Tag Archives: Northwest Orient Airlines

2 April 1956

Northwest Airlines, Inc., Boeing 377 Stratocruiser N74608. (BAAA)

2 April 1956: On Monday morning at 8:10 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, Northwest Airlines Flight 2 took off from Seattle-Tacoma Airport en route to New York City, with intermediate stops at Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Illinois. The airliner, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, N74608, had a crew of six and carried 32 passengers. The flight was under the command of Captain Robert Reeve Heard, with First Officer Gene Paul Johnson and Flight Engineer Carl Vernon Thomsen.

The weather at “SeaTac” was overcast, with a ceiling at 1,200 feet (366 meters) and 10 miles (16 kilometers) visibility. The wind was from the east-northeast at 7 knots (3.6 meters per second).

The Boeing reached the cloud layer at 145 knots (167 miles per hour/269 kilometers per hour). The engines were throttled back from takeoff power and the wing flaps were retracted. The airplane suddenly began to buffet severely, as if it were about to stall. (A passenger later said that the airplane “shook like a wet dog.”) It also rolled to the left and Captain Heard had to use full opposite aileron to maintain control. N74608 began to lose altitude.

Northwest Airlines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Captain Heard suspected a split-flap condition, in which, one of the flaps remained partially or fully extended. Initially considering a return to SeaTac, Heard decided that it would be safer to proceed to McChord Air Force Base. The situation continued to worsen. Captain Heard, fearing control would quickly be lost, decided to ditch the Stratocruiser in Puget Sound.

N74608 hit the surface 4.7 nautical miles (5.4 statute miles/8.7 kilometers) from the end of Seattle’s Runway 20, The water was smooth and the airliner coasted to a stop. It then began to take on water. All passengers and crew were evacuated. Two passengers suffered minor injuries. Once in the water, they used seat cushions for flotation. (Flight 2 was not required to carry rafts or life vests.) The water temperature was 42 °F. (5.6 °C.). After about fifteen minutes, the Stratoliner sank in 430 feet (131 meters) of water.

A Northwest Airlines DC-3 flew over the scene and dropped three life rafts. Two U.S. Air Force Grumman SA-16 Albatross amphibians and a U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot (56.6 meters) patrol boat soon arrived on scene. Most of the passengers and crew were rescued. However, four passengers, probably suffering from hypothermia, had drowned. Flight Service Attendant David Victor Razey was missing. The accident occurred on his 27th birthday.¹

A crane barge lifts Boeing 377 N74608 clear of the water. (Civil Aeronautics Board)

The wreck of N74608 was located on the floor of Puget Sound. It was initially moved to shallow water where divers were able to examine it. Later, the airliner was lifted onto a barge.

The Number 1 engine is missing. (Civil Aeronautics Board)

The Stratoliner’s Number 1 engine (outboard, left wing) was missing and never found. Investigators found that the cowl flaps of the remaining three engines were all fully open. They should have been closed for takeoff.

When the flight crew went through the pre-takeoff check list, in response to the prompt, “Cowl flaps set for takeoff,” the flight engineer responded, “Set for takeoff,” when they were actually open.

At takeoff and climb out speeds, open cowl flaps disrupt the flow of air over the wings. With the wing flaps down, this isn’t noticeable, but when the flaps are retracted, a severe buffeting occurs, as parts of the wing begin to stall.

Investigators found “no failure or malfunction of the aircraft, the power plants, or control systems prior to the ditching.”

Probable Cause:

     The Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the incorrect analysis of control difficulty which occurred on retraction of the wing flaps as a result of the flight engineer’s failure to close the engine cowl flaps—the analysis having been made under conditions of great urgency and within an extremely short period of time available for decision.

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-319, File No. 1-0051, 9 November 1956, at Page 8

A Northwest Airlines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. (Charles M. Daniels Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Northwest Airlines’ N74608 was one of ten Boeing Model 377-10-30 Stratocruisers ordered by the airline. It was built at Seattle, Washington, in 1949, and assigned the manufacturer’s serial number 15954. N74608 carried Northwest’s fleet number, 708. The 377-10-30 was a variant built specifically for Northwest. It can be identified by the rectangular passenger windows.

At the time of the accident, the airliner had flown a total of 18,489 hours (TTAF).

The Model 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter (Boeing Model 367), from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping berths.

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms).

Flight deck of the Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)

N74608 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 engines. These were four-row, 28-cylinder, radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1.

The B6 had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters), and Maximum Continuous Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). The Takeoff Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with water/alcohol injection.

The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction.

The Wasp Major B6 was 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter and 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long. It weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms), dry. The propeller assembly weighed 761 pounds (345 kilograms).

In this photograph of the Boeing 377 assembly plant, the airplane’s cowl flaps are visible immediately behind the engines. (Boeing)

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

¹ David Victor Razey was born 2 April 1929 at Maerdy, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. He had brown hair, hazel eyes and a medium complexion. He was 5 feet, 5 inches (1.65 meters) tall and weighed 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms). Razey became resident of the United States in 1949, and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, 2 August 1954.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

24 November 1971

This photograph shows Northwest Orient Airlines' Boeing 727, N467US, on teh ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the evening of 24 November 1971. (Unattributed; probable news agency photo)
This photograph shows Northwest Orient Airlines’ Boeing 727, N467US, on the ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the evening of 24 November 1971. (Unattributed; probable news agency photograph, via Check-Six.com)

24 November 1971: Early Wednesday afternoon, a man who gave the name “Dan Cooper” purchased a one-way ticket for Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a non-stop flight from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. Flight 305 departed on schedule at 2:50 p.m., PST, with a crew of 6 and 37 passengers, including Cooper. Captain William A. Scott was in command with First Officer William Rataczack as co-pilot and Second Officer Harold E. Anderson, flight engineer.

The airliner was a six-year-old Boeing 727-51, c/n 18803, registered N467US. On this flight, it was approximately one-third full. The trip from PDX to SEA was estimated to take 30 minutes.

Shortly after takeoff, Cooper gave a handwritten note to Florence Schaffner, a flight attendant who was seated nearby. The note read that the airliner was being hijacked and that Cooper had a bomb in his briefcase. Schaffner asked Cooper to show her the bomb. He opened the brief case and she later described having seen eight red cylinders with red-insulated wires attached, and a cylindrical battery. Cooper closed his briefcase and gave Schaffner his demands: $200,000 in United States currency, four parachutes and a fuel truck to be standing by on their arrival at Seattle. She then relayed Cooper’s demands to the flight crew.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released these artists sketches of the suspect in the hijacking of Flight 305. (FBI)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation released these artist’s sketches of the suspect in the hijacking of Flight 305. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Once over Seattle, Flight 305 circled for approximately two hours while officials on the ground arranged to comply with Cooper’s demands. The 727 landed at SEA at 5:39 p.m. Ransom money had been gathered by the FBI from several Seattle area banks and consisted of 10,000  $20 bills. The notes were not marked but all were photographed to record their serial numbers.

The money was carried to the airliner by a Northwest employee, along with the requested parachutes. These were given to flight attendant Tina Mucklow at the 727’s aft boarding stairs. She carried these to Cooper, who satisfied that his demands had been met, allowed the 36 other passengers, as well as flight attendants Schaffner and Alice Hancock, to leave the airplane.

Refueling was delayed because of trouble with the fuel truck, and eventually three trucks were used.

Cooper informed the flight crew that he wanted them to fly the 727 south to Mexico, and gave very specific instructions. He told them to fly as slow as possible, to leave the landing gear extended, flaps lowered to 15°, and to remain below 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) with the cabin unpressurized. He also demanded that the airliner takeoff with its ventral stairs lowered but this was refused as being unsafe.

At 7:40 p.m., N467US took off from SeaTac with the flight crew and cabin attendant Mucklow still on board. Cooper required that Mucklow remain with him in the passenger cabin. It was followed by two Convair F-106 Delta Dart interceptors from McChord Air Force Base.

An intermediate fuel stop had been planned for Reno, Nevada, and the airliner headed in that direction, flying along a standard airway, Victor 23.

Cooper told Mucklow to go forward and join the rest of the crew in the cockpit. At 8:00 p.m., a warning light in the cockpit came on indicating that the ventral stairs had been activated. At 8:13 p.m., the aircraft pitched nose down, and required that the flight controls be re-trimmed for a level attitude. At 10:15 p.m., the airliner landed at Reno. After a search, it was determined that Cooper, the money and two parachutes were no longer aboard.

Flight 305 crew at Reno, Nevada. Captain William A. Scott, First Officer William Rataczack, Flight Attendant Tina Mucklow, and Second Officer Harold E. Anderson.

In 1978, a hunter discovered a placard from a 727’s aft stairs near the known path of the hijacked 727. In 1980, a young boy found three deteriorated packets containing $5,800 in $20 bills along the banks of the Columbia River, downstream from Vancouver, Washington. The serial numbers matched currency included in the ransom.

Dan Cooper has never been located. There have been a number of persons considered as suspects, however it is possible that Cooper did not survive the jump from Flight 305.

Northwest Boeing 727-51 N467US at Reno, Nevada. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

N467US remained in service with Northwest Orient Airlines until June 1978, when it was sold to Piedmont Airlines, re-registered N838N, and christened Mt. Mitchell Pacemaker. From 1982 through 1984, it was operated by United Technologies Flight Dynamics, testing navigational equipment. In September 1984 the 727 was again sold, this time to Key Airlines, with a third registration N29KA. During this period, c/n 18803 was operated on daily charter flights from Nellis Air Force Base to the Tonapah Test Range, a restricted Department of Energy installation located about 125 nautical miles (144 statute miles/232 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. Later, the 727 was placed in storage at Greenwood-Leflore Airport (GWO) near Greenwood, Mississippi. It was scrapped in 1996.

Boeing 727-51 c/n 18803, now in Piedmont Airlines livery and registered N838N, at Chicago O’Hare, 1979. (RuthAS)

C/n 18803, a Boeing 727-51, is now considered to be a 727-100, a medium-range civil transport. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 131 passengers. The airliner was 133 feet, 2 inches (40.589 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters), and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). Empty weight was 87,696 pounds (39,778 kilograms) and maximum ramp weight was 170,000 pounds (77,111 kilograms). Usable fuel capacity was 8,090 gallons (30,624 liters).

Power was supplied by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-7 turbofan engines. The JT8D-7 was a two-spool engine with a 2-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), nine combustion chambers, and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The JT8D-7 had a maximum continuous power rating of 12,600 pounds of thrust (56.048 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 14,000 pounds (62.275 kilonewtons) for takeoff. It was 3 feet, 6.5 inches (1.080 meters) in diameter, 10 feet, 3.5 inches (3.137 meters) long, and weighed 3,096 pounds (1,404 kilograms). Two of the engines were in nacelles at either side of the aft fuselage, and the third was mounted in the tail. Its intake was above the rear fuselage at the base of the vertical fin.

The Boeing 727s were very fast airliners with a maximum speed in level flight of 549 knots (632 miles per hour/1,017 kilometers per hour). The Design Cruise Speed (VC) was 530 knots (610 miles per hour/981 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (0.88 Mach). The airplane was certified with a Maximum Mach Number (MMO) of 0.92 Mach (this was later reduced to 0.90 Mach). (During flight testing, a Boeing 727 achieved 0.965 Mach in level flight.) The airliner’s service ceiling was 37,400 feet (11,400 meters) and the range was 2,600 nautical miles (2,992 statute miles/4,815 kilometers).

Boeing built 572 of the 727-100 series and 1,260 of the longer 727-200 variant from 1963 to 1984.

Boeing 727-51 c/n 18803, carrying registration N29KA, awaits scrapping at Greenwood-Leflore Airport, Greenwood, Mississippi. (Jim Newton Photography)
Boeing 727-51 c/n 18803, carrying registration N29KA, awaits scrapping at Greenwood-Leflore Airport, Greenwood, Mississippi. (Jim Newton Photography)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes