Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trans-Atlantic Passenger Aircraft

While I was trying to find out what was included in the interwar aerodynamics term "wing resistance" I found this 1927 Popular Science article which uses the term in passing while stating that the Germans are building passenger transport planes with passenger seating inside the wings, and speculating that by 1950 there will be two tiers of passenger decks inside the wings of trans-Atlantic aircraft. The article added nothing to the discussion of wing drag, but I grew up seeing the artwork on magazine covers like these and expecting to really see the things manifest.

There is an excellent article on page twelve about Lindbergh's airplane, including the instruments, and then more on another trans-Atlantic flight, by Charles Chamberlain. I could write half a dozen blog articles just researching them, and I may just do that later, but at the moment I'm distracted by all the other tidbits in the old magazine. This must have been an aviation special edition, but it's startling how many things I take for granted are discussed there as cutting edge or future possibilities. I think I'm not visionary enough to be an engineer, to conceive of something being possible based on a particular scientific principle and then chase it down until it is a concrete, beneficial technology. That may be the difference between a science and a belief to me: if you're explaining an observable phenomenon by science, you can use that science to build a technology that works for someone who knows nothing of the science.

There are lots of suggested applications of technology that I haven't seen manifested. Page 56 describes a device for testing a pilot's vision, but I've never been subjected to that test, so I guess it didn't catch on. On page 43 there is an artist's conception of a system of giant deck fans on a ship, allowing aircraft to land in a short distance for refuelling or emergencies. The arrestor cable is probably a better technology for that, but it was a cute idea. Page 32 documents the first known glider tow launch, and predicts that this could lead to 'aerotrains.' But the secret to invention may be not to laugh at the ridiculous ideas, but to try them.

Some of the ideas have taken off. Page 47 suggests that apes might be able to use basic sign language, and there has been a lot of research on that since. The newly-invented breathalyser is introduced on page 56. Radio was still a cool new technology, and page 56 also describes the discovery of a "radio roof." I learned about high frequency radio "sky waves" bouncing off the ionosphere during my first aviation class on radio theory, but I'd never before wondered when we started doing that. Wikipedia dates the discovery of long distance HF propagation to 1923, and the confirmation of the existence of the ionosphere (for which Edward V. Appleton was later awarded a Nobel Prize!) to 1927. Which two-column-inch silly idea in this week's news will be standard knowledge in fifty years?

There's a description of Paul Edwards' experiments with a radio guidance system, and while I can't find him named in any history of the ILS, I'm suspect that his was some of the earliest research that led to its development. There's a tiny bit more on page 253 of this Popular Mechanics.

The ads are great too. A Gillette ad says "every face is different" yet is illustrated with three faces that make the F├╝hrerbunker look diverse. Correspondence schools urge you to earn more money by taking courses on electrical refrigeration, radios, accounting or plumbing. Or "$39 in one day!" selling can openers. And then there's aviation:

Are you hungry for ...
Adventure ..
Popularity .
Big Pay?

Apparently you have to be "a red-blooded daring he-man" for that kind of career. But "the fortunes that came out of the automobile industry and out of motion pictures will be nothing compared to the fortunes that will come out of Aviation." If they mean "come out of" in the sense that the stuffing comes out of a well-used toy, they might be close.

An enthusiastic editorial on public utilities (this must be before they were hated corporations) extols the virtues of electrical power, and this time they do include the ladies.

"How about an electric vibrator? You can massage with it one hour a day, if it takes that much time, getting the kinks out of your system for 2 cents a week."

An hour a day is pretty kinky, but I guess if you weren't offered the opportunity to participate in the exciting worlds of aviation, refrigeration or plumbing, you might have a lot of spare time for your vibrator.

5 comments:

Rhonda said...

On page 43 there is an artist's conception of a system of giant deck fans on a ship, allowing aircraft to land in a short distance for refuelling or emergencies. The arrestor cable is probably a better technology for that, but it was a cute idea.

They do use a sort of catapult-assist for takeoff on carriers though, don't they? So Pop Sci got it half right :-)

Sarah said...

They do use a sort of catapult-assist for takeoff on carriers though, don't they?

I think they use a conveyor belt.

Anoynmous said...

Kinky.

Jez said...

There is a reference to "the possibilities of using parachutes on planes to lower them slowly in cases of emergency."
This didn't become commercially successful until the 1990s with the Ballistic Recovery System (BRS) - over 60 years after the article. So don't write off any of those ideas just yet. We may yet decide to put passengers in the wings :-)

JetAviator7 said...

I love articles about the "Golden Age" of aviation, and am always looking for more information about these famous pilots.

JetAviator7

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