The Boeing 307 Stratoliner
One of the first four-engine piston passenger aircrafts built in the United States was the Boeing 307 Stratoliner. Only ten such aircraft were produced in the late 1930's. In addition to being one of the first four-engine airliners, it was also the first airliner to feature a pressurized cabin. Due to the limited production numbers, it only flew initially with a very limited number of operators - - Juan Trippe's Pan American World Airways and Howard Hughes's Trans World Airlines.
The Eccentric Howard Hughes Jr.
In addition to being a reclusive and eccentric billionaire, the late Howard Hughes (1905-1976) was also a well-known aviation buff. In addition to his tool company, Hughes was the majority owner of Trans World Airlines and was very involved in the research and development of passenger aircraft manufactured by corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed and Consolidated Vultee. Probably best known for his own involvement with the failed but impressive "Spruce Goose", the largest yet most unsuccessful aircraft of its era, Hughes was a proficient pilot whose corporate reach extended to RKO studios, the Hughes Aircraft Company and eventually his own namesake airline, Hughes Air West.
Hughes acquired his own Boeing 307 Stratoliner in 1939. Famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy (the "Lucky Strike" box and the rounded Coca-Cola bottle are amongst his many famous creations) converted the interior of Hughes's aircraft into an executive office layout. Actress Rita Hayworth added her own woman's touch to the aircraft's interior décor.
World War Two Breaks Out
Once the Second World War broke out, even commercial airliners were pressed into military service, and Hughes's Stratoliner was to be no exception. Since we are dealing with a billionaire instead of Joe Six Pack, Hughes less than discreetly told the Government to pound sand and retained his aircraft nevertheless.
Hughes and His Strat Part Ways
In March 1949, Howard Hughes sold his "office on wings" to Houston oil man Glenn McCarthy. McCarthy was the inspiration for the character Jett Rink in the 1956 movie "Giant". Actor James Dean portrayed Rink in what would tragically be his last movie. McCarthy in turn sold the Stratoliner, which he called "The Shamrock", in 1962 to Florida Jet Research in Fort Lauderdale.
Cleo Cleans Its Clock
|Howard Hughes's Boeing 307 Stratoliner was sold to Houston oil millionaire Glenn McCarthy who named it "The Shamrock" which is shown in this photograph. Photo courtesy of the Plane Boats, Inc. web site.
In 1964 Hurricane Cleo clobbered Fort Lauderdale and the Stratoliner, now called "The Flying Penthouse" along with it. After sustaining severe tail and landing gear damage, the aircraft, at only 500 flying hours after 25 years, was a write off.
After years of neglect and corrosion in the humid sub-tropical air of South Florida, Fort Lauderdale Realtor R and pilot Kenneth W. London attempted to restore the aircraft after purchasing it in 1969. Regrettably, the aircraft was too damaged to become airworthy again, so London converted it into a motoring yacht over a four-year period. In June 1974 the completed floating aircraft, nicknamed "The Londonaire" graced the waterways of South Florida.
"The Londonaire" had twin V-8 inboard motors that were retrofitted to be controlled from the original aircraft's cockpit controls. Electrical, plumbing, sanitation, air conditioning and a new interior that included restored chairs and a bar was added to the refurbished structure.
Enter David Drimmer
The same aircraft with its "The Flying Penthouse" name still visible near the nose, having its wings clipped in Ft. Lauderdale by Kenneth W. London. Photo courtesy of the Plane Boats, Inc. web site.
In early 1981, David Drimmer purchased 'The Londonaire" to be used as his own personal "houseboat". Drimmer extensively reconfigured the craft's hull upon determining that the previous hull barely kept the fuselage afloat.
Enter Florida Folk Hero Jimmy Buffett
In his many travels, Tropical Troubadour and Florida Folk Hero Jimmy Buffett had noticed Drimmer's 'plane-boat". He was so struck by the uniqueness of this vessel that he paid it homage in his 1992 novel, "Where Is Joe Merchant?".
In this novel, Florida Keys sea boat pilot Frank Bama and his former girl friend Trevor Kane begin to search for Kane's brother, rock musician Joe Merchant, who allegedly committed suicide by throwing himself off of a cruise ship in the Black Sea. Not so! One of Merchant's former band members, Desdemona, claimed otherwise.
Desdemona "lived" on Drimmer's plane-boat on the island of Boomtown on the windward coast of Hispanola. But this was more than just a "plane-boat". You see, Desdemona was being channeled by aliens from the Plaides (or "Seven Sisters") to construct a spaceship to take her to the Plaides, and the "plane-boat" which she named "Cosmic Muffin" was to be that rocket ship! In honor of Desdemona's rocket ship to be, the boys from the Boomtown boatyard presented her with a blue jump suit that said "Build Spaceships Now".
Breathtaking rendition of the Cosmic Muffin as it truly exists! Artwork courtesy of its creator, Ms. Beth Avary. To see more of Ms. Avary's beautiful and evocative works, please link to: http://www.starfirepress.com/
As a token of his appreciation for Buffett's description of his plane-boat in this novel, Drimmer renamed the craft to "Cosmic Muffin", a name it retains to this day.
The Plane- Boat Seen 'Round the World!
Drimmer's Cosmic Muffin has been featured over several decades in many local, national and international publications and television shows including Oprah, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, Associated Press, HGTV's Extreme Homes, Motor Boating and Sailing and Wings. A complete listing can be found by linking to the "Media" section of Plane Boats Inc.'s web site at www.planeboats.com, which also gives an outstanding history of the plane, the boat and its players. In addition, you can even book a tour on the craft or order Cosmic Muffin merchandise such as a t-shirt featuring the breathtaking rendition of the Cosmic Muffin by artist Beth Avary (http://www.starfirepress.com/), as well as "Build Spaceships Now" emblazoned on the back. It's definitely worth the visit to this outstanding web site.
I had an opportunity to tour the Cosmic muffin as part of the 2001 Airliners International convention in Miami in June of that year, but alas, I had to settle for the ramp tour of Opa Locka instead due to time constraints (but the Trans Air link prop-jets and the DC-7 freighter dolled up in old American Airlines livery almost made up for it!).
In the annals of 'La Floridiana" it just doesn't get any better than this! A history built by Boeing Aircraft, Hughes, Loewy, Hayworth, McCarthy, James Dean, London, Drimmer, Buffett and Desdemona would all contribute to the creation of the world's most unique water craft that was originally born to fly - - the Cosmic Muffin!
Sole Surviving Boeing 307 Makes Its Final Flight to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
On August 6, 2003, the world's last Boeing 307 flight was made when the aircraft that served six decades ago as Pan American World Airways as "Clipper Flying Cloud" arrived at Washington's Dulles International Airport for permanent static display at the Smithsonian's air and Space Museum at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center. For more information, link to: http://www.nasm.si.edu/nasm/pa/nasmnews/pr/080603.htm
Clyde and Niki Butcher's Labor Day Gala 2003
Be sure to check out famed photographer and Florida Folk Hero Clyde Butcher and his wife Niki's Labor Day Gala 2003 in the Everglades. For more information, please link to: http://clydebutcher.com/emarket2//home.cfm?emailid=57
"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty. Pagetop photo of the final incarnation of The Cosmic Muffin courtesy of the Plane Boats, Inc. web site. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.