JF Ptak Science Books Post 1384This short shelf-lived idea was that of Edward R. Armstrong (1880-1955), who in 1927 first published his plan for a series of ocean-moored 1200’x200’ floating platforms standing 100' above the waves for refueling and whatnot for transcontinental flights. These five-acre stations—named the “Langley” in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley1-- would be placed every 375 miles across the ocean. Or perhaps there would be just five of these floating emplacements--the data changes. It doesn’t look like a very practical (or good) idea, but Armstrong received a $750,000 piece of development change from du Pont and GM, which was major dollars in 1929. Armstrong’s idea would get major play in the popular press from time-to-time, his project renamed “The Seadrome” and discussed as a series of floating islands. Armstrong himself would organize the Seadrome Ocean Dock Corp. in the late 1930’s, his pretty but enormously impractical idea (reported by Time Magazine2 in 1933 as little more than “a perennial gift to Sunday feature editors”) finally grinding to a salty end with greater fuel capacity and efficiency in transatlantic aircraft.
An even worse idea appeared in the pages of Science and Mechanics in 1936:
1. A Time Magazine article published 28 October 1929 [a day before the market crashed!] about the Langley oddly states that Langley was the “designer of the plane which, except for accidents, might have flown before the Wrights' plane did in 1903”. Tough potatoes. What the magazine didn’t state was that Langley, who was the president of the Smithsonian Institution at the time with access to major money and benefactors simply went about the flight problem incorrectly, and produced an airplane (or “aerodrome”, as he called it) that did not and would not fly. Not flying because of accidents means, well, not flying. The Wrights’ approach to problem solving was elegant and beat Langley by miles. Langley deserves credit for his other (many) achievements, but not for this aircraft. This same article only references Armstrong as a “swarthy engineer" (the article is reprinted below).
The following document, Application of Seadrome Ocean Dock Corporation (a private corporation) for a Loan Under the Provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act (ca. 1933) asks the federal government for a loan of $30 million (depression) dollars to undertake the construction of the five floating airport transoceanic network. "It will require the work of approximately 10,000 men per month for a period of twenty-four to thirty months". The labor figures did not nclude that necessary to produce all of the material necessary for the project ( for reasons unknown). The palnes would have been to make it across the ocean in 18 to 36 hours. (We are offering this item for purchase at our blog bookstore, here.)
The members of the Seadrome Corporation estimated that the entire 30 million would be paid back by 1945, and that the corporation would be completely debt-free. Perhaps all of this made sense when Armstrong first developed the plan in 1913; but even by 1933 it was becoming quite obvious that non-stop transoceanic flight was coming, and coming soon. That would of course make an investment in the Seadrome project superfluous, like building an antique, though an unnecessary one. The first transatlantic non-stop flight was made by John Alcock and Arthur W. Brown in 1919--by the early 1950's jet aircraft would be making the trip with regularity, which means that for most of the life of the completed Seadrome it would have been unnecessary. I feel certain that the Seadrome--which was supposed to be paid off by 1945, though in 1933 there was no inkling on the part of the Corporation members who wrote the request for hte money that a war was looming and that there would have been almost no way for them to have been made at any time betweem 1939 and 1945--would never have been paid for.
Time magazine; October 28, 1929; Seadrome. Although rain was beating down on Cambridge, Maryland, last week, men enthusiastically lugged into the Choptank River a one-ton steel model of the steel islands (seadromes) which Edward R. Armstrong of Holly Oak, Delaware, proposes to anchor 375 miles apart across the Atlantic. The model, 1/32 the size of intended seadromes, consists essentially of a rectangular platform. To its underside are attached hollow steel columns, each ending in a circular disk. Air in the cylinders was sufficient to keep the device floating on the Choptank and the platform several feet above the water. Speedboats dashed around the model. Their waves did not touch the platform nor did they rock it. The heavy horizontal disks at the lower ends of the hollow columns, below the depths to which the wave actions reached, counterbalanced all surface disturbances. No surprise was his model's success to Mr. Armstrong, swarthy engineer, who since he left the Navy has been consulting engineer for the E. I. duPont de Nemours & Co. at Wilmington. For 16 years he has been experimenting and designing such a sea base having in mind ocean way stations for ships and, more lately for transoceanic aircraft. He "sold" his idea to the eminently practical duPont and General Motors financiers. They have provided him one and three quarters million dollars to build his first seadrome. Construction has already started on it. It will be called the Langley after the late Samuel Pierpont Langley, designer of the plane which, except for accidents, might have flown before the Wrights' plane did in 1903. The Langley will have an unobstructed airplane runway 1,200 ft. long by 200 ft. wide. At the mid-sides the platform will project to give room for a hotel (with restaurant and bar), hangars, storage sheds, weather bureau, offices, hospital wards, lighthouse. Platform and buildings will be 80 ft. above calm water level. Because no Atlantic waves have ever been seen more than 45 ft. high, it is improbable that the runway ever will be awash. The buoyancy columns with their stabilizing disks will reach 160 ft. below water level. That is considerably deeper than any wave action has ever been noted. Mr. Armstrong has long planned to anchor his first full-size seadrome midway between Manhattan and Bermuda. Studying hydrographic charts of the region he figured that there must exist a high spot on the ocean floor about where he would like it. He asked Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams to send a survey ship to check his calculations. He was right. The survey showed a little plateau just 400 miles from Manhattan and 375 miles from Bermuda, in an almost direct line. It is six miles long by four miles wide and only two miles below sea level, whereas the surrounding ocean is three to four miles deep. The difference in depth means thousands of dollars of savings to Mr. Armstrong and his financiers on the 3½ inch steel cable he is having laid to hold his floating island to its anchors. Those anchors are to be huge round bobbins which will dig into red clay of the submerged plateau and hold the seadrome from drifting. By next fall and before Bermuda's 1930-1931 tourist season begins Mr. Armstrong expects to have the Langley completed and anchored in place, ready to receive tourist planes and to entertain travelers on man's newest conquest of an element. As the operation of the Langley makes money, he will (and he has the money in provision to do so) construct eight similar seadromes to be strung 375 miles apart between the 35th and 40th parallels, north latitude, between Long Island and Plymouth. The 375 miles is an easy jump for any plane. Hence the project presages safe and convenient airplane passage across the ocean, direct competition with both sea ships and air ships. Flying time between the continents, Mr. Armstrong calculates, will be as low as 20 hours. 2. Time Magazine; November 27, 1933; Sea Chain. A perennial gift to Sunday feature editors for the last five years has been the Armstrong Seadrome, vividly imaginative project for a chain of floating airports across the Atlantic. The perfect publicity subject, it offered serious readers masses of data on construction of huge platforms, stabilized high above the waves by means of weighted pillars, on problems of anchorage, navigation, operation, economics. For gumchewers there were exciting pictures of a seadrome at night, in midocean position, with flags flying, floodlights blazing, beacons stabbing the dark sky, gorgeous express planes gliding down to safe landings. Even the windows of the drome's elegant hotel underlying the deck were pricked out with cozy lights. Last week the Armstrong Seadrome leaped out of its accustomed setting in the feature supplements to land on page one of the nation's press when the Federal Government indicated that it was ready to help finance the project, that it might even build and operate the whole system itself. Money. For weeks Inventor Edward R. Armstrong & backers have been trying to borrow $30,000,000 from Public Works Administration to build five seadromes and string them out to Spain by way of the Azores. Aside from obvious national advantages to the U. S. the application cited such claims as: Construction and installation jobs would employ 10,000 men for two years. Required would be 125.000 tons of steel, five miles of anchor chain, 45 miles of cable, five 1,500-ton anchors, large quantities of electric equipment, radio apparatus, beacons, pipe, fittings, etc., etc. Airline operators would order $10,000,000 worth of new planes for trans-atlantic service as soon as work was begun on the dromes. Yearly operating cost of the five dromes, including overhead: $2,250,000. Yearly income after the fifth year would total $11.418,000, to be derived as follows: mail, $6,000,000; express, $105,000; passengers, $4,538,000; hotels, shops, concessions, hangar space, fuel & oil, $775.000. The system would collect $70 from each transatlantic fare (estimated at $350), $25 from each traveller to Bermuda, $10 from each week-end drome visitor. At first Inventor Armstrong hoped to finance his scheme with private capital. The du Fonts, for whom he used to work as a consulting engineer, helped him in his early researches. He expected substantial backing also from General Motors until Depression upset his plans. Last March he organized Seadrome Ocean Dock Corp., with himself as president and majority stockholder. His backers include GM's Board Chairman Lammot du Pont and President John Howard Pew of Sun Oil Company.