Airplanes for Peace






IN this article the Atlantic begins an international discussion of post-war aviation. The disposal of our air bases and the problem of our future defense cannot be discussed in detail until the fighting has ceased. But rightly or wrongly, the plans for air transport which are now in a formative state have caused considerable anxiety here and abroad, lest they should result in an economic struggle among the United Nations. The Atlantic believes that a clear statement of the facts involved will reduce the swelling.
Our opening speaker, Grover Loening, is the technical adviser on aviation to Donald Nelson and the WPB. He will be followed in December by William A. M. Burden, Special Aviation Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce, and in January by Peter Masefield, the aviation editor of the London Times. —THE EDITOR

THE technical progress we are making in our war effort is sure to be constructive in the after-the-war Air Age. A surprising statistic has recently come to light in Washington. We have long known that there are 238,000 route-miles of railroad in the United States. But today on the desks of the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington are applications for over 500,000 miles of new air routes — twice as much as our railroad mileage.

Is there any governmental organization capable of handling this new, sizable field of enterprise? Or do we need a new development — a further step-up — in Washington for the regulation, control, and encouragement of sound air progress?

Our Civil Aeronautics organization started in the A stage — the CAA or Civil Aeronautics Authority

— and then seems to have progressed in alphabetical order. Next came the CAB, the present conscientious and hard-working Civil Aeronautics Board

— to be presently followed by the CAC, the Civil Aeronautics Commission that the new Lea bill proposes.

D is, of course, what this organization ought to be, to dignify its already great size and great promise and great problems: the Civil Aeronautics Department — the CAD, with a Secretary for Air. We have not reached the D stage quite yet, but actually we should have reached it long ago. Air transport, airplane usage, air problems, permeate the whole fabric of this country. Air matters are certainly as distinct a part of American life as is Agriculture or the operation of the Post Office.

And what better time could there be to make this change in our government than right now? The war has temporarily stalled Civil Aeronautics and gives us a breathing spell in which to reorganize and get ready for action after the war. The few people involved in studying such a department, creating it, organizing it, and getting a Department of the Air started would not detract from the war effort; actually they would help it.

Copyright 1943, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

Let me sum up a few of the decisions such a Department will have to make. First, there is the matter of exactly who, among the large number of applicants, are finally going to get certificates to operate aircraft. Obviously not all can. This leads to the consideration of our philosophy of airline operation, principally as to whether or not we are to allow monopolies. Are we, for example, to have regional monopolies somewhat similar to those of the utilities? Do we want a monopoly of our international airlines such as we have had to a great degree?

This question of monopoly, when faced realistically, cuts right into the question of what constitutes real democracy and what constitutes a successful private-initiative capitalism. I do not want to digress from aviation to develop that statement. But one of the first things that America will have to decide right after the war, and one of the things that we ought to be thinking about now, is this subject of air monopoly.


THOUSANDS of aviators and hundreds of thousands of mechanics are going to be returned from the war to peacetime pursuits. During the war (unlike last time) they will have learned to like aviation, to realize fully its vast possibilities. They will have flown the oceans, the mountain ranges, the continents of the world, and they will want to participate in building up our air empire. It is true, as many public men have pointed out, — unmistakably true, — that capitalism can run riot and ruin itself by too much monopoly. Monopoly can become fascism in business. It does become arrogant, autocratic, selfaggrandized. Curiously, one thing that monopoly capitalism can do — and it is something which is most difficult to combat — is to present a marvelous case for itself to the public. For example, as long as Pan American Airways, which has done a wonderful job, has no gauge but its own performance to be judged by, everything it does is perfection if it says so.

Can the service rendered by a monopoly ever be as efficient as that which feels the ruthless spur of competition? The monopolists cite the American Telephone & Telegraph Company as the outstanding example. But there are telephone engineers who believe that the familiar instrument we lift off the hook is by no means all that it should be. It was a French invention to begin with; a great deal of pressure was necessary to get the telephone company to adopt it; and it still is lacking in many desirable devices (such as a recording system when the owner is away) because the development of the instrument is in the hands of a monopoly. If the crossroads gasoline service station business had been a monopoly, should we have the marvelous service we have today?

Monopoly is seen to be a fallacy in a democratic society when you remember that there are other citizens paying their taxes who want to have a run for their money also. There will be other aviators returning from the world-wide school of aviation of this war who will want to start companies of their own, who have a right to use the air road — who also want to share in the fun and the thrill and the trials and the acclaim of having successfully developed airlines.

So what business must learn right now is that it is quite unfair to give to the pioneering companies a pre-emptive right to the air transport field. They themselves could not have done a thing in this field if it had not been for the pioneers who devised their engines, devised their airplanes, devised and developed de-icers, variable pitch propellers, stabilizers, new fuels, and so on down the list.

Let us accept the undesirability of according a monopoly and then let us do the best we can under a system of American competition. One of the inheritances that we are fighting to give to our young men graduating into business is the assurance that they too, if they are sufficiently competent, aggressive, and hard-working — as the creators of Pan American Airways were — can look forward to creating their little empire.

But they must understand that they cannot make it so big that it becomes antisocial, no matter how efficient it is. To this extent we subscribe to the socialization of capitalism. Let us not permit any of our units to get too big, lest we end by losing our private-enterprise system entirely. This principle applies not only to aviation but to many other fields of business; in all of them we must approach problems realistically and with a thoroughly sound fundamental understanding of this philosophy: that the granting of private initiative does not carry with it the warrant for totalitarian private greed. The supposition of greater efficiency or economy is not a sufficient excuse for monopoly. It will be better for us, particularly in aviation, to have a slightly less economical air transport system, which may cost us a little bit more in subsidies, but which will preserve keen competition, because we shall gain in the long run through the encouragement and development of American ingenuity.

Immediately the question suggests itself: How big can the present air industry be after the war? That is hard to estimate. At the present time, published figures show that the airplane production industry is more than five times as large as the entire automobile industry was before the war. The end of the war will of course deflate this amount tremendously. Intelligent estimates indicate a deflation to about one tenth of its size. However, let’s see how much railroad and express traffic we have to equal in order to keep the industry going.

The requirements of private aviation in a few years will be around 100,000 planes (excluding the new helicopter), and the requirements of the military in a peacetime era enough, let us pray to God, to give us reasonable preparedness at all times. Our industry at its present huge size could readily deliver 15,000 large transports a year of known types. These could carry an easy average of 5 tons at some 200 miles an hour and be operated 3000 hours a year. Each plane, therefore, could contribute an average of 3 million ton-miles a year. And 15,000 planes would give 45 billion ton-miles a year.

This number of planes, of course, is a yearly production. Kept up for a few years, on a basis of about 30 per cent replacement (which is very high), such a production would correspond to a fleet of about 50,000 transport planes, which could carry 150 billion ton-miles a year, or one quarter of the total of railroad freight traffic of about GOO billion tonmiles a year.

If the aircraft industry, after the war, is to be even one fifth as large as at present (which would make it about the size of the automobile industry before 1940 — a very generous estimate), it will need to find a cargo carrying business of around 30 billion ton-miles a year, which is 5 per cent of the total railroad ton-mile movement. This 5 per cent would be derived from the carriage of most first class mail, a large proportion of railroad express and freight of less than carload lots, and not over one third of the merchandise freight of the railroads. I do not want to predict the carrying of any heavy commodities by air soon, but I certainly do not want to join those outspoken critics of air optimism who flatly state that “heavy commodities will never be carried by air.” It would be better to leave out the word never.

A very serious shortage of aviation gasoline threatens. The figures cannot be given out now, but let us not forget that operating such thousands of transport aircraft will use an amount of gasoline possibly beyond our present capacity. Certainly everything will have to be done in the air transport industry to make possible the use of cheaper and more readily available grades of gasoline; otherwise all the fond dreams of air transport on a huge scale may vanish because of the scarcity of fuel. A realistic estimate of the available fuel must temper optimistic predictions.

And remember that at present it takes a ton of gas to fly a ton of cargo across the ocean. Inventors and designers and engineers will certainly have to improve on this.


THERE are three distinct schools of thought on how we shall handle our international airlines after the war. The first has had great prominence. Very plausibly it; argues for the natural development and enlargement of Pan American Airways’ world-wide air transport monopoly under the American flag.

The second is a proposal by United Air Lines and Pan American for the formation of a national company which will be the chosen instrument of the American public. No other group of managers or developers would be allowed to enter this field. By having the air companies of the United States participate in a stock ownership, it is suggested that this company would represent all the American airlines. But could a divergent group of engineering interests, all with a right to a say-so, agree on technical details, on choice of equipment, manner of operating routes, choice of personnel, and other matters, under such a setup? One can think of many possibilities of chaos in this proposal.

The third possibility is regulated competition — that is, several companies keenly competing with each other on any routes on which the business is of sufficient volume. Here a governmental Department of the Air must have final authority charged with fostering the soundest development of aviation for the benefit of taxpayers, and with issuing certificates for airlines, so that the competition would be preserved and be profitable.

Intelligently regulated competition is advocated as a policy by sixteen of the major airlines of the United States (in fact, all the domestic ones except United Air Lines). It is also advocated by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, by the aircraft manufacturers, and by many impartial observers.

There is a fourth proposal, hardly worthy of mention: to have wide-open, unregulated competition. This could only result in ruination.

A gross of $100,000,000 represents last year’s earnings of our United States international system — a system employing about 90,000 men and operating between 100 and 200 aircraft. This is a pretty big enterprise. How much can it be enlarged in fairness to the competitive elements involved?

Question number two: How about railroad, steamship, and bus companies? Should they participate? One side says yes. They are transportation companies; they are experienced in the handling of traffic. They used to have — in the case of the steamship companies — facilities and organizations and traffic personnel abroad of great value. The other side claims that we must not have transportation monopolies in any region. We must not allow a company whose first loyalty is to another field of transport to pre-empt the air transport field and to slow down the greatest possible development by those devoted solely to the air. The law has already taken sides here, to the extent that the present Civil Aeronautics Act requires very stringent justification for the entrance of the older forms of transportation into the new field of air.

Of course, if a railroad company or a steamship company or a bus company is losing faith in its present medium of transport, there is nothing to prevent it from transferring its entire capital, its entire personnel, and all of its experience, wholeheartedly into the new air field by making itself an all-out air company. Possibly this will be the answer to those in the older forms of transportation who have become consumed with this new air enthusiasm. It is on divided loyalty and on monopoly that this idea of integrated transport may founder.


DURING the war, there has been a remarkable initiative in transoceanic operations. The Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, winch for several years has operated an extensive private airline to Australia from California, has already halved the time on its daily service that the trip took before the war.

The large American domestic airlines have already developed extensive transoceanic air operations under direct Army contracts. There is no more mystery about flying the oceans. Before 1939, American pilots had made only thirty-three transAtlantic flights. During 1943, literally tens of thousands of flights will be made over the Atlantic. I was present at an airfield in Scotland one afternoon last fall when seventy-six American planes arrived from across the Atlantic in one short hour. To those pilots, largely youngsters with only two or three hundred hours of flying, this flight was just an extralong one — no romance, just tedious routine.

Now, to explore a little further into the future: it looks very much as if an airline from New York to Washington will be operated in a totally different manner shortly after the war — not on fixed schedules, but exactly as trolley cars used to be. You will go to the airport to get a ride to Washington and merely take the next plane, leaving on fiveor tenminute headways. This sort of service will cause a vast increase in traffic — traffic that is not “stolen” from any other field. It is a totally new kind of traffic, which, were it not for this quickness, wouldn’t go to Washington at all. In such “shuttle” service the tendency would be to use smaller aircraft.

But evidence has steadily accumulated in recent years that larger aircraft for the same horsepower are not only more commodious and more impressive, but that they are actually faster and more efficient. Also, they cost less to operate per passenger because the crew that flies them and the crew that does the handling on the ground are by no means doubled if we double the capacity of the plane.

The reason for this greater efficiency of larger airplanes is that as the size goes up, the relative size of both the crews and the load goes down; the relative size of the pilot to fly the plane and the windshield to protect him, and the weight of the instruments needed, all become a smaller proportion of the gross weight and consequently have proportionally less air resistance.

But finally a time comes (it seems to be at a gross weight of between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds) when the weight of the wing itself to carry the loads begins to creep up in proportion and exceed the savings due to the other items indicated. From then on, the large aircraft becomes less efficient — unless we do something to modify the wing structure.

A great deal of attention has been given lately to what is called the “flying-wing” type of aircraft. In this type the tail structure is eliminated. In its place the wings themselves are bent backwards and are supposed to give the needed controllability.

The flying-wing enthusiasts think they have something new that is going to sweep the boards. But other and perhaps more hardheaded analysts point out that the development of the last few years has required the ordinary airplane, for safe control (particularly in blind flying), to have longer tails and larger tail surfaces. So the critics of the flying wing maintain that until tail surfaces tend to become smaller and shorter, the trend towards the flying wing is wrong. They predict that the rearwardsweeping tips of the flying wings will themselves get larger and more cluttered with rudders and other controlling surfaces until, in effect, they will end up in the form of an airplane with two tails and be just as heavy as other types and not any more efficient. Time will answer this one.


VAST in its implications, particularly for cargo carrying, is the development of the glider and its companion device, the pickup from the air by the towplane — so ably pioneered and developed by the late Richard du Pont, whose loss is such a severe blow to aviation.

The cargo-carrying glider must of necessity be shaped in a very fine streamlined form and have a minimum of air resistance. Such gliders, when built of the finest materials, will be so light that 60 per cent of their total weight can be a useful load; and this useful load would be all cargo, because gliders carry no fuel. The development of towing gliders is still quite new. But the problems involved are now well understood, and design is advancing rapidly. In general, it may be stated that the properly designed combination will result in the towplane’s being able to tow a gross load in the form of gliders equal to its own gross weight at the expense of losing 25 per cent of its normal cruising speed.

Now picture a modern cargo plane — a plane that can carry 5 tons at 200 miles an hour for 3000 hours a year. Its capacity would be 3 million tonmiles a year. Applying these figures to what such a plane could do in towing gliders, a 25 per cent reduction in speed means that it would cruise at 150 instead of 200 miles an hour. It could tow a gross weight of about 50,000 pounds, of which 60 per cent would be cargo load — 30,000 pounds or 15 tons.

Since the plane itself is already carrying 5 tons, the total combination would carry 20 tons at 150 miles an hour, and, doing this for 3000 hours a year, would have a yearly cargo-carrying capacity of 9 million ton-miles — three times as much as that of the towplane alone.

There would of course be additional expense: the cost of the glider and its maintenance, of a crew and pilot, and if three small gliders were used instead of a single large one, the additional crew of three junior pilots.

But in the operation of the air train there would be very great savings too. Cargo cannot walk on and off a plane, and anyone who has traveled recently by air will readily realize what a lot of trouble and time and expense is involved in shifting cargoes around, emptying out holds, putting in new shipments, and changing them — during all of which time the airplane sits idly on the ground, increasing the overhead.

If, instead of having to load and unload the airplane, the cargo holds can be divided by having the carrying capacity in several gliders, then the entire matter is simplified, because while the plane is flying, a glider on the ground can be loading at any one station. Remember that the plane can release the glider carrying a load to that station from the air without having to unload itself at all. Add to this picture the ability of the towplane to pick up other gliders from the ground without having to land, and you have a train that releases one loaded car and takes on another car all ready to proceed to the new destination — a very great economy.

Evidence is increasing daily that, where at one time air pickup was merely considered a stunt, it may well end by being the backbone of the operation of air transport. And if such development does work out, then our hopes of being able to get the costs down to three or four cents a ton-mile are not too optimistic.

These developments are potent enough in their promise for the future. But the air is full of unexploited initiative. We have for instance, jet propulsion, which is likely to increase the efficiency of fuel consumption. We have wings that today are wasteful in air resistance, and which can be greatly improved by having suction applied to the boundary layer of air flowing over them. An improvement here will increase the lift of a wing and the all-round efficiency of air transport as well as lower the cost.

And then, just as we think that the loads we are carrying are the limit, — certainly the limit that can be handled on the magnificent long runways that so many of our airports have, — along come several new ideas that have to do with assisted takeoff and the use of rockets for helping the initial push. And always we shall see continued detailed improvements in aircraft: a smoother skin, still finer and sleeker shapes, new metals with less weight, and fuels with greater power.

All that I have cited here is merely the potential in store for the air transport — for the fast-flying, fixed-wing airplane. I have said nothing about the helicopter, — the short-range air car of the future that is so likely to compete with the automobile itself, — with its ability to land or take off on any little clearing or roof.

There is only one blight that can stop this inevitable progress, and that is a monopolistic, communistic, or governmental heavy hand that will hamper that spark of private initiative that is so truly American.