Oldest Boeing airplane still in operation flown in to Sunnyside airport


Addison Pemberton gets ready to lift his Boeing 40C airplane yesterday from the runway of the Sunnyside airport. Pemberton restored the wrecked airplane to its original status after searching for the wreckage for 18 years.

Ever wonder what it was like to fly in 1928? Several family members and friends of Addison Pemberton found just that very thing out yesterday (Wednesday) when Pemberton stopped by in Sunnyside with his 1928 Boeing 40C airplane.

Pemberton was on his way to Hood River, Ore. to make a stop at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum. He has loaned his one of a kind airplane to the museum the past couple of winters.

What makes this particular airplane so special?

It is the only operational Boeing 40C in the world today. Another distinguishing factor of the plane is it is the oldest Boeing plane still operational today. As a matter of fact, when Boeing introduced its 787 jetliner, Pemberton was invited to fly his Boeing 40C next to it for a photo op. It was Boeing's newest airplane flying alongside its oldest.

The plane has an interesting history. It laid abandoned at the summit of Canyon Mountain in southern Oregon for decades before being found. On the morning of Oct. 2, 1928, after being in service for less than three months, the plane crashed and killed the lone passenger and seriously injured the pilot, Grant Donaldson.

Pemberton said the plane had been part of the Air Transport Company, flying the route between Portland and Oakland-San Francisco. The Boeing 40Cs were used to fly contract airmail routes from San Francisco to Chicago and from Seattle to San Diego.

Once the plane crashed and Donaldson was taken to the hospital, a salvage team arrived at the wreckage and carried out the dead passenger along with the cargo. The salvage team left the airplane where it had wrecked.

Fast forward to 1982. It was that year Pemberton began searching for the plane. Not long after, the Oregon Aviation Historical Society also began looking for the long-forgotten plane.

Fifty-plus years in the mountains can take a toll on just about anything and the Boeing 40C was no different. The plane had since been overgrown with brush and trees, leaving it hidden. Pemberton said people from the Oregon Aviation Historical Society actually walked over it and that is how the plane was found.

Pemberton said he looked for the plane for 18 years, the Oregon Aviation Historical Society looked for it for 12 years.

"When I heard it had been found I contacted them," Pemberton said. "We worked out a deal for me to buy the wreck and the title. There were two conditions, I had to restore it to its original condition and I had to share it with the public."

Pemberton, who is president of Scanivalve Corp. near Spokane, also has a hobby he calls Pemberton & Sons Aviation. Through this hobby he has restored several old planes.

He bought it in 2000 and after eight years and 18,000 hours, Pemberton said the plane is now exactly how it was the day it crashed.

Yesterday Pemberton took three groups of people up in the plane. The Boeing 40C holds four passengers and the pilot flies up on top in an open cockpit. The two compartments hold two passengers each and are small and cramped. A phone allows the passengers to speak with the pilot.

It's noisy inside the passenger compartments, that's for sure, but not as noisy as it is up in the pilot's cockpit.

The Boeing 40C takes off quickly and glides to a flying height rather quickly. The ride is smooth, with just the occasional dipping from turbulence. The landing was smooth as silk, but that was probably more from the experience of Pemberton's piloting skills than anything else.

Roughly 30 people were on hand at the Sunnyside Municipal Airport yesterday to look at the airplane and enjoy a barbecue hosted by Dave Bos, a cousin of Pemberton. Twelve lucky people got to go up in the aircraft, a truly unique experience.

Pemberton enjoys fulfilling his promise of letting the public enjoy the plane. He travels during the summer all over showing the plane. He has also began retracing the original contract airmail routes across the United States.

At a recent Grant Donaldson family reunion, Pemberton flew the Boeing 40C to Spencer, Iowa and gave everyone in the original pilot's family a ride on the airplane Donaldson once flew.

The Boeing 40C will stay at the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum until spring, when Pemberton will begin touring with it again.


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