Perhaps the greatest visionary among the pioneers of the aviation industry, William Edward Boeing foresaw a national air transportation system a full decade before any of his contemporaries--and promptly set about creating it. In 1903, Boeing left Yale University for the Pacific Northwest to make his mark in the timber business. Emerging from the woods in 1908 with his fortune intact, he became smitten by the new science of aviation.
By 1916, William Boeing had founded his own company and had begun manufacturing seaplanes for the U.S. military. Following the aviation industry's collapse at the end of the First World War, Boeing kept his employees busy building furniture and speed boats. His perseverance paid off. By the late 1920s, Boeing was carrying thirty percent of the nation's airmail and the majority of U.S. airline passengers across the western United States. The company was no longer simply building planes. William Boeing was now running a thriving air transport service and maintaining a fleet of airplanes--along with a school for pilots and maintenance crews.
At the height of the Depression, the government ordered the aviation holding companies to break up--leaving Boeing's corporation in pieces and his vision of a national transport system dashed. In 1935, he sold all his stock in the company he had built and left the industry. As the '40s dawned, however, President Roosevelt called upon the captains of his aviation industry to become "the arsenal of Democracy"--and William Boeing returned to lend his counsel and expertise to American military and aviation leaders as they scrambled to prepare the country for World War II.
In 1908, at the age of sixteen, Donald Douglas witnessed the Wright Brothers' famous U.S. Army Signal Corps demonstration at Fort Myer, Virginia--an event that shaped his life. In the following year, as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, Douglas began building model planes and testing them secretly in the Academy armory. By 1912, he had transferred to M.I.T., becoming the country's first graduate student in aeronautical engineering. In 1915, he accepted the position of Chief Engineer at one of America's foremost aviation companies. By 1917, Donald Douglas had been appointed to direct America's aviation manufacturing effort in World War I. He was twenty-five years old.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1920, Donald Douglas founded the Douglas Aircraft Company. In 1924, U.S. Army aviators electrified the world as they piloted four Douglas World Cruisers in the first "Around-the-World-Flight." In the 1930s, Douglas produced the legendary DC-3, the most popular commercial airliner of the 20th Century. In the 1940s, as the recognized leader of American aviation manufacturers, Douglas organized a coalition of American plane builders--whose extraordinary production of warplanes ultimately gave the Allies air supremacy in World War II. In the 1950s, Douglas's DC-8 battled head-to-head with the Boeing 707 for leadership as the world's premier commercial jetliner. And in the 1960s, it was Douglas engineers who built the upper-stage of the massive Saturn V rocket that carried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
In a moving reminiscence, captured on film in the 1950s (see Episode I), Donald Douglas recounts the moment in 1908 when Orville Wright climbed into his fragile craft in the fading afternoon light, started the engine, and sent it down its wooden launching track.
James Howard Kindelberger was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1895, the son of a German-American steelworker. In 10th grade, he quit school and followed his father into the Wheeling steel mills--then immediately began plotting his escape. Working by day and studying at night, Dutch managed to pass the entrance exams to Carnegie Tech. From 1917 to 1918, he served as a World War I pilot. At the end of the war, Kindelberger was hired as a draftsman for the Glenn L. Martin Company--and found himself working under the country's foremost aviation expert, Donald Douglas.
Forging a lifetime friendship with Donald Douglas, Kindelberger served as Vice President of Engineering at Douglas Aircraft--where he led the development of the DC-1 and DC-2. In 1934, North American Aviation asked him to take over as president--and Dutch rapidly built the company into one of the world' leading aircraft manufacturers. In the 1940s, North American Aviation produced two of the Second World War's most storied warplanes: the B-25 Mitchell bomber and the P-51 Mustang.
Following the war, Dutch built America's first swept-wing jet fighter, the legendary F-86 Sabre Jet--which overwhelmingly defeated the Russian-built MIGs as they battled in the skies over Korea. But it was Kindelberger's visionary foresight that distinguishes him as one of America's greatest aerospace pioneers. Reshaping his company's mission in the post-war era, Dutch pioneered U.S. rocket research in the 1950s. In 1958, North American Aviation rolled out the X-15 Rocket--the critical step between the domain of jet aviation and manned space flight. And in July 1969, under North American leadership, the Apollo Moon Landing was successfully achieved.
James Smith McDonnell was born in 1899, in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he delivered copies of the Arkansas Gazette on horseback every morning before school. In 1917, he enrolled at Princeton University--and promptly traded his money for a winter coat for his first ride with a barnstormer in a rickety biplane. His passion for aviation was kindled at that moment.
By 1925, McDonnell had earned a Masters Degree in aeronautical engineering from MIT and enlisted in the Army Air Service to learn how to fly. He was awarded his pilot's wings at Brooks Field, Texas, and was one of six volunteers to make the first airplane parachute jump--leaping off the wing of a DeHavilland biplane.
By 1939, James McDonnell was ready to start his own company. Settling down in St. Louis, he founded McDonnell Aircraft on the 2nd floor of a building at Lambert Field. Surrounding himself with first-class engineers, McDonnell proceeded to develop a series of the finest jet fighters in the world--with names like Phantom, Voodoo, and Banshee.
At the same time, McDonnell plowed more than 80% of his company's profits back into research & development. By the late 1950s, when NASA officials announced competitive bids for the first manned space capsule, McDonnell engineers already had one on the drawing boards. Mr. Mac personally oversaw every element of the Mercury and Gemini Space programs--superintending the critical early stages of America's Race to the Moon.
A veteran of ten years in professional theatre before he made his first film, William Winship has won numerous awards as a playwright and stage director on both sides of the Atlantic--staging plays in Seattle, Edinburgh, and London. As a playwright, he received the prestigious Stanley Kramer Award, and served artistic residencies both in the U.S. and in England--serving as Seattle Arts Commission "Artist-in-Residence" in Seattle, and as "Playwright-in-Residence" at the Trinity Theatre in Kent.
As a screenwriter and film director, William Winship has garnered major awards at two international film festivals ("Silver Award" at the Victoria International Film Festival, and "2nd Place" at the Northwest Film Festival) for his first film, the 30-minute drama, WINDOWS--which was later aired on PBS. (WINDOWS was co-produced/directed/written/edited by William Winship and Seattle filmmaker Susan McNally. The screenplay for WINDOWS was adapted from Susan McNally's biographical short story, "Windows.")
Working as a documentary filmmaker, Winship was honored with a 2002 EMMY nomination as Writer/Director of the original 90-minute PBS documentary "PIONEERS IN AVIATION."
Robert Douglas has worked as a licensed attorney--with seventeen years' legal experience and ten years in production and production law. Mr. Douglas served as Producer for the original 90-minute documentary, "PIONEERS IN AVIATION," and as Associate Producer on the short film, "WINDOWS."
Brad Curtis is an actor and singer who, for the past 20 years, has appeared in major roles in regional theater productions from Seattle to Houston. Mr. Curtis makes his home in Northern California. For more information, go to www.bradcurtis.net
Dr. Randolph Hennes has taught military history for nearly forty years--both at Wayne State University and, currently, at the University of Washington. Until his semi- retirement in 2001, he also served for three decades as Associate Director of the University of Washington Honors Program.
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