Now that it’s July, when Americans are celebrating their independence, it seems fitting to spotlight a 60-year-old American innovation that changed the way the industry protected its precious cargo.
Searching for a way to ensure that perishable airfreight could be quickly loaded and unloaded from cargo holds, while still protecting it from spoilage and theft, engineers at Aerobilt Bodies, Inc., created a lightweight aluminum container that, for reasons since lost to time, they dubbed the “Paul Bunyan Box,” after the legendary giant lumberjack of North American folklore.
In 1958, American Airlines – of course! – ordered 200 units at a cost of US$65,000 (more than $500,000 in today’s dollars). In the July 1958 issue of Air Transportation magazine (which would later become Air Cargo World), the photo essay, “The Paul Bunyan Box Proves a Point,” shows how the mighty containers were used on an AA freighter to protect shipments of fresh, fragile peaches flown from Moody Farms in Bakersfield, Calif., to a fruit auction in New York City.
After picking, the fuzzy fruit was secured in flat wooden “Panta Pak” boxes to ensure the juicy orbs would not jostle each other. These flats were then stacked in a forced-air cooler for three to four hours to reach the ideal temperature and loaded into the Paul Bunyan Box, which could accommodate about 150 flats. Once the sealed Bunyan Boxes were slid into a DC-6A freighter, they were flown directly to New York and opened a few hours later, showing no signs of wear and tear, and maintaining the same cool temperature.
With the reduction in spoilage and the speed of four “Double Wasp” radial-engines, the cost savings to the broker to send peaches by air rather than by truck was about 10 to 15 percent, the article said.
By the end of the 1960s, the Paul Bunyan Boxes began to fall out of favor as ULDs custom-made for a curved fuselage started to dominate the market. But, like the fabled Paul and his loyal blue ox, named “Babe,” these pioneering boxes are fondly remembered as sturdy, reliable tools that revolutionized the industry.