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WILLIAM E. BOEING was a prominent Seattle timber executive, land owner, and yachtsman. His friend Conrad Westervelt was a U.S. Naval officer assigned to a Seattle shipyard. Like lots of guys in 1915, they had an interest in aviation. But these two accomplished more than sharing enthusiasm.
Boeing had bought one of Glenn L. Martin’s seaplanes. In working on the craft, he and his pal Westervelt convinced themselves that they could design and build a better one.
This was the B&W, as in Boeing and Westervelt, a two-wing float plane built by the pair in 1915 in a hangar/factory on the east shore of Lake Union, a fresh-water lake in the heart of Seattle.
The B&W owed much to the design of the Martin S hydro-aeroplane, a conventional two-bay biplane designed by a fellow named Donald Douglas. Yes, that Donald Douglas, later to form his own aircraft company.
According to some sources, the B&W improved on the Martin Model S with better pontoons and a larger engine. Others cite both designs powered by a Hall-Scott A-5, an inline-six producing 125 hp.
Two B&W seaplanes were built, the first named Bluebill and the second Mallard. Their first flights were in June and November of 1916, respectively.
By then, Lieutenant Westervelt had been transferred to the east coast, thus dissolving the partnership. It had originally been called B&W, then the Pacific Aero Products Company, soon changed to Boeing Airplane Company. Today, reflecting its multiplicity of products, it’s simply The Boeing Company.
Construction of the B&W was conventional for the period: wood structures, typically spruce, with wire bracing and fabric covering. A noteworthy feature for its Hall-Scott engine was compressed-air starting that relied on an air tank located in the aft fuselage.
The B&W carried a crew of two in open cockpits, each originally fitted with “three-in-one” controls. Longitudinal movement of the control column worked the elevators; lateral movement, the ailerons; a column-mounted wheel controlled the rudder. There was no hand throttle; instead, each pilot had a foot pedal. Soon, a rudder bar replaced turning the wheel and hand throttles were fitted.
Bluebill and Mallard were offered to the U.S. Navy, but the Navy wasn’t interested. Instead, the two were sold to the New Zealand Flying School. There, in 1919, one of them set a New Zealand altitude record of 6500 ft. Later, the two aircraft were used for New Zealand’s first official airmail in December 1919.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Boeing’s 1916 founding, the company built a full-scale flying replica of the B&W in 1966. Its outward appearance is authentic, though beneath the skin the aircraft carries many upgrades in the interest of safety and airworthiness.
Whenever you see a Boeing 727, 737, 747, “Triple 7,” or 787 Dreamliner, you can think of two Seattle pals who shared an enthusiasm for new-fangled contraptions. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017