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Boeing SST mockup coming home after 40 years; Will it become the centerpiece of a new Sonics arena?

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on April 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm with No Comments »
April 11, 2013 5:46 pm

A mockup of the sexiest airplane that Boeing never built returns to the Puget Sound area after a 40-year absence Saturday.

Look for the mockup of Boeing’s stillborn Supersonic transport or SST, carried aboard a big, over-the-road trailer, to pass through Tacoma on Interstate 5 either late Friday or early Saturday. The plane is bound from a San Francisco-area aviation museum to Everett’s Paine Field where it will be stored.

Boeing SST mockup loaded in California  -- Hiller Aviation Museum photo
Boeing SST mockup loaded in California — Hiller Aviation Museum photo

The mockup’s newer owner is Seattle’s Museum of Flight. The museum is transporting it to its Everett restoration center while it decides whether it needs further restoration and where to put it on exhibit.

Mike Bush, the museum’s marketing director, thinks the needle-nosed mockup would make a perfect centerpiece for Seattle’s planned new Sonics’ arena.

Venture capitalist Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer are trying to win National Basketball Association permission to buy the Sacramento Kings and relocate the team to Seattle.  The relocated team would be renamed the Seattle Supersonics, the NBA team named for Boeing’s original Supersonic transport when it was founded in 1967.

Hansen plans a new arena south of Safeco Field if the city wins the team.  Sacramento is fighting to retain the Kings.

The Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 where it was renamed the Thunder. The federal government cut off funding for the SST in 1971.

“I haven’t talked to Mr. Hansen or Mr. Balmer yet, but I think the SST mockup would be a terrific addition to the new arena,” said Bush.

SST mockup's needle nose  -- Hiller Aviation Museum photo
SST mockup’s needle nose — Hiller Aviation Museum photo

The SST was to be America’s answer to Europe’s Concorde and Russia’s TU-144, advanced airliners that flew passengers at speeds in excess of the speed of sound.  Boeing developed a mockup of  such a transport, building a 300-foot-long model that resided in a hangar at Boeing Field.

But Congress, which had funded the plane’s development,  stopped funding in May 1971 under pressure from environmentalists who complained about the plane’s sonic boom and its potential to pollute the upper atmosphere.

Europe built 20 Concordes, which served in commercial service until 2003.  Russia’s TU-144 had a brief career in commercial and freighter service, but never saw much usage.  Both planes were plagued with high fuel consumption.

The Museum of Flight is one of the few museums in the world with a Concorde on display. The museum’s Concorde flew for British Airways.

When Congress halted funding for Boeing’s project, the company sold off the mockup to a Florida entrepreneur who made the mockup the centerpiece of a museum near Kissimmee, Fla. That museum closed in 1981, and a church bought the museum building conducting services for years while the mockup remained inside the church.

When the church wanted to expand in the early ’90s, it sold the mockup to another Florida man who later sold it to Stanley Hiller, a San Francisco-area entrepreneur and the founder of Hiller Helicopters.  Hiller moved the mockup into an aviation museum that bears his name  in San Carlos, Calif.  Hiller was an member of the Boeing board of directors from 1976 through 1998.

Boeing SST mockup at Boeing Field plant  -- Boeing photo
Boeing SST mockup at Boeing Field plant — Boeing photo

Hiller Aviation Museum vice president of operations Willie Turner said the  museum decided to sell the mockup because it needed room inside the museum to exhibit a newly acquired seaplane.  The Museum of Flight worked a deal to acquire the mockup and bring it back to the Puget Sound area.

The mockup includes just the front 90 feet of the original model including the plane’s cockpit.

The mockup left San Carlos Wednesday.  Because of its size, the truck carrying the mockup travels only during the day, said Walsh.


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