The Budd Company was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, industrial firm founded by Edward G. Budd in 1912. It merged in 1978 into Thyssen AG, which in turn has merged into the German-based multinational Krupp conglomerate. Now called ThyssenKrupp Budd Co., it is based in Troy, Michigan, mainly as a parts supplier to the automobile industry.
During the 1930s Budd was a prominent builder of trains and passenger rail cars, specializing in stainless steel, for which it had developed an innovative welding method that preserved stainless steel’s unique properties. It made two forays into the aviation business using this metal and welding method, the 1931 BB-1 Pioneer flying boat and the 1943 RB-1 Conestoga transport. Both were successful from a purely technological standpoint, but neither had any significant commercial prospects, largely because stainless steel didn’t really have the right properties to be a primary aircraft construction material.
Budd BB-1 Pioneer
Budd licensed the design of the Savoia Marchetti S.56 to create a stainless steel version of this three-seat, single-engined amphibious flying-boat. Only one was built. It flew well enough, first flying in 1931 and touring American and Italy until 1934. In that year, the aircraft was donated to Philadelphia’s Frankin Institute (the city’s science museum), where it was stripped of its fabric covering and other perishable materials and placed on outdoor display. It has been continuously displayed outdoors since that time, with relatively minor renovation. This is certainly a testament to stainless steel’s durability and anticorrosive properties, but a preservationist might think that after 80 years, this point has been adequately made, and perhaps this rare artifact ought to be brought inside.
Budd RB-1 Conestoga
First flown October 31, 1943, the RB-1 Conestoga was a twin-engined transport built for the U.S. Navy. The revival of interest in stainless steel aircraft construction was occasioned by fears of a wartime aluminum shortage, though this never became a serious problem in the U.S. There had also been an order from the Army, which assigned the designation C-93, but this was cancelled and the Navy’s order reduced to 25 aircraft because of delays in fabricating the mostly stainless-steel aircraft and the realization that aluminum would remain in adequate supply. Though it incorporated several innovations, including a rear loading ramp later used on the C-130 and many other tranports, the RB-1 was not a great performer and the few examples built were assigned to miscellaneous utility uses until 1945. A few examples served with civil operators until the late 1940s. The sole survivor, Navy serial 39307, belongs to Pima Air and Space Museum, where it awaits restoration. This aircraft at one point wore the Mexican registration XB-DUZ.