June 26, 1947: Helicopter Hovers Over Clipper Ship

June 26, 1947, Copter, Clipper

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

An unknown press photographer in Long Beach captured them in a small fraction of a second, the old three-masted square-rigger and the brand-new helicopter: old and new, past and future.

Helicopters were exotic aircraft in 1947 and newspapers coined names like “the Flying Eggbeater” and “the Whirlybird” for them. Their strengths were quickly recognized, however, and in 1947 Los Angeles became the first U.S. city to use them for mail and express service. (Apparently the mail pilots had a habit of hovering over sunbathers, prompting a lawsuit by women members of the Santa Monica Ambassador Club). The DWP also began using copters to check power lines and they proved themselves in fighting a 3,600-acre wildfire in Big Tujunga Canyon, which killed two men and injured at least 75 more.

They were even expected to replace the auto for commuting, and a helicopter landing pad was included in plans for a home at 4940 Wilshire Blvd.

The helicopter posed with the clipper ship is more unusual than the photographer could have possibly imagined: A Bell 47-B, the first commercial chopper and the first commercial helicopter to land at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field (Nov. 7, 1947). Unlike its famous successor, the bubble-nosed Bell 47-G, featured in the TV show “Whirlybirds,” the 47-B looked more like a car, with a wraparound windshield and doors. Very few were made and only two are listed in FAA records, one (Serial No. 36) in private hands in Costa Mesa, Calif., and the other (Serial No. 3) at American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in Pennsylvania.

And then there’s the three-masted schooner in the photo, the Pacific Queen. Built in 1886 in Glasgow, the ship originally hauled grain from Australia to England and then transported sugar from Hawaii to England. It was renamed the Star of Alaska and was part of the Alaska Packers Association’s salmon fleet. Sold to a couple of circus promoters in 1934, the ship was envisioned as a floating museum.

In 1935, the ship served as background during filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and was the subject of a Coast Guard search in 1936 when it was two weeks overdue on a Sea Scouts voyage from San Diego. In 1938, it was driven ashore during a storm while moored in Long Beach and by 1946, it had been fitted with wax pirate figures by owner Frank Kissinger, including a mutineer hanging from the yardarm.

By 1952, the Pacific Queen was the last U.S. sailing ship, kicked around from berth to berth and finally anchored in Long Beach’s outer harbor. The Times reported that the ship was destined to be towed to Sausalito, hauled on land and used as a museum. But not quite. In 1954, the San Francisco Maritime Museum bought the ship for $25,000 (172,619.18 USD 2005) and restored it, along with the original name, the Balclutha. It is on display at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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