Learning to fly mail planes at 21, Clayton Scott kept his pilot’s license active for 79-years in the Pacific Northwest, including 25 years as a test pilot for Boeing.
Scott was hooked on flying In 1922, when a barnstorming pilot flew into Seaside, Ore. Then 17, Scott and his girl friend pooled their money – his $7 and her $3 – for their $10 ride aboard an OX-5 Jenny. The exhilarating experience of that flight from the beach was never forgotten, but it was four years later before Scott had a chance to learn to fly.
Hired at 21 by Oregon’s Pacific Air Transport as a truck driver, Scott learned to fly from the company’s West Coast airmail pilots at Pearson Field, across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Wash. He soloed in an OX-5 Waco after less than four hours of instruction and a year later, in 1927, earned his commercial license.
Scotty Made First Landing At Boeing Field, Before It Opened
Soon afterward, when Pacific Air Transport was sold to Bill Boeing and became a division of Boeing Air Transport. Scott moved to Seattle to fly with Seattle Flying Service, one of Pacific’s subsidiaries. He soon became famous in the Seattle area by becoming the first pilot to land at Boeing Field – before it opened. Aloft in a 1917 Travel Air biplane, bad weather forced him to look for a safe landing spot. It made a lot of sense to Scott at the time to head for Boeing Field. It wasn’t open yet but he knew it had an unfinished runway.
“Then I returned to the plane and flew out about 5 a.m. before the authorities saw me,” Scott said, according to a Boeing Frontiers October 2005 profile for his 100th birthday.
He was also the first pilot to fly a commercial transport across the Gulf of Alaska, from Ketchikan to Cordova. Scott recalls it as a particularly memorable flight because schoolteacher Myrtle Smith was on board. She became Scott’s wife in 1934, beginning a 65-year marriage that ended with her death in 1998.
Commercial flying with floatplanes in Alaskan weather had unique challenges. On one cargo flight between Juneau and Cordova, he and his mechanic were stranded for two days on the beach at Ice Bay, Alaska, when the failed engine of his Boeing Model 204 flying boat forced him to land in the surf. Waves soon destroyed the stricken plane, but Gorst sent another seaplane to rescue Scott and his mechanic.
Scott’s Friendship With Bill Boeing Changed His Aviation Career
Two years after a chance meeting with Bill Boeing at Carter Bay, British Columbia, when Scott was fueling his Keystone-Loening “Air Yacht” and Boeing was refueling his diesel yacht, the Taconite, Boeing called Scott, asking him to be his personal pilot, as well as a co-pilot for Boeing Air Transport’s new Boeing Model 247, the nation’s first airliner, between Portland and Salt Lake City.
After 1934, when federal legislation forced the breakup of Boeing’s United Aircraft and Transport Corp., Boeing left the air transport business, but Scott continued as his personal pilot, flying Boeing’s Douglas-built Dolphin amphibian, and later, his DC-5. Often, celebrities were aboard, such as one flight with Howard Hughes, accompanied by Ginger Rogers.
In 1941, Scott Began 25-Year Career As Boeing’s Top Test Pilot
After eight years with Bill Boeing, Scott was named Chief Production Test Pilot for the Boeing Co., according to archival records at the Seattle Museum of Flight’s library. He spent 25 years in that role, seeing the aviation industry transition from props to jets.
As America entered World War II, bomber production escalated at the Seattle plant, with Scott flight testing more than 1,000 B-17s as they prepared to leave for the battlefronts in Europe. By 1943, Scott had accumulated more hours in the Flying Fortress than anyone else. He also spent many hours flight testing Boeing’s secret new high-altitude bomber, the B-29.
Scott’s first jet flight was in the XB-47 bomber produced at Boeing’s Wichita, Kan., plant. He recalls that the plane “had so much performance … and speed … it was my first experience with anything like that.” Later, he tested 707s, 727s, B-52s and KC-135s in a career that accumulated more than 8,000 hours of flight time.
He Flew Into Boeing Field For His 100th Birthday Party
For his 100th birthday, he amazed hundreds of guests by flying a twin-engine Aerostar into Boeing Field, although he shared the flight with a younger co-pilot. Just two years before, at 98, he had finally agreed to quit flying solo. Posing by a red biplane similar to one he flew for Seattle Flying Service, Scott smiled and commented, “This isn’t the right model.” Then he chatted for a few minutes with friends and news media about his eight decades of still-clear aviation memories.
On that day, Scott was America’s oldest active pilot, with a 79-year flying record. To honor him, city officials renamed Renton Municipal Airport, where Scott had operated his floatplane business for many years, as Clayton Scott Field. A year later, with Scott once again smiling and chatting with guests, Renton officials celebrated his 101st birthday at the field by unveiling a bronze statue depicting Scott as a young pilot in flying garb of the 1930s. Called “Pathfinder,” it’s now displayed at the airport’s entrance.
Only a few months afterward, in September 2006, Scott died in his Mercer Island apartment, east of Seattle. An apparent heart attack ended the career of one of aviation’s most talented, dedicated and long-lived pilots.