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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Bowers, Peter M.



  • Existence: 1918-2003

Biographical Note: Peter M. Bowers

Peter M. Bowers (1918-2003) was an aeronautical engineer at The Boeing Company for 36 years but was more noted as an aviation historian considered to have encyclopedic knowledge. He wrote several dozen books and nearly 900 articles on historic aircraft. He was also an avid aviation photographer and home-built aircraft enthusiast.

Born May 15, 1918 in San Francisco, California to Wilder J. and Lloyd Bowers, Peter Meiere Bowers was a child of the Great Depression, and grew up in the midst of the practical evolution of manned flight. His mother was an aircraft modeler and won several competitions in California with rubber-band powered models of her own creation. Bowers, too, was an avid modeler and as a youth was known to have spent his free time making models of World War I-era aircraft. He even began contributing drawings and articles about his models to nationally-distributed model magazines by 1937.

In 1940, Bowers enrolled in the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California. This two-year aeronautical engineering program included engineering classes as well as mechanical training. When the U.S. entered World War II, he joined the Engineering Cadet program for the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). He was commissioned in 1943, serving in the China-Burma-India Theater as a Maintenance and Technical Intelligence Officer. Then he worked for the USAAF’s Aircraft Recognition Program. During the war he also pursued his hobby as a photographer. Following the war he was hired on by Boeing in 1947 as an aeronautical engineer. He worked there for 36 1/2 years, retiring in 1983.

Alongside his Boeing career, Bowers researched aviation history and wrote extensively. Having started contributing articles to model magazines in 1937, he continued as a writer for the rest of his life. He wrote articles for such magazines as Wings and Airpower, and in 1972 he started his “Of Wings and Things” column in General Aviation News. Among his books, he contributed to the acclaimed Putnam series with titles on Curtiss, Boeing and U.S. military aircraft, and he wrote numerous other monographs.

Having grown up watching Germany’s defeat in World War I, Bowers launched a single-handed crusade to document German and Austro-Hungarian aviation. He discovered and located like-minded aviation historians in Germany and elsewhere, including the Heinz “Heini” Nowarra and others. After World War II, he again attempted to document the wartime Luftwaffe (destroyed German air force), fearing that this, too, would escape documentation in the post-war period in a nation brought to the verge of destruction.

Bowers and his historian peers, often described as “The First Wave” of aviation historians to be produced in this country, figured it all out on their own via voluminous correspondence, copious notes, and of course the collaterally evolving art of quality photography. As part of his research, he built up a vast collection of aviation photography with images of his own and with prints that he collected from others. Among his friends were Gordon S. Williams, Bill Larkins, and Harold Martin. Bowers really relied on his friends, colleagues, and other correspondents to provide images and information. He was not known to have conducted primary research in such repositories as the National Archives, the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency or the Naval Aviation History Center.

At some point, Bowers became interested in soaring aviation (gliders), and, as a consequence, made a concerted effort to document the extraordinary growth and popularity of this relatively inexpensive way to fly post-war. Many of the gliders he documented and photographed were “one-offs” or one-of-a-kind “home built” gliders.

Bowers was also one of the very first home builders of aircraft in the post-war period. He had received his own pilot’s license in February 1948, and began designing his own aircraft. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) had formed in 1952, and Bowers was instrumental in launching the Seattle chapter in 1956, becoming its first president. The EAA held a homebuilt design contest, for which Bowers developed the Fly Baby, ultimately winning the contest in 1962. He published plans for this “kit” aircraft, likely selling more than 5,000 copies. He used a convention of numbering his sets of plans; for example, the first one sold in the calendar year 1964 was 64-1. As a direct consequence, many of those who actually completed their own Fly Babys used this number as the required FAA Manufacturers Serial Number. At least 69 have been identified, but there were probably many more, as some builders invented their own numbers and named them after themselves. Some were (for example) Hagedorn Fly Baby 1-As, others had clever names and numbers, but all were basically Fly Babys.

Bowers also took part in the construction and nation-wide demonstration of a 1912 Curtiss Pusher aircraft, a replica Wright “Vin Fiz,” several World War II-era replicas, the legendary Peer Gynt, a Detroit Gull primary glider and, finally, the Bowers Model 5 “Namu” light cabin aircraft.

Bowers died April 27, 2003 from cancer. He was inducted into the EAA Homebuilder’s Hall of Fame in 2004. He had also been active with the American Aviation Historical Society, Antique Aircraft Association, and the Soaring Society of America.

In addition to information found within the collection and in-depth knowledge of our Curator Emeritus Dan Hagedorn, the following sources were used:
  • “Peter M. Bowers,” Access August 12, 2020.
  • The Museum of Flight Biographical Files
  • Wikipedia. “Peter M. Bowers.” Accessed August 12, 2020.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Biographical Information Files - B

Scope and Contents Individuals whose names begin with B: Babcock, Harold E. [Cartographer] Biographical sketch, 2000 Babson, Roger W. [Business expert] Babson, Roger, "Possibilities for Aircraft," Aeronautical Digest, November 1923 Baby, Tony [Museum designer] "Enthusiasm is High for Air Museum Here," Seattle Times, June 26, 1983 ...

Part 1, 2019 March 11

Interview Summary In this two-part oral history, Paul L. Weaver is interviewed about his decade-spanning career as an aircraft mechanic and pilot. In part one, he describes his military service with the U.S. Navy; his career with the Boeing Company during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s; and his involvement in the Pacific Northwest aviation scene. He also shares stories about other aviation enthusiasts and the early days of the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation (PNAHF), the predecessor of The Museum...

Part 2, 2019 May 24

Interview Summary In this two-part oral history, Paul L. Weaver is interviewed about his decade-spanning career as an aircraft mechanic and pilot. In part two, he continues to discuss his involvement in the Pacific Northwest aviation scene during the 1950s and beyond. Topics discussed include his aircraft restoration work; his experiences with homebuilt aircraft and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA); his memories of other aviation enthusiasts and notable events and locations; and his work with the...

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