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Boeing Celebrates Aviation Pioneers

By Stephen Mauro 
Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: January 15, 2013 
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The Seattle Museum of Flight premiered the new high-def production of the PBS documentary Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon

On November 12 the Seattle Museum of Flight premiered the new high-definition production of the PBS documentary Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon with an event featuring writer/director William Winship and Boeing scion William Boeing Jr. The three-hour, three-part series has been re-created in HD, re-edited with new archival footage and will be broadcast on PBS stations from 2013 to 2016. The event assembled Boeing corporate leaders, descendants of the "first families" featured in the film and aviation enthusiasts for a celebration of Boeing Jr.'s 90th birthday and a discussion of the genesis of American aviation in the early 20th century.

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Winship garnered an Emmy nomination in 2002 for the original production. He and Boeing corporate historian Mike Lombardi scoured the Boeing, Douglas and North American Aviation archives for original film footage. Their efforts uncovered some gems, such as never-before-seen footage of the Doolittle Raiders preparing to take off from the deck of USS Hornet, as well as early film of the notoriously media-reticent William Boeing at the "Red Barn," Boeing's first airplane factory. Winship strove to present the early leaders of aviation—particularly Boeing, Donald Douglas and James "Dutch" Kindelberger—in a human light.

"The stories in the film are not about airplanes but people, young men coming of age at a time of great potential and creating an industry through their imagination, creativity and state-of-the-art technical know-how," Winship said at the event. "Their creative instincts fueled their competitive drive, enabling Boeing to inaugurate the first modern airliner with the Model 247 and Douglas to trump the market with the DC-3, in a rivalry that would play out over decades. Kindelberger spurred development of some of the greatest American warplanes, such as the P-51 Mustang and B-25 Mitchell."

Orville and Wilbur Wright's great-grandniece Amanda Wright Lane echoed the film's take on her forbears. "The Wright brothers came from an ordinary Midwest background, but there was a real genius at work there," she re­marked. "They were raised in a family that en­couraged learning and reading… and they were entre­preneurs from an early age."

The film opens with Orville Wright demonstrating the Wright Flyer at the 1908 Fort Myer trials. As President William H. Taft watches, Wright launches the Flyer and banks over the crowd in a tightly controlled turn. The scene sets the tone for a comprehensive look at American ascendancy in aviation, culminating in the Apollo moon landing. For more on the documentary and showtimes, visit

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