Stinson SM-6000-B (Model T)
It was Century Airlines, which merged into American, that our airplane, NC-11153, worked for. In fact, NC-11153 is today the oldest surviving American Airlines airliner.
Indeed, Stinson truly deserves accolades for their pioneering role in the development of the commercial airliner, particularly in the 1920's and 1930's. This aircraft, a Stinson SM-6000-B, a/k/a Stinson Model "T", NC-11153, S/N 5021, exemplifies the role Stinson played at this important early stage.
NC-11153 was manufactured in early 1931. It was sold from the Stinson factory to Century Airlines, Inc. of Chicago on March 10, 1931. This is the month that Century Airlines began flying offering three round trips daily between Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis via Springfield and four round trips daily between Chicago and Cleveland via Toledo. Sample fares were $15.95 to St. Louis and $13.95 to Cleveland. On opening day the airline filled 163 seats out of 180 available seats. Certainly some of those passengers flew on this very airplane nearly seventy years ago! The Century Airlines "load factor" eventually settled down to 80%, a very respectable number even today and certainly so given the ever-deepening depression at the time. A report from the times states that "in the first six months of operation Century had carried 40,213 revenue passengers over 1,223,828 miles with out a single injury to passengers or pilots".
On April 4, 1932, NC-11153 was sold to a new owner American Airways, Inc. The paint scheme, or airline "livery" you see the airplane in now is exactly that of when it was in service with American. While in service with American the aircraft was variously equipped to carry both mail and passengers or one or the other. It sported the very latest in avionics and equipment. An official equipment listing of the time includes the following: Two anti drag engine cowls, three electric starters, two landing lights, two three-minute flares, a two-way radio, one heater, a toilet, a water container, first aid kit, tool kit, two extra 20 gallon fuel tanks (in addition to the original 120 gallon), two mail and baggage compartments, necessary standard and blind flying instruments. This baby was loaded!
Today, NC-11153 is the oldest surviving American Airlines airliner. In 1983 American leased the plane from its owners, anointed "Flagship Texas", and took it on a publicity tour of all of American's bases in the United States. The purpose of the tour was to showcase American's growth since NC-11153 first "flew the line" and to exhibit for employees a part of the airline's history dating back to its very early years.
In late 1934, NC-11153 was sold to Chicago and Southern Airlines of Memphis, Tennessee. C&S had just changed its name from Pacific Seaboard Airlines after winning the Chicago to New Orleans mail and passenger route. NC-11153 no doubt saw a great deal of that territory slide under its wings! After WW 11 service was extended and even included a route to the Caribbean; in 1953 Chicago and Southern merged with Delta.
As noted below, the fourth airline to fly NC-11153 was Chesapeake Airways which began in 1946 as a service connecting the Eastern and Western portions of Maryland across Chesapeake Bay. Based at Lee Annapolis Airport, Edgewater, Maryland, Chesapeake was owned by Carl F. Eck and Eugene C. Marlin of Arlington, Virginia.
In 1936, perhaps reflecting the financial turmoil of the time, NC-11153 went back and forth between a group of owners including St. Louis Flying Service d.b.a. Monarch Air Service, Michael Hanratty, Harold W. Trott, R.M. Kierman and P.N. O'Carroll. Finally in December of 1943 the plane was sold to Mr: J.M.R. Lyeth, Jr. of Youngstown, Ohio. In February of 1945 Chesapeake Airline, Inc. purchased the airplane. Harold W. Major, Salina, Kansas (and later from Boise, Idaho) purchased it from Chesapeake in August of 1946. In 1951 John W. Davis of Colusa, California bought it and took it to California. Davis kept the airplane until October of 1963 when it was sold to LeMaster-Glenn Aerial Spraying in Ottawa, Kansas. In 1964 they sold it to R.P. Rice of Missouri who sold it to Davu Aviation/Wings of Yesterday of Florida and New Mexico in 1972. It was then sold to Gary Norton in Athol, Idaho in 1981. Evergreen Ventures, McMinville, Oregon (owners of the Spruce Goose) bought it from Gary Norton in 1990. And finally Greg Herrick's Yellowstone Aviation, Jackson, Wyoming purchased it from Evergreen in 1996.
In 1952 John Davis of California replaced the original Lycoming R-6890 engines of 215 h.p. with Lycoming 8680 E313 supercharged engines of 300 h.p. with constant speed propellers. In 1955 the plane was "metalized" which means its entire fabric covering was removed and replaced with aluminum, the original passenger door was removed and large cargo doors were installed. At this time the airplane had flown 7,352 hours since new.
The process of "metalizing" the airplane is one that we find somewhat difficult to understand today but it clearly made sense when it was all the rage back in the 1950's. That was really before the advent of the antique airplane preservation movement (which really began to come together with Bob Taylor's Antique Airplane Association founding in 1953). By the early '50's linen fabric covering for airplanes, particularly the larger transport type planes, had been replaced by aluminum. The aluminum was much more durable and unlike cotton, it didn't have to be replaced every 5-10 years. It was also the "in" thing to do after all, who wanted to be seen flying around in one of those tube and fabric airplanes!
The plane then placed in the Restricted category for "agricultural
work" and began its life as a big old utility hack. In the early
1960': NC-11153 was even outfitted as a spray plane with booms, pumps
and fittings removed from Ford Tri-motor N-8407, which had been used
for the same purpose. A large tank was installed "using the original
cargo tiedown rings". The booms, extending out under the wings must
have been quite a site!
In 1965, RP. Rice began the process of converting NC-11153 back to standard category desiring the recertification, according to the FAA files, "he desires recertification of the aircraft so that it may be used at public functions to demonstrate the progress of transport aircraft. It is the last aircraft of the type in existence, it should be preserved in airworthy condition." Indeed it should! The aircraft was returned to the "Standard - Normal" category in May of 1965.
After this aircraft, still in its metalized covering and with its huge cargo doors, was spruced up and barnstormed around the United States giving rides and joy to all who flew in her. After barnstorming came Gary Norton and a big American Airlines tour of the US. When Greg Herrick found NC-11153 it was stored outside in Evergreen's Tucson storage yard where it had been kept for a number of years, somewhat forlorn, dirty and dusty and definitely due for a complete restoration!
When we encountered NC-11153 sitting there in the desert to say she looked a little worse for the wear is an understatement. The then owners had not had a chance to begin a restoration of the plane and it was, perhaps more than ever, showing its age. The desert sun had baked the life out of any parts that could be baked.
Researched and written by Greg Herrick