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Golden Age of Aviation History Highlights.

Military,General Aviation and Aeronautical Contributions.

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United States Aircraft wing and fuselage Insignia up to 1943.(click the Army Air Corps insignia to see U.S.insignias up to 1943).

  • After World War I General William Mitchell was convinced that air power would decide the winner of any future wars. He strongly Supported using the airplane for strategic warfare. He was an advocate of a separate air service, but equal to the Army and Navy. Mitchell had to demonstrate the capability of the airplane to overcome the indifference towards aviation, both in Congress and the Army, since it was widely agreed that America's first line of defense was the Battleship. The Navy agreed to let Mitchell perform his demonstration, confident that he could not succeed, the Navy supplied several captured German ships as targets.Mitchell's pilots sank and damaged several of the targets. The Navy learned a lesson and within eight months the Navy had its first aircraft carrier, but unfortunately the Army had not learned a lesson, the same was true for Congress; therefore Mitchell did not get the funding he required for aircraft.

  • To gain public recognition for the Army Air Service, Mitchell planned many spectacular flights. In May 1923,two Army pilots, Lieutenants John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly, made the first nonstop transcontinental flight across the United States. The flight was 2,500 miles and originated in New York and ended in California. It took 27 hours at an average speed of 93 mph.

  • In August of 1923, the Army performed the first air-to-air refueling. On June 23,1924, Lieutenant Russell H. Maughn flew a Curtiss PW-8 pursuit aircraft from coast to coast in a dawn-to-dusk flight. The 2,850 mile flight took 21 hours 47 minutes at an average speed of 156 mph. This flight demonstrated to the public and Congress that Army aircraft could be deployed and flown to any location in United States in less than a day.

  • The greatest demonstration of the airplane's ability was the first round-the-world flight performed by the Army in 1924, using four aircraft built by Douglas Aircraft. The four aircraft were named after the Cities that sponsored Them. (Boston, Chicago, Seattle and New Orleans) The flight took 175 days; it originated in Seattle and ended in Seattle. Only two of the aircraft (Chicago and New Orleans) completed the flight.

  • Army flyers also in 1927 flew a 22,065-mile tour of Central and South America. Also the first non-stop flight from California to Hawaii was accomplished.

    The Air Corps set a world flight endurance record of 150 hrs, 40 mins, and 14 sec. A Fokker C-2A named the Question Mark took off from Metropolitan Airport at Van Nuys, Cal. on Jan. 1, 1929, circled over southern California while being refueled 42 times (9 at night), and landed on Jan. 7 when one of its engines failed.

    Because of their unreliability at this early period, no radios were installed in the Question Mark or the two refueling Douglas C-1s. Communications were maintained by notes dropped to the ground and by hand signals, flashlight signals, ground panels, and messages written on blackboards carried in the planes. Since it was not practical to transfer oil for the engines by hose, cans of oil were lowered to theQuestion Mark by rope, as were food, water, and other supplies.

    This flight was of great value to the Air Corps. It thoroughly tested the reliability of the plane, its engines, and its accessories, and the effects of continuous flight upon its crew Members. It also had an impact upon civilian aviation, for it triggered a rash of civilian endurance flights, which focused an even greater public attention upon aviation.

  • In 1930, a civilian plane carrying two men remained in the air for 647 hours, 28 minutes.

  • Although these flights gained national and international acclaim. The results did bring the outcome that Mitchell had hoped for. Following a world foreign aviation tour, Mitchell criticized the defenses of the United States, particularly the Navy base at Pearl Harbor. He stated that a surprise attack would destroy the Pacific Fleet. Mitchell's verbal attacks against America's defense led Him to be Court-martialed, reduced to a Colonel and relieved of His Command. He retired shortly after, but some things did change after his retirement-The Army Air Service was changed to the Army Air Corps, The post of Assistant Secretary of War for Aeronautics was created and more funding was allocated for aviation.

  • Mitchell was gone but his ideas remained, to be resurrected in ten years with the advent of the Boeing B-17, the world's first true long-range, high-altitude strategic bomber. Mitchell died in 1936 and never saw his ideas vindicated in WW II, but in 1946 Congress posthumously awarded to him a special Congressional Medal of Honor in recognition of his outstanding pioneer service and foresight in American military aviation.

    General Aviation

  • After World War I individuals could buy war surplus aircraft and either teach themselves to fly or find a former Army aviator to teach them, as there were no licenses or government regulations and aircraft did not have many instruments. During the 1920s small aircraft companies were formed to build small, light, private aircraft for a growing market of pilots. Among the earliest companies formed to build aircraft was Travel Air Manufacturing Company of Wichita, Kansas. Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Loyd Stearman formed this company. They built small biplanes, which were very successful. In 1927,Clyde Cessna left the company to form his own and Walter Beech formed his own company in 1932.

    In 1929 another partnership was formed which would lead to more world-famous aircraft. The two men were C.G. Taylor and William Piper. Taylor was building aircraft on a small scale, and the 1929 stock market crash bankrupted him. Piper a wealthy oil man, bought Taylor’s company for $600.00.He reorganized the company, keeping Taylor as president. The famous Piper Cub was actually designed by Taylor. In 1935,Piper bought out Taylor's share of the company and renamed it the Piper Aircraft Corporation. Taylor moved to Ohio and started the Taylorcraft company.

  • The Travel Air Company "Large or Small, We Lead Them All"

    Born of the vision of Walter H. Beech's faith in the latest technology, the Travel Air Company went from 900-feet of rented space in 1925 to the world's leading manufacturer of commercial aircraft in 1929.

    Having risen through the ranks from test pilot to general manager with Swallow Manufacturing, Beech's devotion to metal framing rather than wood led to his resignation. Setting up business in Wichita, Kansas, Beech committed Travel Air to the latest technology and quickly became an industry leader. The officers of Travel Air was a who's who of the future of civil aviation in America: Walter P. Innes, Jr., president and treasurer; Beech, secretary; Clyde Cessna, vice-president; and Lloyd Stearman, chief engineer.

    Among the early hallmarks of Travel Air was the first commercial cabin aircraft with a completely faired-in liquid-cooled engine (1925), the first aircraft built to airline specifications (the Travel Air 5000 in 1926), the first civilian aircraft to defeat the military speed competition (the Mystery Ship in 1929), establishment of the women's altitude mark (1926 by Louise Thaden) and victories in numerous aviation competitions. No wonder the front window of the company's West Douglas street building read -- "Large or Small, We Lead Them All." Beech's company was a huge success by any measure.

    The company's reputation for competitive success began with Beech himself. With Brice Goldsborough as his navigator, Beech won the 1926 Ford Commercial Airplane Reliability Tour. Beech led over forty entrants in the twelve-day, fourteen-city tour to capture the Edsel Ford Trophy. The next year, Art Goebel and William Davis flew Phillips Petroleum's Woolaroc Travel Air from Oakland to Wheeler Field, Hawai'i, to win the Dole Race and a $25,000 first prize.

    In 1928, Louise Thaden piloted a D-3000 to the first recorded women's altitude record of 20,600, then used a D-4000 to win the first Women's Air Derby from Santa Monica, Calif., to the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Reaching 1,000 aircraft in 1929, Travel Air became the world leader in both monoplane and biplane commercial aircraft. The combination of the economic catastrophe of the stock market crash and a soft aviation market flooded with production from dozens of companies saw the end of numerous independent manufacturers. Merging into one of the handful of national conglomerates, Travel Air joined with Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Beech became a vice-president, but corporate life in New York City did not suit him. He left the company in 1932, returned to Wichita and in April 1932 founded Beech Aircraft Company.

    Utilizing many of the principals that built Travel Air into an industry leader, Beech began to dominate the air races once again. His Model 17 -- the Staggerwing -- was visually stunning and in the hands of Thaden and Blanche Noyes shocked the aviation world in 1936. Not only did the upstart Beech win the nation's most prestigious cross-country race -- Bendix Transcontinental -- Thaden and Noyes beat their nearest male competitors by 45 minutes and set a new transcontinental speed record for women. With a new slogan -- It takes a Beechcraft to beat a Beechcraft -- Walter Beech was on his way to dominating the commercial market once again.

  • Lloyd Stearman formed Stearman Aircraft in Venice, California in 1926. Here, with the assistance of Mac Short, he Designed and built the first Stearman airplane, the C-1. This was quickly followed by the improved C-2. Aware of these Fine designs, friends and investors invited him to Kansas to reestablish his company in Wichita.

    Stearman Aircraft Corporation of Wichita was established on September 27, 1927. The first Wichita product was a C-3MB mail plane delivered to Varney Airlines.

    On August 15, 1929 Stearman Aircraft became part of the giant United Aircraft and Transport Corporation which Controlled several aviation businesses, such as United Airlines, Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton-Standard Propellers, Boeing, Sikorsky and Vought Aircraft. Lloyd Stearman left the company he founded at this time to become associated with Walter Varney in his airline Ventures. In 1932, Stearman became president of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation of California.

    In September 1934, a government trust-busting suit separated United Aircraft's airline and manufacturing activities. The Boeing Aircraft Company, renamed from Boeing Airplane Company and a separate entity from Boeing Air Transport, pulled out of United And took Stearman with it as a wholly owned subsidiary. The airplanes in production and those subsequently produced to the end of WWII which were "Boeings" by their paperwork and nameplates were stubbornly called Stearmans by everyone associated with them. The practice continues today.

    The Golden Age Aeronautical Contributions.

  • During the Golden Age of Aviation many contributions to Aeronautics were made.The airlines had to attract more passengers away from the railroads, they needed both larger and faster airplanes. They also needed safer airplanes. Accidents such as the one in 1931 that killed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne and six other men kept people away from flying in droves. Aircraft manufacturers responded to the challenge. There were so many improvements to aircraft in the 1930s that many believe it was the most innovative period in aviation history.

  • Contained herein are some of the major ones: Reduction in drag, the biplane finally gave way to the more efficient monoplane. More efficient wing shapes and cowlings to enclose engines were developed. Retractable landing gears came into existence. Pressurized cabins permitted higher altitude flights, and air-cooled radial engines replaced the heavier water cooled ones. Wing flaps were developed to increase lift and allow slower take off and landing speeds, and deicing equipment was developed for safer all weather flying. James Doolittle did a lot of research on aircraft instruments to make flying at night and in bad weather safer, resulting in Instruments for night and navigation and two-way radios were installed in aircraft. The By the early 1930s, aircraft design and construction technology throughout the World had advanced to the point where it was possible to mass-produce all-metal Airplanes. There had been an all-metal plane as early as WWI but it was an Exception. Most airplanes of the war period and the 1920s had been primarily of wood and fabric construction, although many later ones had tubular steel fuselage frameworks.

  • The Air Corps' first all-metal monoplane bomber was the Boeing B-9. Produced during 1932-33, the B-9 was outclassed by its contemporary all-metal Martin B-10 and only seven were purchased. The Air Corps' first all-metal fighter was the Consolidated P-25 of 1933. Although only two were procured, the P-25design was modified into the P-30, later redesignated the PB-2, of which 54 were purchased in 1935. The first all-metal fighter ordered in quantity was the Boeing P-26; 139 were purchased in 1932-36.

  • During this period. Progress in rotary-winged aircraft was made by both France and Germany during the 1930s. However, it was a Russian-born American, Igor Sikorsky, who finally developed the first practical helicopter. This aircraft, called the VS-300, accomplished vertical takeoff and landing in September 1939. It could carry a useful load, perform productive work, and be controlled in flight. From this small 1,150-pound, 50-mph craft, the helicopter has grown to the successful "workhorse" of today.

  • Click here to see Sikorsky's first flight (avi movie) - silent, 8 seconds, 186kb

  • In the 1920s there was slow but steady progress in the development of cockpit instruments for flying during inclement weather. With proper training, a pilot could fly a straight and level course or could execute predetermined turns, climbs, and dives, simply by watching the flight instruments while flying in rain or fog that hid the ground from his view. However, he had to have radio navigational aids to assist him in determining his exact location above the ground; it was admittedly foolish and dangerous for him to begin a descent without knowing, for example, his position with respect to mountain ranges. Fortunately, aircraft and ground radios were also being steadily improved and by the late 20s, they began to evidence the degree of range and reliability that was required. The world was now ready for history's first all-blind flight.

  • solo blind flight. It was achieved at Patterson Field (now part of Wright-Patterson AFB) by Major A. F. Hegenberger on May 9, 1932. In a Douglas BT-2 airplane equipped with standard Air Corps instruments, he took off, made a five-minute flight, and landed safely without once seeing outside his cockpit. He made his final landing approach by lining up on two radio transmitters through the use of a radio compass in his airplane. Although the practicality of blind flying had been demonstrated, it would be years before sufficient funds would become available to establish a radio navigational network across the U.S., equip all planes with necessary radios and instruments, provide airfields with proper ground transmitters and receivers, and to train all Air Corps pilots in the proper procedures designed to save their lives.

    The developments made in commercial aviation during the 1930s provided the business necessary to maintain a healthy aviation industry. These same industries were also making advances in military aircraft, although not as rapidly as in the commercial field. During the 1920s and 1930s, America's national policy regarding military aviation was that the airplane was primarily a defensive weapon used to protect American shores.

    Many Army Air Corps officers understood the offensive potential of the airplane, and it was only because of their efforts that some progress was made in the development of fighters and bombers during the 1930s. A prime example of this was the development of the B-17—a bomber which would gain great fame during World War II.

    When Douglas Aircraft built the DC-2 and DC3 airliners, the Boeing 247 became obsolete. This was a blessing in disguise for the Boeing Company, because it allowed them to respond to an Army design competition for a new multiengine bomber for use in coastal patrol. On July 28, 1935, the four engine giant, designated the Boeing 299, made its first flight test. The 299 was flown to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, for competition against two competitors, both twin engine aircraft. Not only did the 299 win the competition, but it proved it could outfly any fighter airplane flying during this period. The Army Air Corps made an Initial order for 13 of these B-17s and, soon after these were delivered, ordered 39 more.

    The Army Air Corps now possessed Its first long-range bomber, but during its trials, the X1B-17 proved that the United States was lacking in fighter aircraft. Contracts were let for the Seversky P-35 and the Curtiss P-36, both modern, low-wing monoplanes and believed by the Air Corps leaders to be equal to any fighter in the world. However, as the United States made these small advances in military aviation, other countries of the world were testing their aircraft in the arena of aerial combat and developing aircraft which they would use during World War II.

    War Department Press Release for the Boeing
    299 Boeing Model 299


    Hailed as the fastest and longest range bomber ever built, a giant four-engined all-metal airplane, today was brought to light by the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle after more than a year of work on the project.

    Known merely as the Boeing 299, the huge craft shortly will undergo test flights before being submitted to the United States Air Corps in open competition with other types at Dayton, Ohio. These tests, it was announced, are expected definitely to stamp the plane as the most formidable aerial defense weapon ever offered this country, with far more speed and a substantially greater cruising range than any bomber ever before produced.

    Military secrecy necessarily shrouds many details of the Model 299. Boeing officials said, however, that it would meet or exceed specifications of the Air Corps as set forth in a public call for bids and equipment.

    Among other things, these requirements are known to call for a high speed of from 200 to 250 miles an hour at 10,000 feet altitude, for an endurance at operating speed from six to ten hours, and for a service ceiling of from 20,000 to 25,000 feet.

    The Boeing "aerial battle cruiser" has a wing span of approximately 100 feet, length of 70 feet, height of 15 feet, and gross weight of about fifteen tons. It is of the all-metal mid-wing type, equipped with four Hornet engines of over 700 horsepower each and with the new Hamilton Standard three-bladed constant speed propellers. Clean streamlining is a feature, with retractable landing gear and tail wheel as further aids to speed. Officials declare the plane to be the first military type which will be able to complete a mission in the event one engine ceases to function.

    A number of new armament installations, developed by Boeing engineers, are carried in addition to the latest types of flight and engine instruments, including an automatic pilot, two-way radio telephone equipment and a radio "homing" device. Air brakes are used for the first time in any American aircraft, with these as well as the craft's wheels and tires having been especially developed.

    Construction is of typical Boeing semi-monocoque type, the structure consisting of longerons, skin stiffeners, bulkheads and smooth outside metal skin.

    The Model 299 makes its bow as the latest in a long line of Boeing achievements dating from 1916. Among these in recent years have been the company's high-speed twin-engined bomber of 1931 and commercial transport plane of 1933, both of which established the current trend in aircraft design and construction.

    An entire fleet of the transports, known as the Model 247-type, today is operating on the routes of United Air Lines, Pennsylvania Airlines, National Park Airways, Western Air Express and Wyoming Air Service. In addition, single-seater Boeing fighters are regular equipment at Army Air Corps bases, at Navy shore stations and on Uncle Sam's aircraft carriers.


    WAR DEPARTMENT - July 5, 1935.

  • All of these contributions helped this country win World War II and shape Aviation into what it is today.

    • Click here to see a B-299 In flight - 13.8K

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