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Golden Age of Aviation History Highlights.

Commercial Aviation continued:

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Commercial Aviation

  • Beacons
  • In 1921, the Army deployed rotating beacons in a line between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, a distance of about 80 miles. The beacons, visible to pilots at 10-second intervals, made it possible to fly the route at night.

  • The Post Office took over the operation of the guidance system the following year, and by the end of 1923 constructed similar beacons between Chicago and Cheyenne, WY, a line later extended coast-to-coast at a cost of $550,000. Mail then could be delivered across the continent in as little as 29 hours eastbound and 34 hours westbound (prevailing winds from west to east accounted for the difference), which was two to three days less than it took by train.


  • Radio
  • The realization that radio could be used as an aid to navigation when visibility was poor and visual navigation aids such as beacons were useless. Once technical bugs were worked out, the Department of Commerce constructed 83 radio beacons across the country. They became fully operational in 1932, automatically transmitting directional beams, or tracks, that pilots could follow to their destination. Marker beacons came next, allowing pilots to locate airports in poor visibility. The first air traffic control tower was established in 1935 at Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

  • Airlines and Air Mail

  • With the surplus of planes left after World War I, thousands of military planes were converted to civilian use. In 1919, bombers were being converted in Europe to form over twenty small new airlines. The first regular international airline service was started by one of those. The company setup by Henry and Maurice Farman used old Farman bombers to make wweekly flights between Paris and Brussels.

    By 1917, there were seventeen regulary operating airlines in Europe, Africa, Austrailia, and South America. Some airlines from that era that are still operating include: Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), SABENA World Airlines, Lufthansa, and Qantas. [ Links to Airlines ]. In the '20s American aviation was quite slow. There were a few small airlines, but they often failed after only a few months of service. Americans viewed air travel as a dangerous sport, not a safe means of transportation.

  • All of the technology was present in the 1930's to develop modern commercial airliners, what was needed was a reason.This was provided in 1930 with an amendment(McNary-Watress Act) to the 1925 Kelly Act. The airmail carriers were paid according to the weight of the mail they carried. The new law changed this so that carriers got paid for available cargo space and a bonus was paid to operators flying multi engine aircraft equipped with the latest instruments. This was clearly an incentive for operators to fly larger aircraft. It also provides a subsidy to the airlines for carrying passengers as well as mail.

  • The effect of the McNary-Watress act was not long in coming.

    United Airlines contracted Boeing Aircraft to build a modern twin-engine airliner. In 1932 Boeing brought out the 247,a twin-engine, all-metal, low-wing monoplane, capable of carrying ten passengers and 400 pounds of mail, with a cruise speed of 189 mph which made it possible for the first same-day service between New York and San Francisco.

  • Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) soon responded by contracting Douglas Aircraft to build them a airliner better than the Boeing 247.In 1933 Douglas was testing an aircraft called the Douglas Commercial One (DC-1)only one was built for test flights. The production aircraft was called the DC-2.It had a cruising speed of 192 mph and carried 14 passengers and several thousands of pounds of mail.

  • While United was flying its 247s and TWA its DC-2s,American Airlines was losing money flying foreign-built aircraft. Douglas was approached again to build an aircraft bigger than its own DC-2.On December 14,1935,the first of theses new aircraft, called the DC-3 was completed. The DC-3 was larger than the DC-2,carried 24 passengers or 5000 pounds of cargo a distance of 1,200 miles and became the standard commercial airliner for all the airlines and was one of the most successful aircraft ever built. By 1938 DC-3s carried 95 Percent of all commercial traffic and by 1939 they were carrying 90 percent of all commercial traffic in the world, A total of 455 DC-3s were built for the airlines between 1935 and 1942,During World War II 10,000 more (designated C-47)were built for the United States Military.

  • In 1927 Pan American Airways was formed to fly airmail between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. This route was extended from island to island throughout the Caribbean, and eventually extended to Central America and down the Atlantic Coast of South America.

  • Since most of Pan AM's routes were over water, and seaplane bases were easier to build, Pan AM wanted a large advanced seaplane. Igor Sikorsky built a large four-engine flying boat called the S-40.It could fly 125 mph and carried 40 passengers, Sikorsky also developed a larger flying boat called the S-42,which had a range of 3,200 miles and became known as the Pan American Clipper and made the first commercial crossing of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

  • In 1934.the Martin 130 flying boat was built, called the China Clipper and on November 22,1935 it took off from California for the first transpacific service.

  • The ultimate in flying boats was the Boeing 314 (Yankee Clipper)which was delivered to Pan Am in 1938,a total of six were built, and they opened up the transatlantic service on June 28,1938.

  • The 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act
  • By 1938, over 3.5 million passengers were flying on airlines, over a million of them Americans. This extreme growth promted new government policies. Government decisions continued to prove as important to aviation's future as technological breakthroughs, and one of the most important aviation bills ever enacted by Congress was the 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act. Until that time, numerous government agencies and departments had a hand in aviation policy. Airlines sometimes were pushed and pulled in several directions, and there was no central agency working for the long term interests and stability of the industry. All the airlines had been losing money since the postal reforms in 1934 significantly reduced the amount they were paid for carrying the mail, and all were at risk of losing postal routes to a low competing bid at the next Post Office auction. The airlines desperately wanted greater government regulation through an independent agency they could call their own, and the Civil Aeronautics Act gave them what they wanted. It created the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), and gave the new agency power to regulate airline tariffs, airmail rates, interline agreements, mergers, and airline routes. Its mission was to preserve order in the industry, holding rates to reasonable levels while at the same time nurturing the still financially-shaky airline industry by protecting carriers from unbridled competition. Congress created a separate agency -- the Air Safety Board -- to regulate the carriers on matters of safety. In 1940, however, President Roosevelt convinced Congress to transfer the safety regulatory function to the CAA, which was then renamed the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). These moves, coupled with the tremendous progress made on the technological side, put the industry firmly on the road to success.

  • Wiley Post

  • An eye for the airplane was the beginning of one of aviations most brilliant careers. A youngster by the name of Wiley Post, working as a driller in the Oklahoma oil fields, lost an eye in an accident, got $2,000 in settlement, bought a second hand airplane and after 1 hour and 40 minutes instruction considered himself a full-fledged pilot. He first began to make aviation history when, in 1930, he won the Chicago-Los Angles Air Derby in 9 hours ,9 minutes.

    Wiley Post

    In 1931 his name blazed from headlines when he and Harold Gatty in a Lockheed Vega that Post called the: "Winnie Mae" flew around the world in 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes.The next year Post electrified the world by circling the globe alone, in the same plane, in the same amazing time of 7 days,18 hours and 49 minutes! This feat, unequaled before or since, is all the more remarkable when we consider that post did all the flying, all the navigation, with practically no sleep or rest, for a distance of 15,596 miles. Post was fascinated by high-altitude flight and reached an unofficial altitude of 55,000 feet in 1934. His flights pioneered the use of high-altitude flight suits, superchargers and pressurized ignition systems for stratospheric flight.

    Wiley Post lost his life with Will Rogers in 1935 while on an exploration flight in Alaska.

  • Howard Hughes Shatters All Records.(1938)

    Around the world, 14,791 miles, in 3 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes. What a record! Great was Wiley Post, who circled the globe alone, Hughes halved his time, and accomplished in less than four days a flight which the Army Air Service required 175 days to make just fifteen years earlier! He bettered Lindbergh's New York to Paris time by 17 hours. For this accomplishment Hughes was awarded the Collier Trophy for outstanding contribution to air transportation in 1939. In making this epochal flight Hughes had the assistance of two expert navigators, a radio engineer and a flight engineer. He flew a standard Lockheed 14 equipped with extra fuel tanks and special flight, navigation and radio equipment.

    The plane carried 1750 gallons of gasoline and had a cruising range of 4700 miles. It was powered by two 1100 h.p. Wright "Cyclone"engines. This round the world flight was a scientific expedition designed to prove accuracy of certain new instruments and the efficiency of the Wright "Cyclone engines".

    Howard Hughes

    During the entire trip the aircraft flew only 20 miles farther than the shortest distance between place of take-off and landing. It made no unscheduled stops,and at no time used more than 590 h.p. per engine.

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