The post-war bubble

Cessna 120Civil Commercial aircraftAircraft Files

On May 17, 1945, with the war in Europe ending and military production being cut back, the War Production Board announced the end of the prohibition on the production of civilian aircraft, providing such manufacturing didn’t interfere with war output.

Aviation magazines and the mainstream press jumped on the news of the post-war aviation potential. Articles such as “Lightplane Production Go-Ahead” in the May 21, 1945, issue of Aviation News, “Low-Price Plane Potentials,” in the July 1945 issue of Aero Digest, along with a survey by Esquire on the lightplane market, were some of the harbingers of the post-war boom expected for the lightplane industry.

Indeed, there was a huge boom in lightplane production, but it would be short-lived. [Read more…]

Aviation spreads its wings

On June 14, 1919, Alcock and Brown set out in their converted Vickers Vimy bomber from Lester's Field in St. John's Newfoundland. Photo courtesy The Museum of Flight

Among the many things taken for granted today is long-distance travel by jet airliners. So common is long-distance air travel that there have even been around-the-world races for general aviation aircraft. One forgets that regularly scheduled intercontinental commercial air travel only came into being after World War II.

The roots of long-distance flight lie in the five years after the First World War. In the early post-war period, aviation spread its wings in ever greater long-distance flights, culminating in the first round-the-world flight in 1924.

[Read more…]

The streamlined decade

The DC-2 bore all the hallmarks of streamlining developments of the time: All-metal, stressed-skin construction, cantilever wings, retractable landing gear and cowled radial engines.

During the decade of the Great Depression, the streamlined form stood as an optimistic symbol of progress and efficiency. Streamlining was applied to cars, trains, ships, buildings, and even household appliances. This new idiom replaced the angular, art deco forms of the 1920s.

By the mid-1920s aircraft construction was in need of a new design approach. With the availability of engines with 200 to 350 horsepower, aircraft were flying faster, but not in proportion to the increase in power. With all the higher turbulent flow being experienced at higher speeds due to common design practices of the time, a reduction in drag became important to improved performance.

So in the era between the middle 1920s and middle 1930s, streamlining came into its own in aircraft design.

[Read more…]

Taking to the air

The myth of Daedalus and Icarus depicted on an Italian woocut of 1493 (above). This woodcut of a kite in Europe appeared in a book published in 1635 (right).

The history of aviation is a long record of man’s restless urge to emulate soaring eagles and swooping hawks, to escape the earth and reach the freedom of the skies.

Even though the air had been harnessed for centuries with aerodynamic devices such as the feathers on an arrow or the shape of a boomerang or used to power sailing ships and windmills, it took eons for the principles to be applied to human flight. In attempts to achieve human flight, mankind failed for millennium to put principles witnessed in bird flight and sail power into practical application. Let’s examine some of the steps taken to progress from myth to tower jumpers, from kites to gliders to arrive at the airplane in a short pre-history of flight.

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Flying on wings of Mercury


Though Hammondsport, N.Y., is synonymous with the name Glenn Curtiss and well known as the home of the Curtiss Aeroplane Co., after World War I Hammondsport also became the home of another aircraft manufacturer — Aerial Service Corp.

[Read more…]

Front page news

Wiley Post’s Lockheed Orion after being mounted on floats at Bryn Mawr Air Field, which is now the north end of the Renton, Washington, airport.

LINDBERGH DOES IT! TO PARIS IN 33-1/3 HOURS cried out the newspaper headlines on May 22, 1927. Lindbergh’s epic flight made front page headlines in papers all around the world.

We are all aware of the impact Lindbergh’s New York-to-Paris ?ight had on the public, but what other aviation events of the 1920s and 1930s were deemed of enough importance to garner headlines in the newspapers?

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The crazy man of the air: C.K. Hamilton wows crowds in 1910


Aviation burst upon the American public in 1910 through a frenzy of air meets, contests, daring flights and maneuvers. Over the year, 100 regularly organized meets and exhibitions were held. New records were set and broken almost every week. During that one year, the art of aviation made such extraordinary advances that there are few comparisons in the history of technology.

Aviators became heroes, and the top heroes changed constantly. Cosmopolitan magazine called the new birdmen “Wizards of the Air” for their daring do. One of the most active and daring pilots was Charles K. Hamilton, who in 1910 became famous for thrilling the crowds. During the year Hamilton would appear in events from coast-to-coast, along the way setting records.

[Read more…]

The first regulations


Those who are familiar with today’s Federal Aviation Regulations know that they are a thicket of rules, occupying four volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations, consisting of 460 sections extending over 3,600 pages.

But 85 years ago, it was a simpler time for aviation. That’s when the regulation of aircraft and pilots began with the Air Commerce Act of 1926. [Read more…]

The OX-5 racers

Pacific C1

In a previous column, I discussed the penetration of the ubiquitous, war-surplus Curtiss OX-5 engine into the new aircraft market, which lasted into the 1930s. Not only was the OX-5 engine used as a powerplant option on new aircraft, it also powered custom-built aircraft that were used in exhibition work and races.

In fact, the Aero Club of Southern California would pioneer OX-5 class races and foster the design of new class of race planes designed around the engine.

[Read more…]