Bevan, Addison, and Ryan Pemberton
with the 1928 Boeing 40C. Photo by Phil Weston
part of aviation history, and arguably, a key part of U.S. history,
is the transportation of mail by airplane. The early air mail system
contributed a tremendous amount to the development of airplanes as
well as to the development of the airway system, and Addison
Pemberton plans to keep the history alive and flying.
of Pemberton’s plan is his recently completed restoration of a
1928 Boeing Model 40C mail plane. He brought the big biplane, the
only flying example of a Boeing 40, here to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
2008 from his home in Spokane, Washington.
wanted to do something significant," Pemberton said.
dad grew up in Greenfield, Iowa," he continued. "CAM
(Contract Air Mail route) 18 that ran from Chicago to San Francisco
went right over Greenfield, Iowa. In the ’20s he saw these things
overhead every day and when I was a kid I’d hear stories at night
of Boeing 40s going by every day like clockwork. He said scheduling
was uncanny with the planes showing up within five minutes of the
that is what took me [in 1982] to the Henry Ford Museum to look at
the airplane. When I saw it I was struck by two things. Number one
was the airplane was a fabricated airplane with no forgings or
castings. It’s all flat plate and tubing. I realized it is
probably doable by a hobby guy. So he set out looking for an
have a friend in England whose name is Pete Pavey," Pemberton
said. "His expertise is aircraft archival and research and over
a two-year period he had accounted for every Boeing 40 ever built.
There were 81 serial numbers."
airplanes seemed promising and Pemberton attempted to track them
down. None of the five turned out to be truly available and so in
1987 he came to the realization he was not going to find one.
1998 Pemberton brought a Beechcraft Staggerwing he had restored to
EAA AirVenture and Jack Cox did an article on the airplane in Sport
Aviation the following spring. In that article Jack asked about
Pemberton’s dream project and of course, the Boeing was mentioned.
Shortly after the article was published, Golda Cox, Jack’s wife,
got a call from a gentleman named Eustice French. French said he had
a Boeing 40, in a horse trailer, in his backyard.
airplane in French’s backyard had crashed in Canyonville, Oregon,
on October 2, 1928.
particular airplane showed up as never having been recovered. There
were newspaper articles that made me believe that it was still on
the mountain. I talked to some local people and the legend of the
Canyonville mail plane was alive and well."
Oregon Aviation Historical Society had acquired the salvage rights
and over the course of three years, had carried the whole thing out
piece by piece. They intended to create a plane crash exhibit out of
convinced the society that he was capable of restoring the airplane.
A deal ensued with Pemberton swapping an engine and propeller for
the Boeing remains.
the airframe alone was not enough.
project is not doable without documentation," Pemberton said.
"I had gone to Boeing and they were not able to give me any
drawings because of liability issues and concerns. But what I did
find out is that a set of drawings had been made in the 1960s, and
given to a guy named Bill Hill in Houston."
Pemberton was unable to locate Hill or the drawings.
ran an ad in Trade-A-Plane for a year," he said.
"It said, ‘Boeing 40 dream is alive. Bill Hill where are you?
Please call.’ That worked, they called me and I was able to get
we got this fantastic historic airplane that is hobby rebuildable,
with a set of drawings, and with an engine that is still
restoration project ensued. In the end the airplane ended up with a
standard airworthiness certificate with no restrictions, a fact that
Pemberton is very proud of.
for the plane comes from the same Pratt and Whitney R-1340 that
powered the original, albeit a more modern version. The only other
deviations from the original Pemberton chose to make include
covering the plane in modern fabric, equipping it with modern
brakes, and including a tail wheel instead of the skid the original
was equipped with.
the factory the Boeing did have a primitive electrical system,
though somewhat sophisticated for its day. It had electric start, an
intercom system for the passengers to talk to the pilot and the
large landing lights that mail planes of the day typically were
equipped with. Pemberton modernized the electrical system, but only
because of the need to operate the airplane in today’s airspace.
airplane has already accumulated 60 hours and Pemberton expects the
total to easily reach 200 by the end of the year.
EAA AirVenture he is headed to Blakesburg, Iowa, for the Antique
Airplane National Fly-in. The theme this year is airmail and 30 mail
planes are expected. A temporary post office will be in place and
the classic airplanes, including the Boeing, will be flying official
mail again, if only for the duration of the fly-in.
September the Boeing, along with two other classic mail planes, will
refly the transcontinental airmail route from New York to San
Francisco. Sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service and the National Air
and Space Museum, the flight may even land at Crissy Field at the
base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Crissy Field was the Western
termination for the original transcontinental airmail routes.
credits a number of volunteers for making the restoration possible.
Those volunteers included son Ryan Pemberton, John Bevan, Matt
Burrows, Art Swenson, Randy Ingrham, and his wife, Wendy.
The Boeing 40 can be
seen in Vintage parking, just south of the Theater in the Woods.