AMERICAN commercial aviation, until recently a topic of ridicule, will lead the world within a few years, according to Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, transatlantic flight hero.
"Of course, no one can accurately forecast the final effect of aviation upon the world," he said. "We can go ahead a few years and show the general trend beyond that, but no one can tell just how far flying will take us. "It
will have a great effect, just as have steamships, railroads and automobiles. But I believe the change will come more quickly, because the airplane has developed more rapidly. In less than twenty-five years it has grown from the crudest experimental stage to a safe, reliable carrier with many conveniences and comforts."
He turned to a table on which was spread a map of the world.
"The best basis for estimating the future is to look at the present. You can see that Europe seems to have everything its own way in regard to commercial lines. On many of these lines they are using large multi-engined cabin ships, equipped as comfortably as Pullman cars. They run on regular schedules and are used by travelers just as we use our own trains in the United States.
"The real reason for their success is that they are subsidized by their governments. Almost every European commercial line is subsidized from fifty to ninety per cent of its operating cost. Naturally they have been very successful, for they do not have to worry about overhead and deficits."
He drew the map closer and indicated the United States, over which a smaller network of airlines was drawn.
"This country began slowly. The post office department established an air-mail line in 1919, from which grew the transcontinental route. This line has been very successful. It is the backbone of the present contract air-mail system, as almost all other routes feed into it from outlying sections. The mail airways now cover between 7,000 and 8,000 miles, and over 16,500 miles are flown daily on these routes. This is regular, scheduled flying, and, does not include miscellaneous operations, such as photographic work, cotton dusting, sight-seeing, taxi work and similar projects.
"These lines are the basis of the future great passenger lines. Even now, some of them carry passengers, and others are planning such service. Five lines are beginning express service. New routes are being established to transport mail, express and passengers, so that, by the end of 1927, there will be over 11,000 miles of airways, and more than 22,000 miles flown daily-on schedule."
"What kinds of planes will be used on these lines?" I asked.
"Modern ships," he answered with emphasis. "On a few routes mail alone will be carried, but most contractors are trying to include passengers and express. On shorter runs, or in starting new lines, small ships may be used, such as single-engined cabin or open types capable of transporting from two to four passengers besides the pilot. As the traffic increases, and on the longer lines, these will eventually be replaced by multi-engined planes with large cabins, equipped with heating and ventilating devices, wide windows, comfortable seats and many other conveniences. Such ships are now in existence and are in use on a few routes."
"Hasn't most of this sudden increase of aviation interest followed your transatlantic flight?" I suggested.
"Each one of the recent flights has had a part in arousing interest," Col. Lindbergh countered. "The people of the United States may be fairly said to have become 'air-minded.' However, this could not have happened if our natural progress did not warrant it. It is not a boom which will let down in a short time. The change is here. People are ready to fly and to use airlines as fast as they are established. Capital has been quick to note the swerve of the public, and is ready to back new routes as rapidly as they are advertised for mail contracts. The industry is advancing swiftly."
Enthusiasm began to show in Col. Lindbergh's manner and his tone as he went deeper into his favorite subject.
"The government should be credited for the increase in public confidence, at least to a large degree. The department of commerce has done valuable work in establishing lighted and marked airways, similar to the greater portion of the transcontinental. The resulting night flying will speed up business mail from all parts of the country.
"For example, take the line which is now being lighted from New York to Atlanta, and which will soon commence operation. A letter mailed at the end of the business day in New York will be in Atlanta by six o'clock next morning. It will immediately be transferred to another mail plane, which will give delivery during the early part of the business day at Jacksonville, Miami and other Florida cities.
"Similar cases are found in the feeder lines from Dallas, Boston, the Twin Cities, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Pasco, Los Angeles, Seattle and numerous cities between these terminals. All the cities on the transcontinental, from San Francisco to New York, benefit by this efficient mail service."
He paused for a moment.
"What about safety? I inquired. "The public is still hazy about that."
"Regular commercial flying is safe," he replied with conviction. "Almost all scheduled service is given by licensed planes operated by licensed pilots and maintained by licensed mechanics. This is required in interstate commerce by federal law. Even in intrastate commerce, pilots must obey federal air-traffic rules and planes must bear identification numbers. The end of the reckless 'gypsy' flyer with his unsafe plane is in sight.
State laws will probably be passed requiring federal licenses, or the equivalent, and concurring with other federal air laws.
"Most of the accidents have been due to unsafe equipment and inexperienced pilots--that is, in commercial aviation. In military work and experimental flying certain risks are necessary which are not a part of commercial flying. Straight flying in a commercial ship is as safe as riding in an automobile, and often more so."
"Many people believe that the airplane is a fair-weather craft," I told him. "What is your opinion of that?"
"Airplanes can fly now under all conditions but in sleet," he stated. "Sleet forms on the wings and changes the camber, in addition to increasing the weight. Heating the wings or some other method will change that. The only other difficulty is flying in fog. The actual flying is not hard, for with modern instruments a pilot can take off today and fly without seeing ground or sky for a long time. In landing, however, he has trouble. This latter obstacle will be overcome in the near future by radio signals, fog-piercing lights, special altitude instruments or some other means. The radio beacon is a great help in fog, as a pilot can tell when he is even slightly off his course on either side."
Col. Lindbergh stopped and considered for a few seconds.
"That is a general picture of our commercial aviation today," he continued finally. "It has grown up on the solid foundation of private enterprise. Now that the public is realizing its value, and is supporting it, commercial flying will grow rapidly.
"With all this as a foundation, we can make a survey of the immediate future. Within the next few years a very complete network of mail, passenger and express lines will cover the United States, connecting with Canada and Mexico. The most modern ships will be used, and will be flown by licensed pilots of long experience, and under strict regulation. They will use the civil air lanes, which will be plainly marked and lighted, with landing fields at intervals necessary for safety. The whole country will be air-marked, so that day or night pilots will be able to tell where they are, except when visibility is very poor. Then the radio beacon and other radio signals will be used.
"Experts will provide complete weather forecasts and reports for any desired route or airport on a route, to eliminate danger of flying into bad conditions. Most of this information will be given planes in the air by radio. Airplane pilots will receive orders just as engineers now get them from train dispatchers, and lines will be handled as methodically as railroads.
"The planes used will be increased in size according to the demand. Dining compartments, sleeping berths and other similar improvements already have been proved practicable, and will be put into regular use in the United States as soon as the public wishes them. Judging from the constant increase of interest and enthusiasm, that time is not very far ahead."
"What will be the first apparent changes ?" I asked him.
"Establishment of airports all over the country," he replied tersely. "Then, marking of cities, towns, villages and prominent objects to guide airmen. Next, passing of the idea that flying in commercial ships is a great hazard. The next generation will be born without a fear of the air, because the airplane will be accepted just as the automobile is today.
"The United States will pull ahead of other nations because of its favorable geographic situation. By that, I mean the long distances between important business centers, and the good flying country intervening. Also, the high value Americans place on their time will help, as will our efficient production methods. Manufacturers today cannot keep up with the demand for planes. This will soon force them into quantity production, putting the aeronautic industry in its rightful position."
"You have been quoted in various ways in regard to transoceanic flight," I remarked. "What is your idea of this?"
"Transoceanic flight will not be regularly established for several years," he answered. "There is need for more research, and for development of special planes intended for that service. Probably flying boats will be used, with some reliable means of fueling them at sea. Land ships will probably not be used, as this would be about the same as using seaplanes for regular service across the continent. Commercial operations in the Atlantic will come before such activity in the Pacific, mainly because of the greater business over the Atlantic."
"Beyond the immediate future, what do you think aviation will mean?" was my next question.
Col. Lindbergh hesitated.
"That is hard to say," he answered slowly. "Of course, we shall have heavy air traffic. It will bring difficulties in handling, particularly as to air lanes, altitudes, parking of aircraft and other related matters, but all these will be solved because of the necessity. Air commuting will become customary, I believe, and probably living in the open country will be more popular. Real-estate values will be changed, and open stretches between neighboring cities may become very well settled. Communities will naturally be brought closer together, and all business will be transacted more efficiently through speedy communication and travel. The airplane will never entirely supplant the railroad or the automobile, however, as each has its own place in our lives. It will be a good, safe carrier, ready to serve anyone who demands speed."
"There is one matter you have not touched," I said. "That is the effect of commercial aviation on preparedness."
He considered carefully before answering this.
"Building up of commercial aviation will certainly give us more protection by adding to our air resources," he said at last. "By having the means to enforce respect we shall keep out of trouble. Everyone should realize that commercial-airplane factories will be available for turning out military planes if necessity should arise. Commercial ships themselves will not be of much use as war planes, but no great change in machinery will be required to turn out military types, after factories are built and forces of designers and constructors are skilled in that particular work.
"In addition, commercial pilots could be trained for military flying without much difficulty. In this way commercial aviation is certain to be of great value by keeping us supplied with the means for aerial protection."
"With these great developments in aviation, there should be many opportunities for young men," I said. "What is your advice to those who would like to take up that work?"
"That depends on each case," he replied. "If a man wished to follow the engineering and construction phase, he would be best fitted by attending a college or university which gives a complete aeronautical-engineering course. There are several of these already. If he wished to get into actual flying, he might try the army-cadet course, which is as complete as any in the world. If the age limit or the lack of vacancies prevented this, he could try one of the various commercial schools."
"In your own case, though, didn't you follow this method for some time prior to your first flight?" I inquired.
Col. Lindbergh grinned frankly at this.
"Yes, I did some 'barnstorming' and 'gypsy' flying before I soloed. It consisted in parachute jumping, wing walking and cross-country flying. My first instruction was at Lincoln, Nebr., in 1922, but I did not fly alone until 1923, at Americus, Ga. In fact, I had not been in a ship for over six months before the day I soloed."
"Don't you think this 'barnstorming' experience helped you in learning to fly?" I interposed. "That is, the time when you were not at the controls?"
"Yes, it did," he replied. "I think any time put in as a passenger helps the student flyer. It takes away the feeling of strangeness and makes him more at home in the air. I know many instructors disagree with me, but I think even riding as a passenger in a cabin plane has its value."
He paused and smiled reminiscently.
"I was thinking of my first solo," he explained. "Of course, no pilot ever forgets that. I had bought an army 'Jenny' (JN-4) at Americus, and had had it assembled. No one paid much attention to me, because I was supposed to have soloed before. I started to take off when the plane was ready, but the air was rather bumpy and I found I had not retained the full feeling of control, so I decided to wait until there was less wind.
"Luckily, another pilot at the field gave me a 'check' hop, during which I made several landings. That brought back my flight sense and also my confidence, so that, when the air calmed a little toward evening, I made ready to take off.
"There was an unusual incident in that first flight which few people know. The first few minutes went all right. I took off carefully and climbed gently, without any steep turns. My confidence grew with every second, and I began to feel very glad that I had at last reached this moment, my first time alone in the air--but just then the motor sputtered and started to cut out.
"I was directly over the center of the field. I remember nosing the ship down, wondering whether I would be able to make a safe landing, for it looked as though my first would be a forced one. It seems funny now, for the field was big enough to put any plane down, but it wasn't funny then. While I was still figuring what to do, the engine picked up again. That made me feel better, for the roar of your engine is a great comfort to you on that first solo hop.
"After about fifteen minutes I throttled down and glided in for my first landing. It was all right--at least I was able to take off and try again. I made several short hops that evening, stopping when darkness came."
"One more question," I requested. "Do you think the average man can learn to fly, or does it take special skill?"
"I believe the average man can learn to fly without difficulty with the present commercial plane. Also, I think that learning will be easier in the future, when controls will be simpler and planes will be built which will not stall or spin under any circumstances. For military flying, I think more than ordinary instinct is necessary. Some people are born flyers and there will be more such in the future, but even now the average man can make a good pilot."
Source: Reprinted from the POPULAR MECHANICS November 1927 issue.
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