Among early design considerations were the layout, location and configuration of wings. Several early concepts included that of the tandem wing, including Langley’s first successful powered aircraft in 1896 (pictured, below). A tandem wing aircraft implies use of two full-sized wings mounted on each end of the fuselage. It might be considered a biplane with a great amount of “stagger” between the wings. The practical effect is to increase the stability of an aircraft. Early experimenters found that using a single or biplane wing configuration was unstable. Some tried to overcome this problem using two horizontally separated wings.
This summer marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most famous aircraft of World War II: The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
In a period in American aviation history when the biplane configuration was dominate, there was a slight aberration when the parasol became popular.
From the start of the Depression until the mid-1930s, there was a strong spurt of interest that saw about 30 parasol designs certificated for production. With their wings placed above the fuselage, these planes were certainly distinctive compared to the popular biplanes of the time.
In the aftermath of the First World War, the stream of government money dried up and the manufacturing of aircraft declined drastically. In this period, when the market for new aircraft was almost nonexistent, it hardly seemed time for a new enterprise to start manufacturing aircraft. But there were those with the desire to design and build airplanes.
One such person to form a new company during this period was Donald Douglas. The establishment of Douglas Co. (later Douglas Aircraft Co.) in southern California was historically important, as it had a long-term impact on the industry.
Also important was the company’s role in producing future leaders of the aircraft industry. They were designers who would achieve fame while with Douglas or form their own companies after working with Douglas.
The first Douglas aircraft was the “Cloudster,” designed as a long-range plane for a trans-continental non-stop flight. It was the first aircraft to carry a load greater than its empty weight. The Cloudster became the basis for Douglas’s first Navy contract, the DT-1 Torpedo Bomber. That order was what really got Douglas established in the aircraft manufacturing business, as 90 of the DT series would be built.
When the Army was looking for a design to fly around the world in 1923, the DT series was chosen as the basis for what became the DWC — Douglas World Cruiser.
Among the famous designers working for Douglas at that time were Jack Northrop, later of flying wing fame, and Donald Hall, later the designer of Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”
Suppose you are cruising along in an airliner at 34,000 feet, nestled comfortably in your seat in a heated, pressurized environment. Now image turning to look out of your window and, to your amazement, you catch a glimpse of a cloth-covered triplane with the pilot sitting in the open, wearing heavy coveralls, goggles, a leather helmet, and sucking on an oxygen tube. Such was the case in 1919 when Roland Rohlfs reached six miles high in a Curtiss Triplane.
“Wright’s new control” was the heading of a 1914 report in the “New York Times.” It stated that Orville Wright had introduced a new system that would make it “easier and safer to fly.” In the new controls the usual lever was replaced by an automobile-type steering wheel in combination with a lever that made the control stronger and simpler.
Even though three-axis control has been with us since the Wright brothers, the methods of actuating the control surfaces took a long time to standardize to the current system.
In December 1913, the magazine, “The Aero,” from Great Britain had a two-part article on control systems as seen on aircraft at the Paris Airplane Show of that year. Of the seven systems discussed, five used control wheels and two used control sticks — none of which was close to what are used today.
The article began: “If there be one part of an aeroplane which of all others each designer makes a thoroughly distinctive and individual manner, it is the arrangement of the controls. This state of affairs is, of course, exactly the reverse of what it should be, for controls should be standardized.”
A 1961 British book on the development of air transportation includes a chart on early scheduled air services, which includes the operations of the U.S. Air Mail Service from 1918 till 1927. It may seem unusual to see the Air Mail Service listed here, but as it operated more than 200 aircraft, you realize it was probably the largest civil operator of aircraft in the world at the time.
Great aerial adventures followed in the wake of World War I as aviation tried to find its post-war role.
It was a period of conquest of the oceans and continents — the NC-4 across the Atlantic via the Azores; Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop flight from Canada to Ireland; the R-34 airship’s first round-trip flight from Europe to America; and the start of large scale aerial competition.
June 25, 1919, saw the announcement of an International Aerial Derby, which would start simultaneously from Toronto and New York’s Mineola Field Aug. 25.
“Air speed record to Los Angeles broken” was a headline in the Oakland (California) Tribune on Jan. 28, 1932. The story reported that a new coastal speed record for tri-motored planes was made on the Oakland-Los Angeles airway when a Transcontinental and Western airplane made the 360-mile hop in 1 hour and 52 minutes.
The craft, a Ford Tri-Motor, piloted by Eddie Bellande and Erwin Lewis, left the Bay Airdrome in Alameda at 10 a.m. and arrived at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale at 11:52 am. Nine passengers were carried on the record-setting flight.
That was just one of the many highlights of Edward A. (Eddie) Bellande’s career in aviation, which spanned nearly 60 years. His career was as diversified and active as the industry itself during those years.
He participated, with other contemporary pilots like Charles Lindbergh, in some of the benchmark flights and activities of this dynamic era. He flew as a test pilot for Lockheed, piloting the first Lockheed Vega. He checked out Wiley Post in the famed “Winnie Mae” and co-piloted Charles Lindbergh on the first TWA transcontinental run in 1929. In addition, he either organized or directed some of the aviation industry’s largest business organizations.
The Curtiss Jenny, particularly the JN-4, is one of America’s most famous airplanes.
Jenny was ubiquitous — everybody had a Jenny, along with bailing wire, a five-gallon gas can and the grease gun needed to keep her going.
The Jenny, with all its struts, wires and fittings, was referred to as “a bunch of parts flying in formation.” Given all its foibles, more than 8,000 were built and Jenny had a long, versatile career — it was used to train almost all of our pilots in World War I, flew the first air mail and became synonymous with the barnstorming era.