Welcome aboard ... Cosmic Muffin, the outboard-powered airplane

By Ken Kaye
Staff Writer

December 16 2003

Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin

Dave Drimmer is the owner of a Boeing 307 that has been converted into a boat called the Cosmic Muffin.

It’s not often you get to board a classic airliner, let alone one that has been converted into a boat.
As part of Centennial of Flight festivities honoring the Wright brothers, the public is invited to a free tour of the Cosmic Muffin from 5 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday while it’s docked near the Las Olas Riverfront gazebo in Fort Lauderdale.

At one time, this was a vintage Boeing 307 Stratoliner and billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes’ private plane, powered by four 900-horsepower radial piston engines. Now it’s a floating fuselage, driven by two 50-horsepower outboard marine engines.

“This is just going to be a casual recognition and celebration of 100 years of flight,” said Dave Drimmer, the plane-boat’s owner, noting that Dec. 17 is the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight.

The Cosmic Muffin, named by Margaritaville crooner Jimmy Buffett, has been a familiar sight around Fort Lauderdale since the early 1980s, when Drimmer bought it. At various times it has been moored off Bayview Drive and on the Middle River near East Sunrise Boulevard. Now it resides in the Las Olas Isles area.

During its days as an airplane, it was one of only 10 Stratoliners built. Boeing had to limit production of commercial airliners at the onset of World War II because of the need for military aircraft.

The Boeing 307 Stratoliner was the first four-engine transport to be pressurized. With 36 seats, it was wider and more comfortable than a 21-seat DC-3, said Eugene Banning, of Boca Raton, a former Pan Am pilot and an aviation historian.

Banning flew a Stratoliner that is going on a display at the new Smithsonian air museum near Washington, DC.

“I only flew it once,” he said. “As I remember, it was pretty heavy on the controls. But it flew very easily and nicely.”

While overseeing Trans World Airlines, Hughes pulled a 21-ton Stratoliner out of service for his own use, dubbing it The Flying Penthouse. It had a bar, bedroom and shower-equipped bathroom. After flying it about 500 hours, he sold it to a Texas millionaire.

In 1969, while the plane was abandoned at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, aviation enthusiast Kenneth London gave it new life as a boat, cutting off the wings and tail and fitting a hull around the fuselage.

Today, the 56-foot craft, once capable of cruising at 220 mph, putters along at a top speed of 15 mph. Through Drimmer’s company, Plane Boats Inc., it is available for dockside charters at $100 per hour.

And it is driven with the plane’s original controls, although Drimmer admits he is not a pilot.
“Do I fly? Sure, every time I buy a ticket and get on a plane,” he said. “Otherwise, I’m an aviation enthusiast like millions of others.”

Ken Kaye can be reached at kkaye@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7911.