Picked up the March 1939 issue of Aviation magazine at a used book store. There is a lot of interesting content; here are some highlights…

(1)The big story was the delivery to Pan American Airways of the new Boeing 314 flying boats, intended to support Pan Am’s first transatlantic service, as well as for expansion of its existing transpacific service. (Atlantic service came 4 years later than the Pacific service due to strictly political reasons.)

The Boeing 314 (“Clipper”) could carry 74 passengers, but configured for overnight service, as it was for the transoceanic runs, the number of passengers was limited to 40. There was a 14-seat dining room, davenports convertible into upper and lower berths for the passengers, and a special private suite (“honeymoon suite”) in the tail of the plane.

There are several wonderful web sites about the Clippers. The Pan Am Clipper Flying Boats site covers several models operated by Pan Am, with the B-314-specific information here, including exterior and interior pictures. This image-rich site is also great, as is this one.

One-way fare, New York to Marseilles, was $375. According to the BLS Inflation Calculator, this would be equivalent to about $6000 in today’s money. I imagine the Private Suite was quite a bit more.

2)The first inside page carries an ad for Piper’s new Cub Coupe model, for $1995. I don’t think the Coupe was one of Piper’s more successful airplanes, sales-wise, but the ad also mentions that you could get a Cub Sport 50 for $1995, which the Inflation Calculator turns into $24000 in 2011 money. The nearest modern equivalents I could find are the American Legend Cub, starting at about $125K, and the CubCrafters Sport Cub, $135K. (This is not really a direct comparison, since these airplanes have more powerful engines than the original Cub, plus several additional features such as actual electrical systems and self-starters.) Original Cubs in good condition seem to be currently available for somewhere in the $30-50K range.

3)The “Aircraft Radio” column mentions a new invention called a Klystron, used to generate ultra-high-frequency radio waves. Two applications for such frequencies are mentioned: instrument landing systems and the United Airlines-Western Electric Terrain Clearance Indicator. The column mentions that both of these systems had been profiled in earlier issues.

I italicized the Terrain Clearance Indicator, because I think this is astonishing. The TCI was a radio altimeter, ie basically radar, albeit radar with a very short range and providing distance but not azimuth information. I was aware that much military radar research was going on in secret at this time, particularly in Britain, but had no idea that a device that was basically radar was being discussed in the open literature and indeed available as a commercial product.

4)A short item mentions that probably women will not be trained as pilots for the military, but that they will likely be trained as airplane mechanics. In the event, there were definitely women used as delivery pilots, target-towing pilots, etc, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of female mechanics (outside the factories) during WWII…does anyone know if there were any women in this role?

The writer of the item could not resist wondering “if military pilots of the future are going to approve of having important parts of their airplanes stuck together with hair pins.” Hey, if duct tape saved a space shuttle…

5)The same writer suggests that airlines are under a marketing disadvantage compared with ocean travel, since “newpapers and news reels are always featuring pictures of actresses perched on the rails of trans-Atlantic liners, displaying shapely legs,” and further suggests that the first airline to install an equivalent rail “would undoubtedly monopolize all of the stage and screen business.”

6)Bendix, a manufacturer of aircraft parts including brakes and shock struts, ran a full-page ad imploring airplane designers to get in touch with them to establish a collaborative effort at an early stage of their projects. This is interesting since deep and early supplier involvement in higher-level product design is often thought of as a pretty modern concept.

7)Concerns were reported that export orders for military aircraft, especially from France, might interfere with production of sufficient airplanes to meet our own preparedness needs, with the War Department and the Treasury being on opposite sides of the debate.

8)The front cover has a Pratt & Whitney advertisement featuring that company’s Hornet engine, as applied to a Junkers transport and sold to the Bolivian airline. Just 6 months later, Junkers aircraft would be bombing Poland, and 4 years later, P&W-powered American planes would be bombing Germany.

A lot of interesting and thought-provoking reading for $4.95!

Previous retro-reading posts here and here.

7 thoughts on “Retro-Reading”

  1. David, good find.

    IT reminds me of the times I spent many enjoyable hours going through the bound volumes of Iron Age magazine for the early 20th century. They were in the stacks at the Regenstein Library. It was the iron and steel industry magazine. Absolutely fascinating to follow a major war, both build-up and build-down, or a major economic downturn, this way. Also interesting to see the management response to unionization. One more subtle point, after WW2, decade by decade, you can feel the energy and innovation and excitement drain out of the industry.

  2. LG, an interesting follow-up to your Iron Age reading might be “American Steel,” a 1992 book by Richard Preston which is about the founding of Nucor (mini-mill company–makes steel electrically from scrap) and their pioneering of the continuous casting process. They evidently re-created a lot of the excitement which had drained out of the big integrated steel companies.

  3. David, I remember the Nucor story very well as it was happening. I had several family members in the local steel industry and maybe that was why I was so interested. I can’t remember.

  4. The B-314’s were large, magnificant aircraft. The Flying Boat museum in Foynes, Ireland features a full scale replica to walk through and explore.

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