his part of the initial testing of the Stratoliner. The pressure cabin hadn’t been tried in the air yet, though it had been pumped full of air in the plant and given a ten-man rubdown with soapsuds to see if the air would bubble out at the seams. It didn’t.

On the weekend of Beall’s return from the Clipper flight there were two representatives of the Dutch airline, KLM, in Seattle to fly in the Stratoliner. The visitors weren’t so interested in the supercharging as in the control problems of a four-engine plane.

“What happens,” asked Albert vonBaumhauer, the engineer of the two, “if you have two engines out on one side and the rudder clear over for a maximum angle of yaw”—that would have the airplane crabbing sideways—”and then you put it in a stall?”

Bob Minshall looked at Ralph Cram. “You have no reason to do that with a big ship like this,” said Cram. Still, vonBaumhauer wanted to know. He had made a study of this.

It was agreed that they would try out various angles of yaw at low speeds, not stalling speed, and would get some measurements of forces with a spring scale attached to the control column. They would also do sideslips, stall tests, and other stability tests.

It was a gloriously bright Saturday afternoon in March 19. Mount Rainier was out bold. Phones rang. The sheriff’s office had a report that a giant plane had crashed in the Mount Rainier foothills near Alder, Washington. Radios went on.

An eyewitness said it had fallen out of the sky in pieces. It was a four-engine plane. Hope against hope. The Stratoliner was flying in that vicinity.

The sight in the mountain woods was heartrending. Sheriffs’ deputies had taken Boeing test pilot Julius Barr out from the pilot’s seat; vonBaumhauer, the Hollander, from the co-pilot’s scat; chief engineer Jack Kylstra, Ralph Cram, Earl Ferguson, Ben Pearson, Peter Guilonard, the other KLM man, Harlan Hull, the chief pilot of TWA, Bill Doyle and Harry West, Boeing men.

The stark story was pieced together. They had been near stalling speed, at the point of starting the stability tests or possibly the sideslip tests. The cabin supercharging had not been in operation, was not a factor. They had gone into a spinning dive.

At an altitude of 3,000 to 5,000 feet, still with plenty of room but with hills looming black and imposing below, they had pulled out of the dive so suddenly that the wings and tail surfaces broke from the excessive loads.

That bleak night, Bob Minshall who was in charge in Egtvedt’s absence, asked, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”

Claire Egtvedt came home. The President’s rearmament program was authorized and the first $50 million for airplane procurement appropriated. An initial order for Consolidated B-24s was placed, before the experimental model was built.

No Boeing planes were included among the orders. Neither was the first B-17B going to be out in May. In spite of everything that had been done, that schedule just couldn’t be met. The plant was still operating at a loss.

Ed Wells came to Egtvedt about the new superbomber design. “We’ve got 4,500 miles range and 390 miles an hour. It looks wonderful.

But, as you said, we’ve started out with an honest purpose and I’ve got to be honest about this. It isn’t a good airplane. With the engine in the wings there’s no good way to retract the landing gear, and the structure isn’t good around the engines.

We can’t make the wing any thicker. It’s awfully wide already to keep the chord in proportion.” The chord was the width of the wing measured from the leading edge to the trailing edge.

Claire Egtvedt listened. One more blow. “Man’s extremity. . .“

   
Pan American Airways Clipper, Boeing 314 on the Atlantic at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Lightning Strikes

“We have an opportunity here,” said Eddie Allen, “that exists nowhere else. We’ve come to the point where we need exhaustive research. Not just on the ground. In the air. Flight research. Flight and aerodynamic research.”

Eddie Allen was in Bob Minshall’s office. His brown eyes were earnest. He sat on the front edge of his chair, his heels hooked over the rungs, and leaned toward Minshall.

“You’re right about that,” murmured Minshall.

“Now,” Eddie’s finger shot up. “You can’t do that sort of thing in small airplanes. You have to carry all kinds of instruments and equipment. The Boeing Company is the only company in the world that has a stable full of big airplanes. You have the background in big airplanes. You have the need. You have the future in big airplanes. You’re the ones to do it.”

“Just what do you have in mind, Eddie?”

“The day when you build an airplane and call in a pilot like me to test it, is over. There should be a full-time, fully staffed department constantly carrying on this flight research, and the same department should carry on a constant program of wind-tunnel research. The two go hand in hand. And they should both be part of the process of designing the plane, not just testing it.”

“Would you be willing to head up a department like that?”

“I’d like nothing better,” said Eddie. “On one condition. We should be free to do our own work. We should report directly to you, not to Engineering. We may want to explore some ideas they wouldn’t approve. But of course we’ll work very closely with Engineering.”

Minshall talked to Egtvedt about it. Egtvedt okayed the plan, and they made Eddie Allen director of aerodynamics and flight research. Wellwood Beall took Jack Kylstra’s empty chair as chief engineer, with Ed Wells as assistant chief. Lysle Wood had Beall’s old job as chief commercial projects engineer and N. D. Showalter was chief of military projects.

There was a spirit to go ahead. Showalter was a pilot, too. Eddie Allen asked him if he’d go along to test the Number Two Stratoliner.

Quick-stepping little Arthur Price, the pre-flight inspector who had given the final O.K. on every plane since 1930, looked up from his checklists like a bookkeeper and nodded, “She’s ready.”

Eddie and Showalter repeated the stall tests and found the ship came out nice and straight. They tried the cabin superchargers at high altitude. It felt wonderful. Over-the-weather flying was here to stay.

Eddie said he wanted to work on the extreme angles of yaw but he’d start in the wind tunnel. They should fix the plane so it couldn’t get into those extreme angles even in test flights, if that was what the pilots were doing up there the day of the crash.

A new $ 16,000 ten-foot wind-tunnel model of the airplane was built, with propellers powered by little electric motors and with remote control on its tail surfaces—something they hadn’t had before.

Eddie didn’t recruit a team. The men he needed gathered around him. George Schairer, an aerodynamicist who had left Consolidated, asked Eddie for a job. Eddie took him on, told him to spend most of his time with the new model in the University of Washington wind tunnel.

Schairer did wind tunnel testing and they came up with a new stabilizing dorsal fin not only for the Stratoliner but for the B-17S as well. “What should be more stable than a plane you have to aim bombs from?” asked Eddie.

George Schairer at twenty-five was proving a brilliant analyst. He looked the part, with a high forehead, thin-rimmed glasses. Schairer talked with Beall and Wells about the pressurized superbomber studies. The problem was how to get the drag of the airplane low enough. When they had tried putting the flat engines inside the wing they had cut out the usual nacelle drag and slicked up the body, but still hadn’t reached the performance goal.

“Had you thought of going at it the other way around?” asked Schairer. “The wing itself is your biggest item of drag. Instead of enlarging the wing and putting the engines in it to get rid of the nacelles, why not make the wing just as small as we can and then go to work to clean up the nacelles?”

Beall looked at the ceiling. Wells studied the tabletop.

“That’s what we did at Consolidated on the B-24. Used a high aspect ratio”—aspect ratio was the ratio of the wing length to its chord—”long and narrow, just the opposite of what you have here.”

   
Consolidated XB-24 with "high aspect ratio" wing.

Consolidated’s B-24 bomber, Schairer explained, was going to employ an airfoil section, or wing cross-section, developed by David R. Davis, a consulting engineer. It had what they called laminar flow—made the air lie down flat over almost all of its surface. Davis called it a “wonder wing.”

“I thought it was just a lot of fast talk,” said Schairer, “until I went in the wind tunnel with it against the best one of ours. Davis beat us hands down.”

“Can we buy it from Davis?” asked Beall.

“I’ll ask him.”

Eddie Allen and Schairer made studies of what the new wing would do for the superbomber. They got 390 miles an hour and pushed the range up to 5,333 miles, with 2,000 pounds of bombs.

They’d have to make the wing carry forty-seven pounds of load per square foot to do it. That was stretching it pretty far compared to the thirty-two pounds per square foot in the Fortress and thirty-four in the internal engine plan. But it would give them the performance they were looking for.

The problems of untried flat engines, structure around the engines, place to retract the landing gear, were swept neatly away. The internal engine plans went into a bottom drawer. But negotiations with Davis were slow. Finally Beall said, “Let’s develop our own wing. We don’t need the Davis patents. We can work out something better.”

Schairer and Eddie Allen got at the job.

The old enthusiasm was returning. That could work out any problem. They were on the right track now for a superbomber. The new design was given the designation of Model 341. Meanwhile, Pan American opened transatlantic air travel with the big 314 Clippers and the B-17B Flying Fortresses were being delivered.

In Washington, the GHQ Air Force was put with the rest of the Air Corps under General Hap Arnold. In August the Air Corps staged a big air show at Wright Field, at which Bill Irvine was named project officer to recapture some world records for the U. S.

Jake Harman and Stanley Umstead flew the B-17B from Los Angeles to New York in a record nine hours, fourteen minutes.

Bill Irvine took the B-17A to 33,400 feet altitude and 259 miles per hour with load. Major Caleb Haynes entered the B-15 in the heavyweight carrying brackets.

When the four-day celebration was over, six new world records had been set, five of them with the big Boeings, one with a Grumman amphibian.

The President’s rearmament program was going ahead, and it seemed inconceivable that the Flying Fortress would not be ordered in greater numbers.

Lawyer Bill Allen went to talk things over with Egtvedt. “Why don’t you try to get Phil Johnson back in the company?” Allen suggested. “The need now is production. That’s Phil’s long suit.”

The proposal rocked Egtvedt at first. But then, what Bill Allen was saying was true. Production was Phil’s long suit. He had what the company needed now, maybe what the country needed.

Egtvedt had to admit that his own heart had never quite left Engineering. If he were relieved of the management burden he could better counsel the young engineers, better help in creating and selling the new superbomber. That was the company’s need too. That might even be the country’s greatest need.

Egtvedt talked to Phil, who had been in Canada for two years getting Trans-Canada Air Lines started. Phil was not eager. He was all set for retirement. This was late August, 1939.

Then . . . September 1, out of false stillness, Blitzkrieg. Lightning struck Poland. Foot soldiers ran without direction from under Hitler’s screaming dive bombers. Europe, all the world, went into shock.

Communist Russia attacked Poland’s rear. Nazi tanks raced on. Blitzkrieg.

September 8, President Roosevelt declared a state of national emergency. On September , Phil Johnson became president of Boeing Airplane Company with Claire Egtvedt as chairman.

   
B-29 Superfortress. Boeings 1939 concept of their high aspect ratio wing, Model 341, would be born in 1942 as the B-29 Superfortress.
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