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tv   Second Look  FOX  December 12, 2010 11:00pm-11:30pm PST

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[ music ] tonight the bay area's role in aviation history. we will remember the first flight on the china clipper opening the pacific to regular air travel all the way from the bay to china. with eight transport pilots and every modern safety device, the clipper will fly high up before the crowds and beyond the reach of angry feet. >> the first mail flight ever was here in the bay area. we will tell you that story. we will trace the rich aviation history of oakland airport, including its role in amelia
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airhart's final flight. >> and i hope to accomplish something really scientific reply worthwhile for aviation. >> and visit with aviation pioneer stanley hiller. >> the helicopter is an entirely new type of vehicle and is more versatile in its operation than any other type of equipment, land, air or sea. >> all straight ahead on "second look." >> good evening, i'm julie haener and this is "second look." last month the aviation world celebrated a significant anniversary for the bay area's role in international air travel. it was on november 22, 1935 that the panam's first china clipper took off from san francisco bay. an estimated crowd of 125,000 people turned out to see the pioneering flight from alameda awful air station to hawaiian, on to the philippines, midway i'll island and eventually to china. the first flight was load we had mail but no passengers. post master general james farly was on hand and handed edwin a
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letter from franklin roosevelt to be delivered to the president of the philippines. the load was so heavy that he lifted off from the bay waters. he thought he was not going to clear the bay bridge which was under construction at the time. so he flew under it, guiding the massive martin m-130 sea plane between construction cables dangle beneath the structure. the rest of the flight went without a hitch. a year before the china clipper would begin carrying passengers at a cost of $15,000 appease in today's money. and as ktvu's george watson told us in this report from 2000 it was to be the beginning of a glorious but short-lived aviation adventure for those who were part of the china clipper legacy. >> reporter: 1935 pan american airways looked to open the pacific to commercial air traffic. what routes would they take? where would they land? did they have the planes capable of flying such distances? did they have the pilots, men who would be pioneers.
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>> well, i was the only one that made the decision where to go, how to fly it and how to miss the clouds and the volcanos, et cetera, what to land on, whatnot to land on. i was complete. nobody told me what to do. >> reporter: pan am took its first survey flight from san francisco to hawaiian on april 16, 1935. the flying time was 18 hours and nine minutes. more survey flights quickly connected the dots across the pacific. honolulu to midway, and then to wake island, on to go. uam. from there they would play to man although and hong kong to complete the pacific route, a total of 9,000 miles. it took six days compared to the three weeks the same journey took by boat. this trek across the pacific wasn't an astounding feat and the world struggles through the depression, teetering on the brink of world war had suddenly become a much smaller place. the first two transpacific sea
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planes were the sakorski 132 and the martin 180. they were both great airplanes but pan america thought they were too old and too slow. they asked boeing to build the boeing 315. it was delivered to pan am in january of 1939 and kristened the yankee clipper. a new fabulous era had begun. in 1939 at the world's fair treasure island, this was known as treasure coffee. cove but not for long. the name was soon changed to clipper cove to honor pan am's giant flying boats, the prestigious air ships that literally opened the pacific ocean to commercial air travel. 60 years ago they were moored right here. what a sight he -- they must have been. [ music ] >> reporter: pan american bolt a hangar here with a ramp so fare goers could go inside and look down on the giant clipper ship.
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the eye of the beholder had a pronoun impact on at least one 16-year-old boy. >> and i kept thinking, if i could just get down there and touch it, being involved with airplanes all of my life, why, i could just get down and touch it, i was really excited. and i never did until four years later. i was the pilot on the thing. >> reporter: pan am boeing clipper was a flying carpet of extravagant luxury. the passenger deck was designed to be as much like a home as possible. there were nine sections of seating for 74 passengers. sleeping quarters for 36. and there was even a honeymoon suite and separate dressing rooms for men and women. fresh food was prepared in the galley and served on linen covered tables. the stopovers at midway and wake island were engineering feats themselves. they blasted out lagoons and shipped over prefabricated hotels and put them where there were thousands of bird but very few people. the boeing clipper ship, simply put was huge. the wings were large enough inside for a man to stand up.
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and for good reason. the wings provided access to the four 1600-horsepower engines and sometimes in flight repair where is necessary. the ugly truth was you could stand to lose one engine, but lose two and you were going down. that's exactly what happened to ross butler in 19423 when he was -- 1943 when he was fourth officer to honolulu. >> i followed the engineer out to the winning behind the number three engine. we had all of the passengers in their life jackets and we were making a long slow descent to the water. fortunately we found that it was just a throttle cable that had become unraveled. so we put it together again and we resumed. >> reporter: pan am clipper ships shone brightly but so briefly. the biggest and fastest of their kind and the first to do what they did. but by the end of the war their time had come and gone. there were airfields all over the world now. and the planes that used them were far more sophisticated than the prematurely antiquated
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clippers. by the early 1950s all of the boeing airplanes were gone, scrapped. all that remains is the great memory of those great clipper ships winning out across the golden gate away to the pacific into the an falls of aviation history. >> still to come on "second look." did you know the first mail air flight in the united states took place right here in the bay area? we will tell you 40 you it came about. and a bit later oakland airport's amazing role in the most significant event in aviation history. >> the bay area's major news of the dave, frank somerville, julie haener, 10:00. ktvu, channel 2 news complete bay area news coverage.
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. the next time you mail a letter across the country, start to think about how airmail started. it began right here in the bay area nearly 100 years ago. the first air mall flight took off from petaluma in february,
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1911. in 2001 john fowler brought us a story of how that came to be. >> reporter: their planes were unreliable, under powered and unable to cope with bad weather. pilots risked their lives and many died flying the mail. but those pioneering airmail pilots shrank our world in the 20th century. in 1903 bicycle makers willber and oroville writing took to the sky in their airplanes. the first flight stunned the world. inspired people and inventories such as glenn curtis. it also set postal officials thinking. the first to act was here in northern california, post master je holmestead of petaluma. he asked a local race car driver turned aviator named fred weissman to fly the mail. he had this airplane now in the postal museum in washington, d.c. weissman has just flown
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his almost other identical airplane in the big aviation show in san francisco. that plane, the diamond is now at the pillar aviation museum. he had no air know nautical training but had built these airplanes after seeing pictures of the wright and curtis airplanes. >> instead of having today like a stick that you turn left and right to fly on an airplane, you actually leaned the direction you wanted to go. so you had to remember don't lean too far looking at something on the ground because your airplane is going to turn towards it. >> reporter: on february 17, 1911 weissman loaded up 50 newspapers and three letters and set off to make the world's first airmall delivery petaluma to santa rosa. >> there were no instruments in this particular airplane. they literally just flew the roads. >> reporter: he took off from a park and flew five minutes before his engine quit. the landing damaged the plane. he fixed it and waited overnight. on the second leg weissman dropped a press democrat newspaper to a woman on the ground. and then the engine quit again. 18 miles and two days.
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but fred weissman became the first of the remarkable group of aviators. seven years later the u.s. army overbeing sod with leftover bi planes from world war one founded the u.s. airmail service. on 72 hours notice the fleet collected a handful of airplanes, volunteer pilots and began scheduled mail flights regardless of the weather. the pie lots followed railroads and highways flying by the seat of their pants, often waving to folks on the ground, sometimes landing to get directions. it was dangerous business. 32 pilots, one out of six who flew the mail, died trying to deliver it. >> very dangerous. very dangerous. because they had the same model that the post office does. rain, snow, sleet or hail. and they would go flying in that type of weather. >> reporter: in 1921 congress considering canceling the airmail so pilots staged a
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stunt. coast to coast simultaneous mail flights between new york and san francisco. they flew at night, in storms. remember, they had no navigation equipment. one plane crashed. the pilot died. but the mail continued in another april. six bags of letters crossed the country in 33 hours. that's three days faster than the best train service. congress finally bought light beacons and radio equipment establishing the federal airway system that survives toed to. as for the pilots, most went on to outstanding arrow nautical careers. charles limburg survived several crashes before making his historic crossing of the atlantic in 1927. the first airmail pilot fred weissman barn storm add while calling himself weissman the fearless and gave up flying. he is quoted as saying: there is no future in it. when we come back on "second look" it is the airport where amelia airhart took off on her final flight. one of the fascinating facts
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about observing owes oakland's role in aviation history. a pioneer in vertical flight. meet helicopter pilot stanley hiller. >> developing news from overnight. meteorologist steve tracks the freeway's where you live. and the live drive time traffic. more complete bay area news coverage starts weekdays at 5 a.m., ktvu, channel 2 news in the morning.
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. every day thousands of people fly in and out of oakland airport. it is likely few of them realize what a historic place they are visiting. over the past century, oakland airport has played a critical role in some of the most significant events in aviation history. ktvu's george watson first brought us this report in 2001. [ music ] >> reporter: to anyone who flies commercially today, a casual observation of oakland's airport could quickly assign it to a niche occupied by most other middle-sized airport in anywhere usa. the planes taxi and people wait and walk, struggle with their burdens and do their best to deal with the demands thrust upon today's air travelers. but beneath the busy ordinariness of this place, there lies a deep, rich,
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multiviewed portrait of aviation history. 1827 was a pivotal year for aviation for the oakland airport dedicated in september of that year, it was, from the outset, state-of-the-art. >> the new technology was just jumping all over the place as far as aircraft designs, hauling freight, hauling passengers, sea planes, the train system was really close in the 20s. >> reporter: oakland airport was soon to be the site of the guts and glory of the history- making, record-setting, air- splitting ocean-crossing pioneering feat of aviation. now, the stage for these and all other airborne flights was sublimely set one morning in may 27 years ago. charles limburg tall, slender, shy and amiable took off not far from new york city. he would be the first to fly alone across the atlantic ocean. >> his flight really fixed aviation in the mind of the
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general public. i mean, from that point forward, late may of 1927, the world realized that aviation really meant something. >> reporter: and from now on anything that he did or said regarding aviation, the world was watching and listening. and he visited oakland's airport he legitimated the airfield. in 1927, san francisco's mills field just across the bay was being described as a dismal swamp. in that same year, charles limburg came to the oakland airport and called it the finest, most modern airport in the country. now, what would make him say that? in that pivotal year the oakland airport became aviation's home base for historic flights. in june, army lieutenant's lester mattland and allan took off from oakland bound for hawaiian. 25 hours and 30 minutes later they touched down setting the world record. in august of 1927, the ill- fated dole pineapple race from
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oakland to hawaiian offered the winner a prize of $25,000. but only eight of the 14 rants were able to take off from oakland the day of the race. four of those were forced to return. two others were lost at sea. and only two planes finally made it. the winner major arthur goble completed the flight in 26 hours and 17 minutes. among the greatest of all pioneer aviators, man or woman, amelia airhart initiated several of her historic flights from oakland, including, sadly, her last flight in 1937 in an attempt to fly around the world that began in oakland and ended with her disappearance over the pacific ocean on the last leg of her journey. in the 1930s, oakland was also home to the ground-breaking sea planes, those wound rouse creations that rode all too start but magnificent chapter in aviation history in putting the pacific to commercial flight. these planes were flying out of oakland before they found a
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permanent home in san francisco's treasure island base. the oakland airport was also home to another remarkable but short-lived success story transocean airlines, the little airline that could. it began in 1946 flying military personnel home from the war. transocean grew into a formidable competitor so that by 1960, the last year of operation, it had flown more than one billion passenger and cargo miles. >> we had 2200 employees at the north field. our headquarters was hangar five. and head 600 employees at our peak round the world at 57 bases. this was not a fly-by-night thing. >> oakland was part of the golden age of aviation. the airborne results of those pioneering efforts could be seen daily on oakland's modest tarmac. from the luxurious to the workhorse wonders the dc-3, 4s
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and 6s. even the plane that some say was the most beautiful ever built was there. >> when i was 8-year-old my first flight out of oakland was on a pwa constellation aircraft. i always remember that because i was just in awe. or. >> reporter: oakland's airport is not just a middle-sized airport in anywhere usa. it has played no small part in the history of aviation. >> when we come back on "second look," how a bay area man became a pioneer into the development of the helicopter.
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. >> the innovative spirit that today fuels silicone valley is nothing new. just after the end of world war ii a bay area man named stanly hiller became one of the greatest in aviation history. his helicopters revolutionized flight. and today his achievements and he shall legacy are on display at the peninsula museum that bears his name. in 2000 ktvu's george watson
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brought us this profile of stanley hiller. >> reporter: stanley hiller jr. is an aviation pioneer whose influence was felt the world over but began here in the bay area. a vivid confirmation of that is the museum which hiller has develop. at the age of 19 he built his first helicopter in the midst of world war ii. hiller's team of fellow pioneers included a jack of all trades mechanical wizards. a naval architect, a welder and a paver. working in oakland and in the best tradition of flying by the seat of their pants, they took their first steps towards this uncharted horizon. >> of course we had known to talk with. there was no one on the west coast had ever seen a helicopter fly. and none of us had experience in creation of an aircraft and aircraft development. >> reporter: in 1943 stanley hiller rented space in an auto repair shop that used to be located here on college avenue
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near claremont. well, he fired up the rotors on his experimental helicopter and promptly blew out all of the window in the garage. well, they knew it worked, but now the next question was, will it fly? oh, it flew, all right. revolutionary in concept and design, un gainly and fragile in appearance, the xh44 was a startling alternative to fixed winning aircraft. even in the newborn world of helicopters it was unusual with the twin rotor blades turning in opposite directions. the blades made of metal instead of wood. hiller just first tested the teardrop chipped chopper on the front lawn of his father's berkeley home. he moved the testing grounds to the university of california's memorial stadium. the xh44 eventually would wind up in the sithsonian but for two years it was a research platform for hiller's new aviation company. after the wore hiller moved his production plant to a brand new facility in palo alto where he began to build and sell the
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hiller 360 the first accident can't of the old xh44. but who was going to buy this revolutionly aircraft? >> in those days helicopters were so few and far between there was other companies making helicopters but they were selling them across the board pretty much to everybody. and the military eventually got into the theme in the late 40s, early 50s. >> reporter: but hiller was looking elsewhere, thinking there would be a huge market for perjure aircraft, especially with so many pilots coming home from the war. he envisioned a helicopter so common you would park it in front of your house. he built a prototype commuter model called the uh4. an overwhelming desire for perjure helicopters never materialized but the war in korea did. >> it took the korean war to get the helicopter accepted. it wasn't just the hiller helicopter. there were other manufacturers that sold a lot of helicopters, too. and it kind of made the helicopter an every day
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accepted vehicle. >> reporter: hiller converted his asystem blip line operation to strictly military aircraft. by the mid-50s hiller was still concentrating on the military and took the helicopter to its next evolution are you step. the new hornet had ram air jets on the tips of its blades. it was fast enough but the range was limited and gas consumption was beyond practicality. the military wound up purchasing fewer than 20 of them. worse news lay ahead hiller would lose a contract to hughes aviation in the late 60s, despite building what many consider to be the best hiller helicopter ever. with that loss, the palo alto aircraft plant closed down for good. for 25 years hiller was an innovator and a pioneer in the creation of the helicopter industry and suddenly it was over. >> there will always be room for something. helicopters will become faster
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and quieter. but also there is going to be a new generation of aircraft that are going to overtake the helicopter. >> reporter: and if it's true the future lies in what we learn from the past, then stanley hiller has provided a fertile learning field at no less a place than the hiller aviation institute. >> stanley hiller jr. died in april 2006 from complications related to alzheimer's disease. he was 81-year-old. his museum, next to the san carlos airport still stands as a tribute to his life and legacy. and that's it for this week's "second look." i'm julie haener. thank you for watching. [ music playing ] [ female announcer this is a strawberry pop tart...
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