448038420 Hrs. 40 Min. — Chapter XAmelia Earhart



THE reception given us—and accorded the flyers who preceded us—indicates, it seems to me, the increasing air-minded-ness of America. And it is not only air-expeditions, pioneer explorations and "stunts" which command attention.

The air mail, perhaps more than any other branch of aeronautics, has brought home to the average man realization of the possibilities of aviation. Its regularity and dependability are taken for granted by many. While our development of this phase of air transport is notable, the United States is somewhat backward in other branches, compared with the European nations. We lag behind the procession in passenger
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carrying and the number of privately owned planes, in proportion to our size.

Abroad, the entire industry is generously subsidized by the various governments. Of course, aviation here knows no such support, a fact which means that, so far as we have gone, our industry is on a sound basis economically.

Although air transport in the U. S. A. has had to pay its own way, and is behind somewhat, slightly over 2000 commercial airplanes were constructed in 1927, and operations in the field of mail and transport flying approximated 6,000,000 miles flown. Nearly nine thousand passengers were carried, and two and a half million pounds of freight transported.

Impressive as are these figures, they are not comparable to the volume inevitable.

When I am asked what individuals can do to aid aviation my reply is, to those who haven't flown: "Fly." For, whether or not aviation will be found useful in their lives, or whether they find flying pleasant, at least they will have some understanding of what it is, if they go up. Every day all of us have opportunity to do our bit—and to get our bit—by using the air for our long-distance mail, and at least some of our express and freight. And perhaps some who come to touch aviation in these ways, will find an interest which will carry them into the ranks of plane owners.

Most people have quite incorrect ideas about the sensation of flying. Their mental picture of how it feels to go up in a plane is based on the way the plane looks when it takes off and flies, or upon their amusement-park experience in a roller-coaster. Some of the uninitiated compare flying to the memory of the last time they peered over the edge of a high building. The sensation of such moments is almost entirely lacking in a plane. Flying is so matter-of-fact that probably the passenger taking off for the first time will not know when he has left the ground.

I heard a man say as he left a plane after his first trip, "Well, the most remarkable thing about flying is that it isn't remarkable."

The sensation which accompanies height, for instance, so much feared by the prospective air passenger, is seldom present. There is no tangible connection between the plane and the earth, as there is in the case of a high building. To look at the street from a height of twenty stories gives some an impulse to jump. In the air, the passenger hasn't that feeling of absolute height, and he can look with perfect equanimity at the earth below. An explanation is that with the high building there is an actual contact between the body of the observer and the ground, creating a feeling of height. The plane passenger has no longer any vertical solid connecting him with the ground—and the atmosphere which fills the space between the bottom of the plane and the earth doesn't have the same effect.

Many people seem to think that going up in the air will have some ill effect on their hearts. I know a woman who was determined to die of heart failure if she made a flight. She isn't logical, for she rolls lazily through life encased in 100 lbs. of extra avoirdupois, which surely adds a greater strain on her heart—besides not giving it any fun, at all.

Seriously, of course a person with a chronically weak heart, who is affected by altitude, should not invite trouble by flying. A lame man should exercise special care in crossing a street with crowded traffic, and one with weak lungs should not attempt swimming a long distance unaccompanied.

Consciousness of speed in the air is surprisingly absent. Thirty miles an hour in an automobile, or fifty in a railroad train, gives one greater sensation of speed than moving one hundred miles an hour in a large plane. On the highway every pebble passed is a speedometer for one's eye, while the ties and track whirling backward from an observation car register the train's motion.

In the air there are no stones or trees or telegraph poles—no milestones for the eye, to act as speed indicators. Only a somewhat flattened countryside below, placidly slipping away or spreading out. Even when the plane's velocity is greatly altered no noticeable change in the whole situation ensues—80 miles an hour at several thousand feet is substantially the same as 140, so far as the sensations of sight and feeling are concerned.

Piloting differs from driving a car in that there is an added necessity for lateral control. An automobile runs up and down hill, and turns left or right. A plane climbs or dives, turns, and in addition, tips from one side to another. There is no worry in a car about whether the two left wheels are on the road or not; but a pilot must normally keep his wings level. Of course doing so becomes as automatic as driving straight, but is, nevertheless, dependent upon senses ever alert.

One of the first things a student learns in flying, is that he turns by pushing a rudder bar the way he wants to go. (The little wagons of our youth turned opposite the push, remember?)

When he turns he must bank or tip the wings at the same time. Why? Because the plane would skid in exactly the same way a car does if it whirls around a level corner.

The inside of an automobile race track is like a bowl, with the sides growing steeper toward the top. The cars climb toward the outer edge in proportion to their speed, and it is quite impossible to force a slow car up the steep side of the bowl. The faster it goes the steeper the bank must be and the sharper the turn. A pilot must make his own "bowl" and learn to tip his plane the right degree relative to the sharpness of his turn and his speed. A skid means lack of control, for a while, either on the ground or in the air, and of course is to be avoided. By the way, compensating for skidding is the same with a car or plane—one turns either craft in the direction of the skid.

Besides skidding, a plane can stall exactly as a car does on a hill. The motor is overtaxed and stops. The plane motor doesn't stop, but just as a stalled car starts to roll backwards down the hill, so the stalled plane begins to drop. Recovery of control with an automobile is simple; only a matter of jamming on the brakes and getting the engine started again. With the plane there is similarly little difficulty; it falls for a moment until it attains enough forward speed to make the rudder and elevators again effective. This is comparable to the ineffectiveness of a rudder on a too slow-moving boat. If a plane stall with out motor occurs so close to the earth that there isn't time to recover control, a hard landing results.

But in the air, as with automobiles, most accidents are due to the human equation. The careful driver, either below or aloft, barring the hard luck of mechanical failure, has remarkably little trouble, considering what he has to contend with.

I think it is a fair statement that for the average landing, the descent of the plane is less noticeable than the dropping of the modern high-speed elevator. It comes down in a gentle glide at an angle often much less than that of a country hill. As a result, unless a passenger is actually watching for the landing, he is aware he is approaching the ground only when the motors are idled.

"I would gladly fly if we could stay very close to the ground," is a statement that I have heard often in one way or another. As a matter of fact, a plane 100 feet off the earth is in infinitely more danger than one 3600 feet aloft.

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Trouble in the air is very rare. It is hitting the ground that causes it. Obviously the higher one happens to be, the more time there is to select a safe landing place in case of difficulty. For a ship doesn't fall like a plummet, even if the engine goes dead. It assumes a natural gliding angle which sometimes is as great as eight to one. That is, a plane 5000 feet in the air can travel in any direction eight times its altitude (40,000 feet) or practically eight miles. Thus it has a potential landing radius of 16 miles.

Sometimes, a cautious pilot elects to come down at once to make a minor engine adjustment. Something is wrong and he, properly, is unwilling to risk flying further, even though probably able to do so. Just so the automobile driver, instead of limping on with, say, worn distributor points, or a foul spark plug, would do well to stop at once at a garage and get his engine back into efficient working order.

All of which obviously points the necessity of providing frequent landing places along all airways. Few things, I think, would do more to eliminate accidents in the air. With perfected motors the dread of forced landings will be forgotten, and with more fields, at least in the populous areas, "repair" landings would be safe and easy.

Eliminating many of the expected sensations of flying doesn't mean that none are to be anticipated or that those left are only pleasant. There are poor days for flying as well as good ones. Just as in yachting, weather plays an important part, and sometimes entirely prevents a trip. Even ocean liners are occasionally held over in port to avoid a storm, or are prevented from making a scheduled landing because of adverse conditions. In due time a plane will probably become as reliable as these ocean vessels of today, because although a severe storm will wreck it, its greater speed will permit it to fly around the storm area―to escape dangers rather than battle through them as a ship must do.

The choppy days at sea have a counterpart in what fliers call "bumpy" conditions over land. Air is liquid flow and where obstructions occur there will be eddies. For instance, imagine wind blowing directly toward a clump of trees, or coming in sudden contact with a cliff or steep mountain. Water is thrown up when it strikes against a rock and just so is a stream of air broken on the object in its way, and diverted upward in atmospheric gusts which correspond to the spray of the seaside. Encountering such a condition a plane gets a "wallop"―is tossed up and buffeted as it rolls over the wave.

There are bumps, too, from sources other than these land shoals. Areas of cool air and warm disturb the flow of aerial rivers through which the plane moves. The "highs" and "lows" familiar to the meteorologists—the areas of high and low barometric pressure—are forever playing tag with each other, the air from one area flowing in upon the other much as water seeks its own level, creating fair weather and foul, and offering interesting problems to the students of navigation, not to mention variegated experiences to the flyer himself.

The nautical boys have an advantage over the avigators. Constant things like the gulf stream can be labeled and put on charts and shoals marked. But one can't fasten buoys in the atmosphere. Flyers can only plot topography. Air, like water, gives different effects under different conditions. The pilot must learn that when the wind blows over a hill from one direction, the result is not the same as that when it blows from another. Water behaves similarly. The shoals of the air seem a little more elusive, however, because their eddies are invisible. If one could see a downward current of air or a rough patch of it, avigating might be easier sometimes.

"Bumpiness" means discomfort, or a good time for strong stomachs, in the air just as rough water does in ocean voyaging. There is no reason to suppose, however, if one isn't susceptible to seasickness or car-sickness, that air travel will prove different.

Some of the air-sickness experienced is due to the lack of proper ventilation in cabin planes. Many are not adequately ventilated for with the opening of the windows, the heat and sometimes the fumes of the motors are blown in. Adequate ventilation is one of the amenities which the plane of the future will have to possess.

Perhaps the greatest joy of flying is the magnificent extent of the view. If the visibility is good, the passenger seems to see the whole world.

I have spoken of the effect of height in flattening the landscape, always a phenomenon in the eyes of the air novitiate. Even mountains grow humble and a really rough terrain appears comparatively smooth. Trees look like bushes, and automobiles like flat-backed bugs. A second plane which may be flying a few hundred feet above the ground, as seen from a greater altitude looks as if it were just skimming the surface. All vertical measurement is fore-shortened.

The world seen from the air is laid out in squares. Especially striking is the checkerboard effect wherever one looks down on what his brother man has done. Country or city, it is the same—only the rectangles are of different sizes. The city plays its game of checkers in smaller spaces than the country, and divides its area more minutely.

If one is fortunate enough to fly over clouds, another world is entered. The clouds may be grey or white or tinted the exquisite colors of sunset. Sometimes "holes" occur in them through which little glimpses of the earth may be seen. It is possible to be lying in sunshine and to look down on a piece of dull grey earth. There is sport to be had playing hide-and-seek through the light fluffy clouds that are not compact enough to be ominous. An instant of greyness is followed by a flash of sunlight as one emerges into the clear air. By the way, a flyer can dissipate a fairly small cloud by diving into it.

That is the fun of the clouds which look like "mashed potatoes." The big fellows can be much more serious. Once into them, and one has the sensation of being surrounded by an everlasting mass of grey, comparable, so far as visibility goes, with a heavy fog. In such clouds one can find all varieties of weather—rain, snow, or sleet.

In the trans-Atlantic flight, we encountered both rain and snow. There lies one of the greatest risks of long distance flying—I mean moisture freezing upon the wings of the plane. The danger zone of temperature is said to lie chiefly between twenty-four and thirty-eight degrees, when slush begins to form. Once in trouble of that kind, the pilot does his best to find warmer or colder temperature, normally by decreasing or increasing his altitude.

As an example of the ice menace, I was told of a plane which after a very few moments in the air was barely able to regain the field whence it had taken off in a sleet storm, coming down with a coating of ice which weighed at least five hundred pounds.

Speaking of ice, I am often asked about the temperatures in the air. "Is it dreadfully cold up there?"

Recently a group flew from New York to Boston on one of the hottest mornings of the summer. The temperatures at about 2000 feet were probably some degrees lower than those prevailing on the ground. We all know that unless one encounters a breeze, often the temperature on a mountain 5000 feet high is no more agreeable than that at its base. In a small open plane, as contrasted to the cabin ship, one would have a pleasanter time on a summer day,
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and conversely more discomfort in cold weather. It parallels the experience in an open car.

In crossing the Atlantic I think the lowest temperature we had in the unheated aft cabin of the Friendship was around forty. Our lowest outside temperatures were only a few degrees below this. On the Atlantic our maximum altitude was about 11,000 feet, with an average far lower. Doubtless it would have been colder had we flown high more of the distance.

In addition to the visual joys of airscapes, there is much else that flying gives. Nothing, perhaps, is more appealing than the sense of quick accomplishment—of getting somewhere, sooner. Aviation means an approach to the elimination of time wastage, and seems to point the way to further increase in the world's leisure.

Humanity reaches for leisure—as time in which to do what it wants. The Orient finds contemplation its pleasure, while the Occient is not content without action. Of course, Americans are noted for the work they do to play. Perhaps aviation will tend to make them enjoy life a little more, by providing time to do something else.