The Budd BB1 Pioneer Aircraft

The Budd BB1 Pioneer Aircraft, September 2016

A signature artifact of The Franklin Institute, the Budd BB1 Pioneer, the world’s first stainless steel airplane, has been on display in front of the museum since 1935. Only the Baldwin 60,000 locomotive, found in the museum’s Train Factory exhibit, has been on continuous exhibition for a longer period of time. With its outdoor exhibition, it has been seen by countless passers-by over these 81 years.

The Budd BB1 Pioneer was entirely designed and fabricated in Philadelphia by The Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company. Weighing in at 1,750 pounds, it was test flown in the summer of 1932 at the Budd Aerodrome, a field northwest of Philadelphia, proving that an all-welded steel airplane was possible. After its demonstration in the United States, the plane was shipped to Europe for exhibition. The plane flew over the Alps twice in a round-trip voyage from France to Italy and back.

The Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company, established in 1912 for metal fabrication, became a major supplier of parts to the booming automobile industry of the early 20th century. In 1930, the company decided to try using its innovative shot-weld technique to fabricate an airplane. The Budd BB1 Pioneer was their prototype.

After logging 1,700 air-hours of successful flight demonstrations, the Budd Company presented the plane to The Franklin Institute in 1935 for exhibition. It has occupied its place of prominence alongside the museum’s façade ever since, with the exception of its removals for maintenance in 1969 and 2016. 

The Budd BB1 Pioneer Aircraft is underwent conservation work beginning in September 2016 and was reinstalled on Friday, December 1, 2017.  During maintenance, the exterior of the plane was cleared of residue and polished to its original smooth surface. Openings in the structure were covered with mesh netting and other appropriate materials to prevent future deterioration. Where needed, patching repaired cracks or gaps to the plane’s structure.

Learn More
Video: Refurbishment of the Budd BB-1 Pioneer  | Photo Gallery: The Budd BB-1 Pioneer Aircraft Through Time