Upon its debut in 1933, the Boeing 247 was the most modern airliner in the world. It dominated American skies for a full year as the fastest, safest, most comfortable means of air transport before giving way to the Douglas DC-1.
Williams Brothers Boeing 247
Kit No. 72-247
Cost: $10.00 -- $40.00 or more aftermarket (currently out of production)
Decals: Two versions - Col. Roscoe Turner's 1934 London to Melbourne racer; and a United Airlines flight research version
Comments: Older mold of a spartan but historic kit of the first modern American airliner; raised panel lines; extensive sanding required
Special thanks to Daniel Brett, President of the revived Williams Brothers Model Products, for spare parts, newly re-printed decals and a freshly re-printed kit box! This review covers the construction of the original 1970's tooling of the Boeing 247.
The Boeing 247 was the result of an effort by Boeing Aircraft Company in the late 1920's to seize a competitive edge in the air mail and fledging commercial passenger markets in the United States by designing a plane that was faster, safer, and capable of carrying heavier payloads than then-prevailing aircraft designs such as the Ford Tri-Motor, or older bi-plane designs such as the Curtiss Condor or Boeing's own Model 40. Boeing at that time was more than a manufacturer -- it had a vital commercial interest in specific air routes operated by its corporate affiliates, including United Airlines and Boeing Air Transport. The Boeing 247 was the first modern airliner, pioneering many design innovations that later became commonplace: the engine nacelle, the engine cowl, the variable pitch propeller, the three-bladed propeller, a functioning restroom, electrically driven retractable landing gear, a heated, pressurized passenger cabin, trim tabs allowing a pilot to adjust flight controls while airborne, and rubberized de-icing boots for the leading edges of the wings, elevators and tail surface.
The Boeing 247 flew for the first time on February 8, 1933. Three months later, on June 12, the 247's first transcontinental flight took off from Newark, New Jersey, arriving in San Francisco just 21 hours later. This seems unimpressive by today's standards, but in the spring of 1933, Boeing's new airliner flew 50 percent faster than the competition at 150 mph, and cut the travel time by a remarkable 7 hours. The Model 247 ushered in several cutting edge design innovations, and at the time of its debut, was unquestionably the dominant aircraft in commercial passenger service.
The 247 created quite a sensation at the Chicago International Exposition that summer. For the remainder of 1933, 247's carried passengers and mail rapidly and routinely. Service was so popular that tickets had to be booked well in advance. Although it never bore a name, the 247 was the subject of a contest jointly sponsored by Boeing and United Aircraft among their employees to choose a name for the plane -- with a $25.00 prize, a hefty sum in the early years of the Depression. Ultimately, "Skymaster," the brainchild of Cloyde L. Hoover of Boeing Air Transport, won. Higher-ups at Boeing opted not to use the name as it broke with tradition, but Mr. Hoover got his $25.00.
An ad for Boeing's "Three-Mile -a-Minute" transport at the time of the Chicago Exposition in 1933.
For a full year, the Boeing 247 reigned supreme. It was then superseded by a larger, more powerful design in the form of the Douglas DC-1. Ironically, the DC-1 was similar to a big airliner concept that some within the Boeing Company had advocated be built instead of the 247. In part because of all the new technical challenges of the design that had to be overcome, Boeing made a conscious decision to construct a smaller, 10-passenger airliner to ensure that it remained in the forefront of commercial passenger service in the short run, and build a larger airliner over the next few years. While the advocates for the big airliner at Boeing lost the internal corporate debate, they had bitter vindication with the appearance of the DC-1 in 1934.
The Boeing 247 carried 10 passengers and was the first American airliner to carry a co-pilot in the cockpit. Here are the assembled cockpit and cabin interior, painted in Model Master and Aeromaster acrylics.
The Model 247 was a critical part of aviation history since it was the catalyst for the development of the DC-1. After the March 1931 death of famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne in the crash of a wooden Fokker F-10, the U.S. government required all commercial airlines to comply with a stringent regimen of safety inspections. This was unattractive to the airlines due to the time and expense involved, and it fueled the drive to acquire fleets of all-metal aircraft, preferably monoplanes. This situation motivated Boeing to build the Model 247. In the summer of 1932, aware that Boeing was developing a new airliner, TWA President Jack Frye approached them hoping to order a few examples of the 247. Frye was told that no aircraft could be provided until Boeing completed its order for United Airlines (then a management entity for three separate airlines controlled by Boeing, among them Boeing Air Transport). Faced with the prospect of maintaining an expensive, obsolete fleet of Fokkers and Fords while a competitor built up a runaway lead, Frye turned to Douglas Aircraft of Santa Monica, California, drafting a letter with a laundry list of specifications that led to the DC-1, precursor to the venerable DC-3.
One Boeing 247 played a pivotal role in Chinese history. The young Chinese leader Chang Hsueh-liang, a "warlord" who independently controlled the provinces of Honan, Hupei and Anhwei, ordered a Boeing 247 as his personal aircraft, and in 1936 used it to kidnap Chiang Kai-Shek in an effort to force his nationalist government and other warring factions, including the communists, to put a stop to their civil war and unify against the Japanese. His effort was successful, but upon surrendering himself to Chiang, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest, even on Taiwan after the mainland was lost to the communists in 1949.
While prematurely overshadowed by the DC-1 and its successors, the Boeing 247 was on the cutting edge when it first appeared. It was briefly considered for adoption by the German airline Lufthansa after two testing and evaluation examples were delivered, and may have contributed to the design of the Junkers Ju88 bomber. It remains a fascinating and historic aircraft that flew with airlines into the 1940's, and even saw service as a liaison aircraft during World War II.
The 247's instruction sheet is a bit unconventional. It does not proceed step by step, but rather provides a few key illustrations augmented by photographs, all of which are self-explanatory for the most part. It definitely requires the modeler to think, for no clear sequence of construction is provided. This is an older, limited run "garage kit," and will require a bit more effort from the modeler. However, as it is the only kit of a truly historic airplane, it's well worth the effort.
The cabin and cockpit assemble without difficulty, but the cockpit seats are simply cemented to a bulkhead without the aid of guiding grooves or pins, and symmetrical positioning of the seats in relation to the cockpit door in the center of the bulkhead requires a fair amount of care. In addition, the backs of the seats are rounded, making cyanoacrylate glue a must if the seats are to hold in place once they make contact with the bulkhead. It's important to decide early on whether to build the racing or passenger versions of the 247, since each has a distinctly different cabin interior. For the racing version, the ten passenger seats are discarded, and replaced by eight fuel tanks. The cockpit is identical for both, with individual seats, control columns, and a decal for the instrument panel. I cemented in ten clear plastic parts for the cabin windows after painting the interior. The passenger seats are cemented into a kind of tray that forms the floor of the cabin, and the tray is cemented into the fuselage. Dry fitting is essential to make sure of a proper fit, because the cockpit floor and bulkhead require a fair amount of sanding before they will allow the fuselage halves to fit flush together. The fuselage itself has precious few pins to assure proper alignment as it is cemented, and again cyanoacrylate (super glue gel), followed by quick application of Tamiya tape once the halves are glued together, will help a great deal. Still, there is no way to avoid the extensive sanding that must be done to hide the join seam.
Care must be taken at the point the wings are cemented on to determine whether it is best to add the landing gear, engines and cowlings at that stage, or wait. Given the extensive sanding required to hide join seams on the underside where the center section of the wings, which is a separate piece, meets the rest of the wing assembly, I chose to wait. Although the tray containing the interior protrudes from beneath the fuselage a bit, it will not cause difficulty when attaching the center section of the wings to the fuselage.
Zap-a-Gap helped avoid the need for extensive use of fillers, at least initially.
This clear plastic part caused a lot of mischief, and is the only major drawback to the way the kit is engineered. The windscreen also forms the roof of the cockpit and is really a sectional piece. Unless you use quick-drying super glue gel its two halves will not cement together easily. It's a bit oversize for the scale, and mine did not fit well when cemented to the fuselage, leaving a small gap. I did a fair amount of puttying and sanding to hide the join seam of the two halves, then used Zap-a-Gap on the gap between the windscreen and fuselage. This was effective, but required a lot of sanding to get a smooth surface afterwards. There is still a slight bulge where the cockpit roof meets the fuselage, because the fuselage sanded down faster than the harder Zap-a-Gap or the clear plastic. Since this piece is a tad oversize for the fuselage, it was a little too wide. Care must be taken to sand down both top and sides, using caution on the sides particularly so as not to scratch the side windows.
The infamous windscreen.
Engines and Landing Gear
The engines are not difficult to assemble, but there is one drawback if you want the propellers to spin. Once the engine is glued into the cowling, the propeller shaft is inserted through the engine block, and a small ring is glued to the end of the shaft from the other side to keep it in place. The trouble is, the shaft still is well inside the narrow opening in the engine block at the point that the ring, which is quite small, is to be cemented on. Even with a pair of fine tweezers and a steady hand, this is a tricky proposition. I opted for the old-fashioned method, heating the blunt end of a needle file over a candle flame, and using it to melt the end of the propeller shaft, allowing the prop to spin without flying off into space. The landing gear had some fit problems, including calling for the inclusion of a part, called the extender pad, that made it impossible to assemble the gear. Once I excluded it, the gear reluctantly cemented into place with cyanoacrylate. There is an option for plastic or hard rubber tires as well -- I chose plastic as they looked easier to assemble, although the rubber tires come with a suggestion to rough their contact surfaces up with sandpaper for a more realistic look.
I make special note of these parts because the modeler is in for a surprise when he goes to put them on. First off, they look a little odd because they have what look like small wing fences molded right onto the light. These are actually anti-glare shields -- there was still concern in these early days of commercial aviation about blinding the pilots with wing lights. Right out of the box, the landing lights simply do not fit the openings in the leading edges of the wings, and this is where some rudimentary scratch building skill comes in. The instructions only bear the following warning about this, buried about halfway through the text: "Carefully remove material from leading edge locations until landing lights and glare shields fit into position." This is a little unclear, and is not accompanied by any illustration as to exactly what it means. In any event I was not about to start hacking away at a finished wing that I had already painted de-icing boots onto, and sprayed over with clear coat.
About to begin a second round of sanding before another coat of paint.
It would have been easier to cut into the wings
before painting, but as I was nearing the end of construction, I opted
to alter the landing lights. Instead of clear plastic pieces ready to
go, you have pieces that are mostly molded in the proper shape, but are
clear blocks of plastic where you'd expect just a curved and convex
shape. Each part has a small circular depression on one side. After
studying these parts a few moments, I realized I needed a sanding
stick, a pin vise, an X-acto blade and a needle file before they were
ready to be glued on.
The landing lights. The one at right has been altered by drilling, sanding and cutting to fit the 247's port wing.
I sanded down the corner of the block that was
preventing the part from attaching to the wing until it was touching
the edge of the circular depression, then went to work with the pin
vise, drilling down into the circular depression. As I drilled, the
corner of clear plastic that needed to be eliminated for the part to
fit slowly splintered, and I was able to cut away a bit more with the
X-acto, enough to go to work with a square needle file. In a few
minutes, after a dab of red and then green paint, the landing lights
were ready to be glued on. As you work with these parts care must be taken not to break off the anti-glare shields, but I found them surprisingly rugged.
The kit decals include a Boeing logo for the tail, and a separate Microscale set provided an actual 247 serial number for a United Airlines craft used for U.S. Mail and Air Express, along with passenger service.
Except where otherwise noted, the Boeing 247 is painted entirely in acrylics. I decided to work mainly in different shades of blue. The exterior is Polly Scale French Light Blue Grey (No. 505242), which approximates the color of both the box art and the few color photographs I've seen of the early production 247's; the cockpit and cabin interiors are Model Master Intermediate Blue (No. 4744), and all seats are painted Aeromaster French Interior Blue (No. 1105), with the frames for the passenger seats done in Polly Scale Oxidized Aluminum. There was no plan to go with French colors necessarily, they just happened to be the correct shades that I wanted. The engine exhausts are painted in enamels, Model Master Rust with a small amount of Humbrol Steel mixed in; the tires are acrylic Scale Black by Polly Scale. The propellers and spinners are done in Alclad Polished Aluminum, with the tips done in a red-yellow-red three-stripe configuration. All de-icing boots are Tamiya Semi-Gloss Black. The engine exhaust streaks are a mix of two Polly Scale acrylics Imperial Japanese Army Brown and Scale Black, airbrushed on under very low pressure.
Painting the fuselage was challenging because of the cabin windows and the paint I chose. Polly Scale's French Light Blue Grey is a wonderful shade, thick with a lot of body and binds easily to any surface, including the inside of the airbrush nozzle. The high quality of the paint made up for the many rounds of airbrush cleaning during the spray job. It thinned better with alcohol than with water, but even when thinned liberally at a 50-50 ratio it would often go for only short periods, sometimes just a single coat, before clogging the airbrush nozzle. I had airbrushed the fuselage halves before cementing them together, but had to paint again after sanding down the join seam. To protect the cabin windows, I masked them with Tamiya tape and airbrushed again. Removing the tape, I saw a visible difference in the shade of the Light Blue Grey around the windows. I cut smaller individual pieces of tape for each window, masked again, airbrushed again. Same issue, only now the difference in shade was localized to the area immediately surrounding each window. Finally I broke out a small paint brush, touching up the small section around each window. While there was still a slight variation in paint shade around the windows, it was mostly hidden by the clear gloss lacquer I applied in prepping the 247 for decals.
I used a mix of the kit decals by Scale Master, and an old but serviceable set of Microscale decals (No. 44-7) specifically for Boeing 247s, both of which included both Boeing and United Air Lines logos and serial numbers. The Microscale set included a serial number, NC13326, that matched a United 247 in a livery of white with blue trim, but I preferred overall French Light Blue Grey. Alone among the Microscale decals, the serial number decal disintegrated when lifted from the water, and I replaced it with individual dark blue Air Force letters and numbers from a newer Microscale set, No. 72-0216. The United shield logo on the fuselage sides, which came with the kit decals, was quite delicate but still required Micro Sol before it would lie down properly.
I made the radio antenna from stretched sprue which I sanded to a point, then superglued to the cockpit roof. The radio aerial is ceramic wire from Precision Enterprises Unlimited.
This is a great kit of historical importance, highly recommended, especially to modelers who are also serious history buffs. Looking at it, one can see the seeds of more famous, more recognizable aircraft which owe their development either directly or indirectly to the Boeing 247, namely the Douglas DC-3 and Boeing's own B-17 bomber, both of which had a hugely significant role in what was then the coming World War -- and in the case of the DC-3, in both military and commercial aviation for many years afterwards. Other than the windscreen and the landing lights, assembly is relatively easy, but like many limited run kits, the 247 definitely demands a bit more work of the modeler, and with effort and persistence you will have a rewarding result. Luckily, aftermarket 247 decals can still be obtained by the patient hunters out there. Hopefully the Boeing 247 will not be out of production too much longer, and may even return with new tooling.
The Boeing 247: The First Modern Airliner by F. Robert van der Linden, University of Washington Press, 1991.