Search for aviation’s historic
sites led to a book
By Karen McLean
SPEEA Publications Editor
SEATTLE – When the Boeing 307 Stratoliner took flight in 1939, it was the world’s first pressurized airliner.
On a demo flight with representatives of two
airlines, the airplane stalled during a maneuver
and crashed. All 10 occupants of the plane were
killed and pieces of the airplane fell over an
area near the town of Alder, Wash.
Those aviation history hunters who want to see
the crash site would have a hard time. Six years
after the crash, the town of Alder became Alder
Lake. The town moved to higher ground nearby
and the dam permanently submerged the pri-mary crash location.
SPEEA member Tim Nelson, a Boeing engineer, pieced together that location along with a
number of other ‘rediscoveries’ in a book called
“Jet City Rewind – Aviation History of Seattle
and the Pacific Northwest” (Schiffer Publishing,
His 150-plus page book features lots of pictures,
including the crashed Boeing 307 – and lots of
nuggets that paint a fuller picture of the place as
well as the time of the historic events. It’s both a
light history and a visitor’s guide.
“One of the most rewarding parts (of writing the
book) was connecting with the artifact or vestiges
of where things happened that in some cases have
been lost in the mists of time,” he said.
Other books cover different angles of aviation his-
tory in the Puget Sound and the state. The “where”
in addition to the “when” of those events were what
drew Nelson. “I like the ‘you are there’ aspect of
history – that was information no one conveniently
pieced together for me.”
For example, many people know about the first
airplane flight in the state – at The Meadows, a
horse racing track, in 1910. “It’s no secret it was
near the current Boeing Field – it’s been covered in
many publications – but I wanted to know exactly
where it was.”
A 1909 U.S. Geological Survey map helped
him piece together the puzzle with an overlay
of today’s terrain and buildings. The location
of The Meadows grandstands – where onlook-
ers saw their first airplane flight – fittingly is
now where aspiring aerospace professionals
attend Raisbeck Aviation High School.
His interest in aerospace is not just his career,
it’s been his passion since childhood. “I wanted
to be an aerospace engineer for as long as I can
Following early childhood in the Seattle area, his
family moved to Houston during the Apollo years
and then came back to Seattle in the late 1970s.
Nelson graduated from University of Washington
and went to work at Boeing. “I’ve been very fortunate to follow the aviation career that I had my eye
on since childhood. I’ve had multiple mini-careers
in my 31 years at Boeing.”
Nelson is an Associate Technical Fellow who cur-rently works with 777X design teams to determine
ways to avoid AOG (Airplane on Ground) situ-ations. In addition to his aviation job, he also
spends a lot of time working on scale aircraft
models – some of which can be seen on display
at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
He belongs to Northwest Scale Modelers, which
works closely with the museum on permanent and
temporary displays. In museum’s current Boeing
timeline display represented by small-scale models, Nelson points to three models he built.
In the Personal Courage Wing, his favorite part
of the museum, he also has a model on display in
the World War I section.
Although he calls the Red Barn “sacred territory”
for any Boeing employee, and has especially kind
words for the museum itself – “been there a million
times – it’s always exciting,” he has a deep appreciation for the WWI history because of the pioneering
technology and the rarity of the aircraft.
The museum played a major role in his book.
In addition to the numerous artifacts, maps and
other historical resources, he tapped into relationships formed through his modeling club efforts.
The book’s foreword is written by Dan Hagedorn,
recently retired curator and director of collections
at the Museum of Flight. Nelson encouraged any
aviation enthusiast interested in research to knock
on the archivists’ door across the street from the
Red Barn at the museum.
Nelson has been a SPEEA member nearly all 31
of his years at Boeing. “When I hired on, I got to
know the veteran engineers – most of them were
pretty strong SPEEA supporters. They could
understand the importance of advocacy – I’ve
been a continuous member since that first year.”
A few of his favorite books
Aside from his own book, a labor of love,
Nelson cited the following books of interest
to those who are aviation enthusiasts.
• ‘Carrying the Fire – An Astronaut’s
Journey’ by Michael Collins – “One of
my favorites of all time,” he said.
• ‘Boeing Since 1916’ by Peter Bowers –
“Out of print but the best single
collection of information on each
Boeing design,” he said.
• ‘Seattle’s Commercial Aviation – 1910 –
to 1940’ by Steve Ellis & Ed Davies –
“A delightful book that I found very
motivating,” he said.
Meet Tim Nelson -
book signing events
• Saturday, Sept. 17 – Page 2 Books,
Burien, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Saturday, Dec. 3 – Museum of
Flight, Seattle – event featuring
multiple aviation writers is in the
works. Check www.museumof-
flight.org for more information.
You can also check out www.facebook.