A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
Harper's Weekly published an account of a proposed mountain tramway for Mount Rhigi, In Switzerland, almost two years and two weeks before the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. The author of the report seemed not to hope so much that this would be the inauguration of land air-ships, but that it would be "an important step toward the final perfection of a [flying] air-ship".
If nothing else the engraving of the perspective of the tram car is precise, and light, and lovely.
There have been several posts to this blog regarding unusual airport construction--covering part of the Thames, floating in the NYC bay, on top of numerous/differential rooftops, floating and/or moored in the ocean, on top giant airplanes, landing and launched from dirigibles, and so on (including a vertical airport where the aircraft are dropped in tubes). The example I have just found this morning is a mild twist on this topic, as it is a helipad--a futuristic one, judging from the Harley Earle/Buck Rogers-style design.
See, for example:
Floating and Airborne Airports: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2015/03/floating-and-airborne-airports.html
Isn't it grand to be charting variations on a graph using different-sized aircraft from 1935? Sure, a line would be fine, but this is so much prettier--and of course a simple line is a line and would not display the workhouse military aircraft of the national quantity it was depicting. This appears in the Illustrated London News for September (or thereabouts) 1935--this is the magazine I think that may have been the King/Queen of graphically/representationally displayed data of the 1920s/30s/40s. The interest here of course is British-centric, comparing the air force of Great Britain to the rest of the world, but that is to be expected given the source of the images. It is also remarkable how much this graph would be changed in the next ten years...
There are also three fine inset images at bottom (about 2 x 2.5" in real life) that I've carved out and enlarged--they are all fine works in themselves.
I've seen other straight-on cross sections of lighter-than-air aircraft before, though seldom have they been at night, and seldom in color, making this one fairly unusual to my experience.
Under discussion in the article were the current great lighter-than-air ships and their future. Mentioned prominently were the Graf Zeppelin (which flew it first intercontinental flight just months earlier in October 1928 (and which flew until 1937)), and the British R-101, which was under construction at press time of this article, and which would crash and burn in its maiden voyage in October 1930. But in 1929, with these great new developments, and with airplane service across the ocean still seemingly in the relatively-distant future, the future of the dirigible looked pretty goo. But even by 1932 the great Graf Zeppelin's service would be extremely curtailed by the new airplane services, and by that point the days of the dirigible were numbered--especially come May 1937 when the Hindenburg crashed (and burned) so spectacularly.
Again, January, 1929, was a good time for the dirigible--but hundreds of days later, the situation would be reversing.
I've seen a number of plans from the 1925-1935 period calling for skyscraper-topped airports, and airports built over a largely cover-ed themes, and over a covered-up Central Park, and floating in NYC harbor, and so on. I have not seen too many future visions of underground airports. This plan appears in Popular Mechanics for June 1941 and advocates a very tightly controlled underground environment for airports. The war in Europe was nearly two years old at this point, and the bombing war from the air was very advanced. There is little doubt that all sorts of plans were being considered to protect air force complexes from bombing, though something of this scale, dealing with so few number of plans, could hardly have made it further than this public outing.)
[Image is expandable]
An earlier and peace-time example of underground tech is found at the great Modern Mechanix blog, and features an April 1935 article in the journal of the same name an effort to remove the airport underground. Dr. William Christmas is the chief major domo in the piece and he is depicted with his visions of flight of the future, holding a model of his 400' 25,000hp plane with 75' propellers set to cruise at 200 mph. The monster could not be accommodated by the plans for an underground airport at right, which frankly looks like a hard drive, and which seems like a positively enormous amount of engineering for a spinning platter underground airport with room for eight planes.
[Source: Modern Mechanix, http://blog.modernmechanix.com/mags/ModernMechanix/4-1935/under_air.jpg]
The R 101 was one of the largest lighter-than-air airships ever created. The ship was still about a year away from its maiden flight when this popular survey was published in the Illustrated London News on March 29, 1929--unfortunately this flight would also be its last, finding disaster over France on October 5, 1930. The airship was 777' long, 140' high, and had a volume of about 5 million cubic feet, and operated with a crew of 42--a big object.
This great cutaway by the prolific S. Clatworthy appeared in the March 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics. It illustrates a section of the Vickers Wellington light bomber--a 6-man, 6'4 long and 86' wide medium distance aircraft that saw service from the mid-1930's and served with distinction throughout the entire duration of WWII. It is an unusual view through the plane, an oblique but nearly straight-down view showing the position of members of the crew and most especially the bombardier.
Here's a very nice presentation of the (Mark IX) bombsight shown in the inset of the cutaway, this from the Glenn's Museum site, here: http://www.glennsmuseum.com/bombsights/pics/mark_ix_side.jpg
"The British-designed RAF Mark IX bombsight was first introduced in 1939. It was used on Canadian and Great Britain planes in World War II: in particular Lancaster, Wellington and Sterling bombers, and Mosquitos, Beauforts and Beaufighters fighters. This was an early preset vector bombsight that involved squinting through wires that had to be manually set based on aircraft speed, altitude and bombload. The sight lacked tactical flexibility as it had to be manually adjusted if any of the parameters changed."
A nice image of a Wellington on the cover of Popular Science this same year (1940), here: http://www.popsci.com/archive-viewer?id=oScDAAAAMBAJ&pg=0&query
Yesterday I posted a lovely octahedron map showing intercontiental air routes in 1956 (here). Today, looking in LIFE magazine for some images and a story about U.S. GI's being exposed to nuclear blast tests I bumped into this unusual two-and-a-half dimension map showing domestic air routes of American Airlines (November, 1951). The national service areas are chunked-up, given some enormous height, not making things very comfortable-looking for the Pacific W and northern Mid-West, and almost the entire South. I guess the question would be, were the service areas heightened, or the rest of the world lowered?
The first transcontinental flight competition called for crossing the country in 30 days (for a $50k prize) and was accomplished in 1911. By 1933 the fist transcontinental through-flight (a one-day, not-overnight flight) occurred just 22 years later in 1933; only 5 years before this map was made was the first 1-stop service (1946), which is one reason why there are so many intermittent stops; it would be another two years (1953) for there to be non-stop service. The of course the not-slow explosion of competing airlines and flights.
It is interesting to recall that the first transcontinental railroad for the U.S. was in 1869, and the first European transcontinental railroad was 14 years before that (in 1855), thus getting people across the country and continent 80 and then nearly 100 years ago. On the other hand ,the first trans-Australian RR was completed in 1917--that was east-west. North-south is a different issue for Australia, which has been an historically very highly difficult crossing., In any event that line was not completed until 2004. All things considered, I think, this transcontinental air business was extremely successful and fast, coming less than 50 years after the first Wright powered flight.
In the world of the history of heavy, nothing quite spells it so correctly in typography than some of the German entries in the 1920's. Big, thick letters, jumbo arms and legs with little breathing space, and no design to get in the way of letting gravity do its work, and place often on jet-black backgrounds, these alphabets are a perfect answer to the weight of the decade.
Here is a good example of mid-heaviness, expressed in type and in a map and the overall design. This is an ad onthe front cover of ZFM Zeitschrift fuer Flugtechhnik und Motorluftschiffahrt (14 April 1926) and for the leaving-the-ground aspect of the journal the design work couldn't be much heavier.
This air travel ad posts the Dornier-Wal seaplane, the "Bridge of the Continents", getting you across the Atlantic to South America in 35 hours. (The Dornier -Wal was a flying boat, a metal monoplane with above-the-wing twin engines and a maximum speed of about 180km/hr, which means I guess that the aircraft was making on average about 90mph on its trip across the Atlantic.) And the ad--well the ad is bold, and slightly spartan, and still very heavy for the amount of blank space in it.
One of the great dreams of early modern flight was to get across the Atlantic. In the decade+ before the first non-stop transatlantic crossing many plans were presented for making it across the Atlantic with stops. The problem of course was where the "stopping" would take place. Popular Mechanics presented two of these ideas in 1925: one was the floating airport, a series of four 1200' long and 250' wide aviation harbors on the high seas, four of which would be necessary to get aircraft across the ocean. The other were aerial sky harbors, with zeppelins outfitted as aircraft carriers in the clouds.
These proposals look like less-than-fresh ideas in 1927 when Lindbergh makes his flight, and obsolete by the early 'thirties when several airlines offered transatlantic service. Anyway given the available technology the ideas were not half-bad, though the technology would overtake the necessity for these ideas idea pretty quickly. Considering that we go from the Wright flight in 1903 to transatlantic flight in 30 years, the speed of technological advancement was really pretty extraordinary.
"Nets Launched on Rockets to Snare Airplanes" ran the header on this article from Popular Mechanics (volume 44, July 1925). "Nets fastened between parachutes and shot high into the air with shells or rockets are being tested by anti-aircraft branches of the Japanese army and navy as snares for airplanes..." Evidently the plan was to locate the approaching plane and fire these things in their vicinity and hope for the aircraft to find and run into that speck of net occupying .00001% of the sky.
Percy Pilcher was a true aviation pioneer who met his end very early, during an event that probably shouldn't have happened, killed by in 30'-fall in 1899. He was creative, and figured out a way to address the knotty problem of lift vs. wing dimensions vs. weight, coming to a tri-plane design in 1898, but was killed before he could fly it in public. His death comes about two years after this appearance in Nature magazine, which tells a quietly dramatic and essentially sotto voce story about attempted soaring flight. It seems so extraordinary to me because--aside from needing a fit of genius to try to figure out the physics of flight, there was a lot that could be done with canvas, pipes, fishing line, and boy-power. When I read this account I could literally feel that soft breeze that he looked for on my teeth--few pieces of major histories of technology get this close to the "common person".
Someone made this nice, short video from the seven stills, perhaps making this one of the earliest "movies" of an human in flight:
"At the time of the flight here illustrated the wind was so light and variable in direction that an ascent from even the elevated position taken up was almost impossible. Means however were at hand by which one end of a thin fishing line 600 yards long could be attached to the machine while the other end passed through two blocks placed close together on the ground at a distance from the aero plane of about 550 yards. These blocks were so arranged that a movement of the aerial machine in the horizontal direction corresponded to a fifth of the movement of the boys pulling the line."
"The start was made at a given signal the line being pulled by three boys and Mr Pilcher gradually left the ground and soared gracefully into the air attaining a maximum height of about 70 feet... A safe and graceful landing was made at a distance of 250 yards from the starting point. The photographs illustrate that part of the flight previous to the attainment of the greatest height...if the machine had been fitted with a small engine or motor to give (this) amount of thrust by means of a screw or otherwise perhaps an equal or further distance would have been covered."
"Mr Pilcher now proposes to employ as soon as possible a small and light engine indicating about four horsepower this being considerably more than sufficient for flights of moderate length. It is however thought advisable to have rather too much than too little power to commence with as a factor of safety. With this improvement it is hoped that further distances will be covered and a nearer approximation to a flying machine will be attained."
This drawing comes from the great engineering classic that presented the prototype jet engine for all that would follow it--J.G. Keenan's Elementary Theory of Gas Turbines and Jet Propulsion. It was published in the glorious Oxford blue cloth by the university and issued with the classically-design beige dust wrapper--it just has the feel of something solid and astute. Keenan's work is a classic--it is a general survey of developments in the jet propulsion field and was among the very first books published on the subject.
Keenan was not the first though to the jet engine party--Hans von Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle were. It was a classic idea-in-the-air example of two people working on a very similar idea at the same time without any knowledge of the other. von Ohain was the first to produce an operational jet engine (1939) while Whittle was the first to patent (while getting his engine to be operational in 1941). Jet engines have been around for a long time (Romans having legislation on the use of variable jet sprays in water distribution) in different forms--fountains, fire hoses, marine jet propulsion (reaching back to 1871), and so on. But John Gregory Keenan's book--that was a big and influential review, a major contribution to the field.
This is a survivor of some sort, found at the bottom of a box of German aviation pamphlets--I'm sorry that it is in this condition, but at least there is some of it that remains, because the design is quite striking. It comes in the 24th year of the publication Luftfahr(t), Deutsche Luftfahrer Zeitschrift, and published in 1920. It is just the cover of one issue, and I expected to see a fuller image of the thing online thinking it not to be so uncommon, but I couldn't find any, which I thought unusual. And so I share this rag-tag copy.