The “Budd Pioneer” is the first amphibious airplane to be built almost entirely from chromium-nickel stainless steel. The hull / fuselage and structural members were joined by an electric welding process known as shot-welding introduced by the Budd Company. The Budd spot-welding process uses controlled current, electrode pressure, and weld time to prevent a condition or weakness around each weld known as carbide precipitation.
The Budd BB-1 Pioneer was an experimental United States flying boat of the 1930s utilizing the Savoia-Marchetti S.56 design developed by an Italian company located in Port Washington, Long Island, New York. The “Pioneer” design was modified by the American Aeronautical Corporation, a subsidiary of the Dayton Airplane Engine Company. The Edward G. Budd Company of Philadelphia began construction of the open cockpit steel “Pioneer” in 1931 and it was completed the following year. The experimental plane was light weight, strong and provided immunity to rust and corrosion.
The “Bud Pioneer” accumulated over 1000 flying hours in the United States and Europe where flight demonstrations were exhibited in England, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, France, and Italy. The “Pioneer” flew over the Alps twice, once from France to Italy, and then the return trip where it was forced to land in the mountains with its wheels retracted. The aircraft was partially disassembled and moved to a more suitable area for takeoff to complete the trip.
In England, the plane sank in four feet of water due to misjudgment of an inexperienced pilot; it remained submerged for two days before being raised and repaired to fly again. The “Pioneer” was returned to its builder in Philadelphia and placed on exhibit in front of the Franklin Institute in 1935 where it remains to this day.
The Pioneer was found to be in an unstable condition overall. The lower stainless steel panels of the fuselage have numerous areas that have rusted through allowing water and soluble iron to streak and stain the once polished metal surfaces. It is estimated that 100-150 1/8” diameter pinholes, caused by corrosion, penetrate the bottom panels. The wood and sheet metal cockpit lid has lifted from the fuselage due to fungal decay of the wood framing. The wooden “keel”, which runs front to back between two stainless steel “L” shaped strips is badly deteriorated by cubical brown rot; large sections of its length are lost. The engine cowling appears to hold water as evidenced by moss growing out of the openings where the struts and braces secure and support the engine. The painted fabric nose “cone” is unstable due to failure of the aluminum coating. The rear rubber tire is badly deteriorated and active iron corrosion was observed on sections of the wheel assembly. The trailing edges of both upper and lower wings are bent and deformed; several sections of stainless steel on the trailing edges are missing from the wings and braces / struts which support the rear elevators. The leading edge of the upper wing is hollow and has multiple openings which allow birds to build nests inside the structure. It is estimated that more than 100 small metal components are bent, missing, or are partially detached due to failed shot welds.
The Franklin Institute requested a condition survey of the “Budd Pioneer” for future conservation consideration.