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Wings - The Golden Age (1919-1939)

INTRODUCTION

ARMY AVIATION

NATIONAL AIR RACES

COMMERCIAL AVIATION

GENERAL AVIATION - A BEGINNING

AERONAUTICS

COMMERCIAL AVIATION MATURES

MILITARY ADVANCEMENTS


  INTRODUCTION

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.67 Describe the advances In aviation immediately following World War I.
5.68 Identify the accomplishments of the NC-4 and Alcock and Brown.
5.69 Describe the attitude toward aviation in America immediately following World War I.
5.70 Describe the bamstormers' contributions to early post-World War I aviation.


The 20-year period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II has been called the "Golden Age of Aviation." During this time period, the airplane changed from a slow, wood-and-wire-framed and fabric-covered biplane to a fast, sleek, ail-metal monoplane.

Immediately after World War I ended, many countries in Europe began to look at the airplane for its commercial value. Less than three months after the armistice was signed, Germany started the world's first passenger airline service using heavier-than-air craft between Berlin, Leipzig, and Weimar. The British and French both began passenger service in 1919, using modified military bombers to carry passengers between London and Paris. in the United States, passenger service began in the late 1920s.

The greatest challenge faced by aviation immediately after World War I was to demonstrate to the nonflying public the capabilities of the airplane. The first natural barrier to be challenged was the Atlantic Ocean, and it was conquered in 1919. The first aircraft to cross the Atlantic was a U.S. Navy flying boat, the NC-4. On May 16, 1919, three Curtiss flying boats - the NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4 - left Newfoundland bound for England.
The NC-1 and NC-3 were soon forced down, and the NC-4, piloted by Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read, completed the flight after a stop in the Azores and in Lisbon, Portugal. Commander Read reached Plymouth, England, on May 31, 1919, after a 3,925-mile flight.

Two weeks later two Englishmen, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown, made the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic. The 1,890-mile flight from Newfoundland to Ireland required 16 hours 27 minutes - an average speed of 118 mph.

As these record-breaking flights continued, people in many nations became "turned on" by aviation. The main exception was the United States. In its rush to return to normal after the war, the American people turned their backs to anything military, particularly the airplane. Surplus airplanes were dumped on the market, causing the-aviation industries to lose the small market they did have. These industries, which had built up slowly during the war, now closed at an alarming rate. Military aviation was cut back, and the pilots, who had taken so long to train, were unemployed. Military airfields were closed, which created a shortage of landing fields for those airplanes which were flying. In fact, aviation in the United States might have died completely except for two groups of men—the "barnstormers" and the Army aviators led by the outspoken General William "Billy" Mitchell.

The barnstormers were, for the most part, former military pilots who flew war-surplus aircraft such as the DH-4 and the Curtiss Jenny. Living and working in their airplanes, these "aerial gypsies" moved around the nation from town to town putting on air shows at fairs and carnivals. They performed daring feats of wing walking, stunt flying, and parachute jumping to attract the attention of the American public to aviation. For a small fee, they also took customers for short sightseeing flights at these air shows, and thousands of Americans flew in an airplane for the first time. People soon learned that the airplane was not a weapon of destruction but simply a machine with a bright future.

REVIEW EXERCISE


ARMY AVIATION

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.71 Identify the two outcomes Mitchell wanted for military aviation.
5.72 Identify contributions Army fliers made in advancing aviation.


General William Mitchell returned home after World War I convinced that in any future war military air power would decide the winner. He strongly supported using the airplane for strategic warfare (destroying military and industrial targets deep inside an enemy's homeland).

He was a very vocal advocate of an air service separate from but equal to the Army and Navy. He also spoke of the superiority of the airplane as a military weapon. Mitchell decided that the only way to overcome the official indifference toward aviation, both within the Army and Congress, was to demonstrate the capability of the airplane as a military weapon. Since it was widely agreed that America's first line of defense was the Navy with its battleships, Mitchell chose to prove that the airplane could sink a battleship. By 1921, Mitchell had created such an uproar that the Navy agreed to allow him to perform his demonstration. Confident that he could not succeed, the Navy provided several captured German ships as targets, including the battleship Ostfriesland. Mitchell's pilots sank and damaged several of the targets. The most impressive was the sinking of the "unsinkable" Ostfriesland. Unfortunately, the lesson taught by this demonstration was not learned by the Army. The same was true of Congress, who controlled the purse strings; therefore, Mitchell did not get any additional money for aircraft. However, several Navy admirals did learn the lesson, and within eight months, the Navy had its first aircraft carrier.

Determined 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. This 2,500-mile flight from New York to California 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. Maughan flew a Curtiss PW-8 pursuit aircraft from coast to coast in a dawn-to-dusk flight. The 2,850-mile trip was completed in 21 hours 47 minutes at an average speed of 156 mph. This flight demonstrated that Army aircraft located anywhere in the United States could be alerted and flown to any location in the country in less than one day.

The greatest demonstration of the ability of the airplane was the first round-the-world flight. The Army performed this flight in 1924 using aircraft built by Douglas Aircraft. The four airplanes—the Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and New Orleans—were named for the cities that sponsored each of them. The flight originated in Seattle and ended in Seattle. The entire flight took 175 days and only two of the aircraft (Chicago and New Orleans) completed the entire flight.

Other noteworthy accomplishments by Army fliers during this time period were the 22,065mile tour of Central and South America in 1927, the first nonstop flight from California to Hawaii which was accomplished in 1927, and the long duration flight in 1929 of the airplane Question Mark which stayed aloft for over 150 hours. The airplane was refueled in flight, and food and water were transferred between aircraft.

These flights gained wide national and world acclaim but still did not result In the outcome Mitchell sought—a separate air service and more money for military aviation. Following a world tour of foreign military aviation. Mitchell criticized the defenses of the United States, particularly at the Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He stated that a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor would destroy the Pacific Fleet. Mitchell's verbal attacks on America's defense systems led him to being court-marshaled, reduced in rank to colonel, and relieved of command. These actions led him to retire shortly thereafter. Some things changed because of his court-martial—the Army Air Service was changed to the Army Air Corps, the post of Assistant Secretary of War for Aeronautics was created, and additional funds for military aviation were provided.

REVIEW EXERCISE


  NATIONAL AIR RACES

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.73 Explain the major contribution of the air races to aviation.
5.74 Identify the purposes of the Pulitzer, Thompson, and Bendix Trophy Races.


Almost from the beginning of aviation, air shows and air races became very popular. Not only did these air races create great interest in flight but they also provided the incentive for manufacturers to build better and faster airplanes.

Air racing got its start in the United States when newspaperman Ralph Pulitzer offered a trophy to promote high-speed flight. He did this because American aircraft were making such a poor showing in European air races. The first Pulitzer Trophy Race was held at Mitchel Field, Long island, New York, on November 27, 1920. By 1924, the air races had grown so large that the name was changed to the National Air Races.

In 1930, Charles E. Thompson, President of the Thompson Products, Inc., established a trophy to encourage faster land-based aircraft. The Thompson Trophy Race became the feature event of the National Air Races. This race, like the Pulitzer Trophy Race, was a pylon race, meaning that it was flown around a closed circuit marked by towers (pylons).

In 1931, the Bendix Trophy Race, a transcontinental speed race, was added to the National Air Races. Jacqueline Cochran's career in aviation had its beginnings in this race. She won the 1938 competition and is known to have set more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot in aviation history.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the National Air Races were the prime sporting event in the nation. The races grew into a ten-day event and crowds of over a million people were commonplace. Today, the National Air Races are held annually at Reno, Nevada.

REVIEW EXERCISE


COMMERCIAL AVIATION

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.75 Explain the purposes and effects of the Kelly Act of 1925 and the Air Commerce Act of 1926.
5.76 Describe the aviation achievements of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.


While Mitchell was creating such controversy in military aviation, progress was being made in commercial (regularly scheduled flights) aviation in the United States. The Post Office Department started airmail service in the United States on May 15, 1918, using aircraft and pilots borrowed from the Army. Three months later, the Post Office Department took over the operation completely, hiring its own pilots and buying its own airplanes. The first airmail route was between Washington, D.C., and New York City. In 1919, airmail service was extended from New York to Chicago via Cleveland and in 1920 from Chicago to San Francisco.

Many were opposed to the development of the airmail service, especially the railroads. They viewed government-subsidized mail service as unfair competition. The Post Office Department justified the airmail service as experimental in nature, therefore requiring federal funds. By 1925, the airmail service had developed to the point that it was no longer considered experimental, and the Post Office was ready to turn it over to private enterprise.

The legislation which made possible the private carrying of mail was the Kelly Act of 1925. This act authorized the Post Office Department to contract for airmail service. Among other provisions in the act was one which allowed the contractor to be paid 80 percent of the airmail revenue for carrying it. This was the incentive needed to get big business into the aviation field and really marked the beginning of commercial aviation in America. This was also a "shot in the arm" for the aviation industries, since the awarding of these airmail contracts created a demand for newer and larger aircraft. As airmail contracts were let and airmail service spread out across the country, a few commercial passengers were carried by the mail planes. However, it was much more profitable to carry mail than passengers. Except for some foreign-built aircraft, such as the Fokker trimotor, most mail planes were small and could carry only two or three passengers.

In 1926, the first attempt to standardize and regulate commercial aviation was made when Congress passed the Air Commerce Act. This act created an Aeronautics Branch within the Department of Commerce. The Aeronautics Branch was authorized to license all planes and pilots, establish and enforce air traffic rules, investigate accidents, and provide aviation safety through assistance and guidance to civil aviation.

Progress in aviation in America was being made, but very slowly. What was needed was something that would excite the American people and unite them in support of aviation—and it was not long in coming. Many of the accomplishments in flight following World War I were made because of prizes. These accomplishments included most of the long-range flights, flights over the poles, and many of the flights leading to speed and altitude records. By 1927, only one of these prizes remained to be claimed—the $25,000 prize offered in 1919 by Raymond Ortieg to the "first aviator to cross the Atlantic nonstop from New York to Paris." Many famous pilots had attempted this crossing, but all had failed.

In 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh approached a group of businessmen in St. Louis seeking sponsorship for an attempt at flying the Atlantic. The money was raised and Lindbergh contacted the Ryan Aircraft Company in San Diego to build an aircraft. Ryan built the airplane which Lindbergh named the "Spirit of St. Louis." On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in New York and headed east. Thirty-three and one-half hours after takeoff, he landed at Le Bourget Airport in Paris.

Lindbergh instantly became a world hero. Never before had so many people throughout the world given so much admiration and affection to a single individual. The response from the American public was explosive! Here was a symbol the public could identify with and respond to, and Lindbergh was equal to this "hero role." Following his return to the United States, he became a promoter of civil aviation, traveling to every state in the Union. He, more than any other individual, was responsible for thousands of people entering pilot training, for hundreds of cities building airports, and for millions of Americans accepting aviation as important*.

Another individual, who would rival the fame of Lindbergh, flew across the Atlantic in 1928. Although only a passenger on this flight, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. Four years later, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She would gain fame as the world's greatest aviatrix prior to her disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937.

REVIEW EXERCISE

*  Lindbergh's feat of flying nonstop across the Atlantic was duplicated the following year, in 1928, by two Germans and an Irishman in a German made Junkers W33L, nicknamed Bremen.  However, their claim to fame was that they were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean nonstop from east to west.


  GENERAL AVIATION - A BEGINNING

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.77 Identify reasons why general aviation experienced rapid growth during this time period.
5.78 Describe the contribution to general aviation made by William T. Piper, Clyde V. Cessna, and Walter Beech.


It was during the "golden years" that general aviation (all aviation other than commercial or government) came into being. It was easy for people to learn to fly during the years following World War I. Individuals could buy a war-surplus airplane and either teach themselves to fly or find a former Army aviator to teach them. During this time, there were no licenses or government regulations and aircraft did not have many instruments. In the 1920s, new companies were formed to build small, private aircraft for a growing market of pilots. Among the earliest of these was a company called Travel Air Manufacturing Company, which was formed in 1925 in Wichita, Kansas. This company was formed by Lloyd Stearman, Clyde V. Cessna, and Walter Beech. They built small biplanes which were very successful. In 1927, 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 G. C. Taylor and William T. Piper. Mr. Taylor was building aircraft on a very small scale. In 1929, the stock market crash bankrupted him, and Piper, a wealthy oil man, bought the company for $600. He reorganized the Taylor Aircraft Company, keeping Taylor as president. 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.

REVIEW EXERCISE


AERONAUTICS

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.79 List some of the advances made In aeronautics In the 1920s and 1930s.


The late 1920s also saw the science of aeronautics take its place as a true and recognized science. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson formed an organization named the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Its purpose was to "supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view of their practical solution." During the 1920s, this federal agency performed valuable basic research In aeronautics and solved many of the problems that plagued early aircraft. In 1926, Daniel Guggenheim, an air-minded New York philanthropist, founded the School of Aeronautics at New York University. He also established a $2.5-million "Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics."

The results were many improvements and changes in the aircraft built during the late 1920s and 1930s. In efforts to reduce drag, the biwinged aircraft finally gave way to the more efficient monoplane. More efficient wing shapes and cowlings to enclose the engines were developed by NACA scientists, and the retractable landing gear came into existence. Pressurized cabins permitted higher altitude flights, and air-cooled radial engines replaced the heavier, water-cooled ones. Other refinements included the development of wing flaps to increase lift and allow slower takeoff and landing speeds and deicing equipment for safer all-weather flying. Lieutenant James H. Doolittle did a lot of research on aircraft instruments to make flying at night and in bad weather safer. As a result of his research, instruments for night and navigation and two-way radios were installed in aircraft. With the development of an all-metal aircraft by Hugo Junkers, a German aircraft builder, and the stressed-skin principle by another German, Adolph Rohrbach*, the airplane began to resemble today's modern airplanes.

The helicopter also became a successful aircraft 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.

REVIEW EXERCISE


* Mr. Robert Allen, one our our website visitors points out that though Ernest Rohrbach started experimenting with
all-metal stressed-skin wings in 1919, he didn't build the first all-metal stressed-skin aircraft. This was the Short Silver Streak, which was first exhibited at the London Aero Show in 1920. Oswald Short was the true pioneer of
stressed-skin aircraft, but his achievements remain forgotten today.  See Oliver Stewart's "Aviation: The Creative Ideas" and "Shorts Aircraft Since 1900" by C.H. Barnes for further information.


  COMMERCIAL AVIATION MATURES

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.80 Describe the purpose and signifigance of the McNary-Watres Act of 1930 upon commercial aviation.
5.81 Describe the design improvements of the new airliners which resulted from the McNary-Watres Act.
5.82 List the contributions of the Clippers to commercial aviation.


All of the technology was present in the 1930s to develop modern commercial airliners. What was needed was a reason. This was provided in 1930, when Congress passed the McNary-Watres Act as an amendment to the Kelly Act. Under the Kelly Act, the airmail carriers were paid according to the weight of the mall carried. The new law changed this so the contractors would be paid according to the available cargo space. In addition, a bonus would be paid to operators flying multiengine aircraft equipped with the latest instruments. This was clearly an incentive for the operators to fly larger aircraft. It was also an attempt to provide a subsidy (a monetary government grant to a person or company to assist an enterprise advantageous to the public) to the airlines for carrying passengers as well as mall.

The McNary-Watres Act also authorized the Postmaster General to extend or combine airmail routes. The effect of the McNary-Watres Act on aviation was not long in coming. United Airlines contracted with Boeing Aircraft in Seattle to build a modern two-engine airplane. In 1932, Boeing brought out the 247, a twin-engine, all-metal, low-wing monoplane. It was constructed with stressed skin and a retractable landing gear and could carry ten passengers and 400 pounds of mail. The 247 had a cruising speed of 189 mph which made possible the first "same-day service" between New York and San Francisco.

Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) soon responded by contracting with Douglas Aircraft in California to build them an airplane better than the Boeing 247. In 1933, Douglas began tests in this new aircraft which they called the Douglas Commercial One (DC-1). Only one DC-1 was built for test flights. When the production aircraft came out it was called the DC-2. It had a cruising speed of 192 mph and carried 14 passengers and several thousand pounds of mail.

While United Airlines was flying its Boeing ,. 247s and TWA its DC-2s, American Airways was losing money flying foreign-built aircraft. Again Douglas Aircraft was approached—this time to build an aircraft bigger than its own DC-2 Douglas already had more orders for DC-2s than it could handle, but American Airlines agreed to buy 20 of the new aircraft, with an option for 20 more. Douglas agreed to build it. On December 14,1935, the first of these new aircraft, called the DC-3, was finished. The DC-3, larger than the DC-2, carried 24 passengers or 5,000 pounds of cargo a distance of 1,200 miles This aircraft became the standard commercial airliner for all airlines. It was also one of the most successful aircraft ever built. By 1938, DC3s were carrying 95 percent of all commercial traffic in the United States, and by 1939, they were carrying 90 percent of the commercial traffic in the world. A total of 455 DC-3s were built for the commercial airlines between 1935 and 1942. During World War II, 10,000 more (designated C47) were built for the United States military.

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

Since most of this route was over water, and because seaplane bases were easier to build in remote areas than airports, Pan Am wanted a large advanced seaplane. Igor Sikorsky built a large four-engine flying boat called the S-40. It could fly at 125 mph and carry 40 passengers Sikorsky also developed a larger flying boat, the S-42, which had a range of 3,200 miles. This airplane became known as the Pan American Clipper and made the first commercial airline crossing of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

In 1934, Pan Am took delivery of an even larger flying boat, the Martin 130, called the China Clipper. On November 22, 1935, the China Clipper took off from California for the first transpacific service. After stops In Hawaii, Wake Island, and Guam, the Clipper arrived at Manila in the Philippines. By 1937, this route was extended to Hong Kong and Pan Am made one round-trip flight across the Pacific every seven days.

The ultimate in the flying boats was the Boeing 314 which was delivered to Pan Am in 1938. A total of six of these Yankee Clippers were built, and they opened up transatlantic passenger service on June28, 1938.

During World War II, the Clippers continued to fly across both oceans for the government. They flew for a short time after the war, but the day of the Clippers was over. They were replaced by the large four-engine land planes developed after the war.

REVIEW EXERCISE


MILITARY ADVANCEMENTS

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.83 Discuss how the bomber developed to serve as both an offensive and defensive weapon for the United States.
5.84 State the effect the B-17's development had on other military aircraft.


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.

REVIEW EXERCISE


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