Based on extended development of the Fairchild 71 and 100 series, and manufactured by the American Airplane & Engine Corporation, all of the sixteen original Pilgrim-100As served with American Airways as feeder airliners, air express freighters, and mail carriers. It was able to operate as a nine-passenger transport or to be converted as a cargo-only freighter. The Pilgrim had underfloor compartments for additional baggage or freight, which gave it a rather portly shape. Total useful payload was 2,230 pounds. Powered by a big Pratt and Whitney Hornet B engine of 575 hp, the Pilgrim was bestowed with remarkable short field performance. The pilot was located high up front, over the engine with a commanding view . The mechanics liked the way all accessories and components were readily accessible for repair or replacement After serving American efficiently and profitably for several years the Pilgrims were retired from service when larger and faster transports came into use.
At least nine of these versatile airplanes made their way into Alaska where they went on to a second and exceptional career in the bush country. Alaskan Airways, a subsidiary of American Airways, brought the first Pilgrims to Alaska in 1934. These were later bought by Pan American Airways and operated by their Pacific-Alaska division. Over the next fifty years the Pilgrims were used by many flight services in all parts of the state. Over the years they were rebuilt many times and frequently refitted with newer engines and avionics. They hauled everything from fish, construction equipment, building supplies, fuel, generators, two dog teams, and even cattle. In the early 40s they flew support for the government during the construction of the Alaska Highway and of the airfields being built all over Alaska by the Army. The last Pilgrim in Alaska was still hauling fish in the Bristol Bay area until 1985.
Before 1941 with Star Air Service
|1931||Dec 1931 Pilgrim 100-A Serial 6605 manufactured.|
|1934||Alaskan Airways, a subsidiary of American Airways, brought the first Pilgrims to Alaska in 1934|
|1934||NC709Y was converted from a 100-A to a 100-B, replacing the 575 HP Pratt & Whitney Hornet with a 575 HP Wright Cyclone R-1820-E|
|1934||Alaskan Airways, a subsidiary of American Airways, brought the first Pilgrims to Alaska in 1934|
|1934||March 6, 1934: An American Airways Pilgrim 100A, registration NC710Y, crashed into a snowdrift near Petersburg, Illinois during a blizzard, killing all four on board. The cause was wing/propeller icing. http://www.planecrashinfo.com/1934/1934-5.htm|
|1936||The museum's Pilgrim 100B, N709Y, was flown to Alaska from the East St. Louis, Illinois area in August of 1936 by veteran bush pilot, Murrell W. Sasseen. It was flown by Herb Nicholson and Murrell Sasseen in the Kuskokwim region, flying freight and mail by Alaska Air Express (AAE)|
|1940||Alaska Air Express merged with Star Air Service. The Pilgrim served the Juneau and Anchorage areas, as well as the Kuskokwim and Iditared regions for ME and Star Air Service.|
|1941||The aircraft was sold to Alaska Airlines, which used the Pilgrim for scheduled flights out of Anchorage, Cordova and Valdez, and for feeder flights to remote fishing villages out of Sitka, Petersburg and Juneau.|
|-||During World War II, when most airlines in Alaska were under government contract, N709Y participated in the military build up of Alaska. The aircraft was used, among other assignments, in round-the-clock shuttle flights to haul asphalt in barrels for the construction of airfields that were used to transfer "Lend-Lease" aircraft from the U.S. Ferry Command to Russia.|
|-||During the war years, Pilgrim N709Y was damaged in rough landings near Yakutat, Iditarod and Bethel. Various repairs were made to the aircraft after these accidents. A larger, Wright Whirlwind motor with 3-blade propeller was installed which increased the horsepower by 40 per cent.|
|-||After the end of World War II, the Pilgrim was grounded for a period of time, after which it saw duty carrying fish for Alaskan and Washington salmon canneries. The aircraft was owned by Bellingham Cannery, Marine Packing Company and Wenatehee Air Service.|
|1952||Installed a Pratt and Whitney 1340 engine taken from a Boeing 247, and fitted with a cowling from an AT-6 Texan.|
|1960's||In the 1960s, N709Y was leased by the State of Washington and used as a fire-fighting aircraft.|
|1970||The Pilgrim was repurchased by Alaska Airlines and used for public relations as an historical aircraft.|
|1971||The Pilgrim was purchased by the Shenk Brothers who used it to carry salmon for Washington and Alaska canneries. The Air Progress article below mentions the Shenks. That same year, the aircraft was sold again to the Ball Brothers Fisheries of Bristol Bay. It hauled over 1,000,000 (One Million) pounds of salmon out of Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska frequently flying directly off of the beach.|
|1985||Fish slime leaking into the lower framework was one of the factors that forced its retirement in 1985.|
|2013||The Pilgrim has been restored the aircraft to airworthy (flying) condition.|
|-||The final phase of the restoration is generously sponsored by the Rasmuson Foundation.|
Huh? How can an airplane be a "historic place"? According to the National Park Service, they can.
The National Register of Historic Places recognizes tangible properties that are relatively fixed in location. They are classified as districts, sites, buildings, structures, or objects. In the aviation field, they include aircraft, wrecks of aircraft, ...
The National Register classifies aircraft as structures, that is, a construction distinct from a building. Aircraft can be listed individually in the National Register, as are the Wright Flyer III and a Fairchild Pilgrim 100B, each listed as a historically significant structure. Aircraft may be contributing features of a historic district.
So... The National Park Service mentions only two aircraft as examples, one that was built by the Wright Brothers, and our Fairchild Pilgrim 100B at the Alaska Aviation Museum!
Owned by the Ball Brothers (1971-1985?)
Fuselage partially restored
From the National Museum of the Air Force:
The Air Corps bought four American Aircraft & Engine Corp. Pilgrim Model 100-Bs in 1932. These aircraft were designated Y1C-24 and were initially assigned as light cargo transport and supply aircraft.
|Engine:||Wright R-1820-1 Cyclone radial of 575 hp|
|Propeller:||3 bladed Hamilton Standard HD1240|
|Cruising speed:||118 MPH|
|Maximum speed:||136 MPH|
|156 MPH never exceed|
|Service ceiling:||13,600 ft.|
|Span:||57 ft. 5 in.|
|Length:||39 ft. 2 in.|
|Height:||11 ft. 6 in.|
|Weight:||7,100 lbs. maximum gross weight|
|Passenger capacity:||Nine (approximately 2,150 lbs.)|
|Serial numbers:||32-287 to 32-290|
Pilgrim Propeller hanging off of the rafters, protected from dust and hangar rash.
Aviation History Magazine, July 2010
One of the least-known U.S. airliners was the nine-passenger American Pilgrim 100, 16 of which were built for American Airways - soon to become American Airlines - in 1931. The Pilgrim was actually a Fairchild, but during the time it was being built, Sherman Fairchild had in a bankruptcy dodge, briefly reorganized his Farmingdale, N.Y., company as the American Airplane and Engine Corp. (The factory also produced the famous Ranger inverted-6 engines.) Another four of the sowbellied Pilgrims went to the Army Air Corps and became even more obscure Y1C-24 aerial ambulances, which soldiered on until 1939.
American Airways crashed fully a quarter of its Pilgrim 100 fleet — four airplanes with eight fatalities — and sold the rest In 1934, when it bought Curtiss Condors. Some of the surviving Pilgrims ended up in Alaska and in Canada's Northwest Territories, where more crashed, were parted out or flew out their useful lives.
So it is surprising that today there is a Pilgrim 100 renaissance underway. What may well be the only three relatively intact survivors are all undergoing complete restorations, in Anchorage, Alaska (at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum); Port Townsend, Wash. (at the Port Townsend Aero Museum); and near San Francisco (at a private facility, Marginal Maintenance Associates). The Alaska museum plans to have its Pilgrim ready for static display by July 4, and hopes to begin flying it soon thereafter.
The Port Townsend airplane, then operating as a Pan Am mailplane, crashed in Alaska between Nome and Fairbanks in the mid-1940s. The pilot and his mechanic hiked out 80 miles in the snow and were eventually found camped by a river. Restoration of the airplane, which was recovered from the crash site in the early 1990s, is a long-term project, with much work still to be funded.
The California Pilgrim has the most unusual provenance. After American sold it, it was lent to Admiral Richard Byrd's second Antarctica expedition and was the airplane (the expedition had several) used in 1934 to rescue Byrd when he began to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning at Little America. It was later sold, to Mexican racer and entrepreneur Francisco Sarabia, who died in his record setting Gee Bee Q.E.D. in 1939, after an engine failure while taking off from Bolling Field, near Washington, D.C.
Aviation History Magazine, July 2010
(Beginning of article missing...)
He took it and another Pilgrim to Alaska, flew them two years and then sold them to Alaskan Airlines in 1938. Alaskan flew them on its bush routes and then in 1957, 09Y was sold to a salmon cannery. Since then, for a variety of owners, it has dropped smoke jumpers on Alaskan and Washington forest fires, hauled tons of salmon to canneries and has even been known to fly a cow to a remote homestead.
I contacted Charlie Bunch, a mechanic for the local FBO and a very good pilot. Charlie had flown the Pilgrim several times and he gave me a few pointers on its characteristics.
Then I sat in the cockpit for another half-hour so I could find every control without looking. To help, I used the checklist I found in the door pocket and extracted such pertinent information as the following:
"The airplane is rather nose heavy when empty and it would be wise to carry some ballast in the aft luggage compartment. One hundred pounds would be just great".
Or this; "Approach speed can be from 80 to 90 MPH depending on the pilot and technique. After a pilot has flown in a while, he can reduce it." Reduce it? Reduce it to what?
Armed with these practical pearls of wisdom, I give the big radial 20 shots of primer, barely cracked the throttle and engaged the starter. The geared R–1340 began to fire on one or two, then two or three. I gingerly added throttle, and it began to clack on all nine.
After a standard run-up, I checked the controls for freedom of movement (I'd already checked them for correct movement before I climbed into the cockpit, because once in the seat, the thick wing blocks out all view of the controls). Everything was all set, so I was ready to roll.
The tail came off at half throttle and I stop the power at 32 inches and 2,200 RPM. The Pilgrim flew itself off the runway at 55 indicated, no problem at all with torque. I let the speed build up to 80, then lifted the nose in an easy 1,200 FPM climb. Back to the power for 30 inches and 2,100 RPM and climb settled to 1,000 FPM at 80 indicated.
The checklist said there would be a slight shake in the elevators when climbing below 90 indicated, and sure enough, it was there. I eased the nose down, and shake stopped right at 90. The rate of climb droped to 800 FPM, and I climbed to 2,000 feet before leveling out and setting cruise power of 28 inches in 2,000 RPM. At this setting the airspeed slowly climbed and finally settled down between 105 and 110 MPH.
A few gradually steepening turns and I had a good feel for the plane. I was so high above the engine I used some of the greenhouse framing for my horizon reference point. The ailerons were easy to move with the leverage of the big stick, but the reaction is slow, primarily because there simply so much wing to move. Rudder and elevator reactions were quick and light. The aerodynamic balance of these controls was excellent.
The first time I hit a bump, the aircraft reacted with a normal wallow and a wag, and then a second or two later a peculiar wiggle jarred the stick. This startled me into a high key of alertness. All right, I'll be honest. It scared the pants off me.
After a few of these, with everything still staying normal, I figure the old workhorse is simply shaking with a minor aftershock.
I began experimenting with slow flight and stalls. I tried a power-on stall and ended up sinking about 400 FPM for a half minute or more in a very nose-high attitude before the nose began to drop. Even then, the drop through wasn't violent and didn't start until 38 to 40 MPH on the airspeed.
Power off stalls were difficult. The nose was so heavy that fullback stick at 50 to 55 indicated put the nose only slightly above the horizon, and aircraft sank at 700 FPM. When wings sagged, a touch of opposite rudder brought it right back up. In fact, I think this big brute could do an excellent falling leaf. A pilot would have to work hard to get himself into trouble with stalls.
Through with stalls, I headed up the Fraser River Valley, cruising at 3,000 feet and indicating 95 to 100 MPH on economical cruise of 28 inches and 1,900 RPM.
The legal maximum gross weight of the Pilgrim is listed at 7,750 pounds, getting a payload of some 2,700 pounds. This gross weight limitation is adhered to in Alaska about as much as speed limits used to be on California freeways. Up there in bush work, the accepted procedure is load everything you can get the cabin. Then if we'll get off the ground, the load is just right. If it won't, taxi back, shovel some off and try again. Reliable information indicates the Pilgrim has flown with over 5,000 pounds of cargo.
Back at the airport, I ignored the folksy advice of the checklist and brought it in with 1,400 RPM and 70 MPH indicated. This gave a sink rate of about 400 FPM. Just before we touched, I eased off the power, came back gently on the stick and the Pilgrim settled smoothly and firmly on the runway was no tendency to skip or bounce.
Charlie Bunch had warned me about landing. The pilot is so high up above the nose that it's easy to be fooled by the plane's attitude. Hitting tailwheel first could result in some mighty the gallumping down the runway. Forewarned, the Pilgrim was extremely simple to land.
On my second landing, I came in with power, 50 on the airspeed, put it on the numbers and could easily have turned off at the first intersection by using a little more brakes. That's about 400 feet here at Bellingham, so will give you an idea of what a good pilot, used to this plane, could do with it under Bush conditions.
My second takeoff was an interesting indication of its performance potential. I lined up, held on the brakes, ran the power up to 32.5 inches and then released them. I lifted it off at the second runway light indicating just over 40. (Runway lights are about 200 feet apart.) I pretty well believe the stories I've heard about Pilgrim performing right along with the Super Cub. They tell me that Bush pilots used to take the Pilgrim into a proposed landing spot to see if they could get in and out with a Cessna 180.
As of this writing, the future of the old Pilgrim, the last one in existence, is uncertain. The Schenks have it up for sale, and 09Y might go back to hauling cargo in Alaska. Or perhaps an antiquer will buy it, dress the big stud up in show paint and take it to the airshows were the spectators can see how they "built 'em in the good old days".