Plain Facts About Private Planes

by W. T. PIPER


THERE is no doubt in my mind that eventually the plane will change man’s way of life on this planet. The commercial plane will alter our system of marketing and distribution. The private plane will alter our individual way of working and living. Both together will enable us to open up undeveloped regions, with unpredictable effects on what we eat and wear, on our knowledge of one another, and on our hours of leisure.

Eventually, I believe, the speed of transportation and communication created by air travel, radio, and television will bring about a global form of government. When a man can get around the world about as fast as his great-great-grandfather could get around the county, changes in forms of government are inevitable.

The misconceptions in the public mind about aviation are mainly misconceptions about how soon these changes will arrive. They will not come overnight. The human mind is not so flexible as that. Furthermore, too rapid change would dislocate the complex organization of our present way of life and cause more harm than good.

One popular misconception is that the aviation industry is comparable in size to the automobile industry. It is not. At the beginning of the war, there were in the United States only about 25,000 licensed non-military airplanes, of which fewer than 400 were air liners. In the seven years from 1935 to 1941, production was only 23,820 planes — a total output which equaled about two days’ production of automobiles.

Under the stress of war, it is true, the aviation industry has grown from one of our smallest to one of the largest industries in the world. The normal output of automobiles is dwarfed by the twenty billions yearly production of the aircraft plants.

But this increase is temporary. All kinds of plants, from canning factories to those making pipe organs, have been drafted into plane-making. Many of these will return in peacetime to their normal businesses. Guesses as to peacetime production vary from 5000 two-place planes in the first two postwar years up to 100,000 helicopters or light planes a year. New alloys, new materials, high-octane gas may bring unforeseeable changes in design and pricing. Only one thing is certain: supply wall not exceed demand, and demand will not exceed practical utility.

A second popular misconception is that the private plane will replace the private automobile. This is not possible. You cannot fly over to the milkman’s for an extra bottle of cream, or take the children to school in a plane, or fly down to the corner for a soda. There is no place for the smallest plane to sit down on such errands. It cannot be flown at night by amateurs, or landed except at well-marked fields. It cannot carry the family furniture when you move. The capacity of the popular-priced plane is two or three passengers only, and you cannot crowd it with your family and friends and go flying on Sunday afternoon in it. The balance of a plane is delicate and should not be disturbed by overloading.

The private plane does make it possible for two or three members of the family, with minimum luggage, to go in three or four hours to places that would take many hours or even days to reach by any other kind of transportation. In the post-war world a man and his wife will be able to hop from a Texas ranch to Chicago to hear an opera. Or a couple of friends can fly into the north woods to fish an unknown lake. Or a housewife can fly from a small community to a large one for basic shopping where stocks offer wider choice. Or she can fly her husband in half an hour to work in a big city while her children live in the peace and quiet of a country place.

But for many years the private plane will be an adjunct to the family automobile, not a replacement. And it will be useful only in good flying weather. This limitation affects its market considerably. Relatively few families in the United States can afford two cars, let alone a car and a plane.

Another popular misconception is that the small private plane can be set down anywhere. While it is true that, expert flyers have done miracles in setting down “grasshopper” planes in remote spots to pick up injured men and fly them to base hospitals, the ordinary operator needs a smooth landing strip 100 to 250 feet wide, and 1500 to 2500 feet long, with well-marked corners and a wind sock, for safe and satisfactory results.

At present a private plane is limited to large communities with big landing fields — fields already busy with high-speed commercial traffic.

Before there can be any great popular demand for private planes, there must be thousands of small landing strips in cities, towns, villages, hamlets, farming communities. Compared to roads, they cost very little. Where a road may cost from $30,000 to $1,000,000 a mile, landing strips cost $1000 up, depending on the price of the land and on the terrain. If such strips were set alongside a main highway, near a thriving metropolis, a man could land his plane and get a bus into the business district. Built as the nucleus of a filling station, restaurant, and tourist cabin establishment, they would pay their way as a business venture. Municipalities should now begin to include money for landing strips in their budgets.

It is easy to see that if there are 10,000 places to which a private plane owner can go at will, he will be far more likely to own a plane than if he can go only to a few dozen within his cruising range.

It is also easy to see that it is wiser for a community to spend a small amount of money for construction and maintenance of landing strips that will accommodate many private planes than to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build airports to accommodate traffic that will not come for many years.

A fourth popular misconception is the belief that post-war planes will replace trains and buses. They will not. The big, fast commercial passenger-carrying planes cannot afford to handle local traffic. It is a matter of simple arithmetic. A plane traveling 180 m.p.h. and carrying 20 passengers at 5 cents a mile cannot afford to sit down frequently to pick up small fares. A train can stop three to five minutes at a station, pick up passengers, and go on again without great loss. But a plane has to come down, load, and get up again to a high altitude, using considerable time and gas in the process, and delaying mail and express. The faster the plane, the higher it flies, and the more passengers it carries, the greater its loss when it stops to pick up local fares.

There will undoubtedly be feeder lines and shorthop lines. Scores of companies are applying now for permission to fly such routes. There is some talk of covering America with such feeder lines. But the arithmetic of it has not yet been worked out to show that it is a profitable venture, as compared with carrying passengers short distances by bus or train.


OBVIOUSLY, many of the plants now making planes will continue to do so after the war. A month’s output would probably equal a year’s demand. Donald Douglas, asked what he intended to do after the war with his big plant in Oklahoma City, said briefly, “Put a padlock on it.”

Still another popular misconception is the belief that at the end of the war there will be thousands of military planes convertible to civilian use. This is not so. A large number of these planes will be needed by the Army and Navy for defense work — planes designed for one specific job, such as combat, bombing, interception, pursuit, and so on. Those that are not needed for defense will be too heavy, too expensive to operate, and too fast for any commercial use. Their engines, propellers, wheels, tires, and instruments can be salvaged for installation in commercial planes, but the rest of the plane wall have only junk value. Nobody could afford to buy the gas to fly such planes at their terrific speeds.

There is also a popular belief that the helicopter will be almost immediately and universally available in great numbers for post-war private use. Its ability to hover, fly backward, and land in a small space has captured the imagination of the public to an extraordinary extent. To date, however, only a few have been built, and many problems remain to be solved before the helicopter will be safe and economical for the ordinary citizen to fly.

Others foresee amphibians in general use. But amphibians are expensive. Some prophesy the roadable aircraft, with wings that can be folded back like a beetle’s and with tires that can run on the highway. But again this is expensive. Also it is unsafe to drive a car in traffic without heavy bumpers, which are impracticable for use in the air. Further, it does not seem likely that the owner would enjoy coming out of the theater in his good clothes, finding that there is a fog, and engaging in the messy job of retracting his wings for a slow road-trip home. We Americans like to turn a key or press a button and say “Let’s go” without any more bother.

These misconceptions are mainly the misconceptions of a public which knows little, firsthand, about planes. But after the war we shall have probably some three million citizens who have flown, studied, or actually worked with planes.

Several hundred thousand pilots will have been trained by the Army and Navy, plus 2,500,000 people trained as mechanics, radio men, traffic men, field workers, and other ground force workers. There are about 150,000 civilian student pilots now in training, plus a tremendous number of high school students throughout the country taking theoretical courses in preparation for private pilot licenses. The last year of the war will see some 100,000 young men who have been accepted by the Army and Navy for flight training, but who will not have had combat service. Thousands of girls and women will have been trained by the WASPS, and let us not forget that before the war there were 100,000 licensed private pilots.

Many of these three million will want to fly and to own their own planes. Many firms that have engaged in wartime plane manufacture will wish to continue building planes for this market. Many communities will feel themselves behind the times unless they furnish adequate landing fields for plane owners to use when they come to town to trade. Supply will follow demand all along the line. Population wall tend to fan out from the cities, for you can’t own a plane if you live on a fifty-foot lot, nor can you take off from a busy street.

The plane they will mostly want will be an expensive high-speed super-duper. But the plane they will actually buy will be a popular-priced light plane. Usually, it will have some business value in their way of life. Too few planes have yet been manufactured for us to know how our ingenious Americans will use them to do things in a practical way to make them earn their keep.


SOME of the uses of planes in civilian life are to dust crops with insecticides, to control grasshoppers at the point where they are emerging from the egg, to act as fire patrols and inspection patrols of power lines and oil lines. Game wardens use them on inspection trips; trappers use them to run trap lines. In Texas, oil men use them to visit their widely spaced wells. Cattlemen with big ranches use them to run their fences, to inspect the condition of their cattle, and to kill coyotes. Cattle buyers use them to speed up their trips, not only between ranch and ranch, but in judging the value of bunches of cattle in distant pastures.

Planes have been used to carry light perishable merchandise to market — eggs, for instance, or flowers. I hey have been used for crop surveys and studies of insect migration. News photography, advertising-banner towing, and rescue and supply work during and after disaster are other civilian uses.

At the present time, the military use of the “cub” or “grasshopper” type of plane is the best illustration of its adaptability to post-war civilian use.

These planes are used for air ambulances. When adequate care cannot be given to the injured man on the spot, the cub plane flies to the location and lands where a larger plane could not maneuver. The casualty, comfortably enclosed in a specially designed turtle-deck compartment, is then flown to the base hospital.

They are also used as winged couriers to fly important maps, papers, and personnel between field headquarters and the base. And they are “the eyes of the Artillery.” Their nickname of “grasshopper” was derived from the way they swept in and around hills and trees finding the range for the artillery.

This extreme maneuverability and ease of flying will adapt them in civil life to a thousand uses. They will be used as air taxis, as ambulances, and for mail and express pick-up and delivery jobs. They will, eventually, enable people to live in more healthful country surroundings and to bring up their children in sunshine and quiet. They should also be valuable in police patrol work.

Given sufficient landing strips, they represent the most flexible transportation the world has ever seen. Trains must stick to tracks, cars to roads, but planes can go anywhere. And when you figure the cost of roads and railway lines, in both construction and maintenance, planes are the least expensive form of mechanical transportation as well.

Probably there will be fly-it-yourself services, to carry men in a hurry, men delivering valuable papers, men who need to get to some point difficult of access by present transportation. As fields are developed outside more cities, the traveling salesman will find it a great timesaver to rent a fly-it-yourself plane which he can leave when he is through with it at any branch of the service, returning to the home office by train.

Just what is such a plane like? How big is it, how do you garage it, what will it cost, what will it carry, how much gas does it take, how do you get it serviced, how do you insure it, how do you get a license to operate it?

Well, the cub trainer now being used by our armed forces is a tandem two-seater 65-horsepower plane with a fully enclosed and heated cockpit. The commercial version is powered with a Lycoming, Continental, or Franklin engine with stainless steel exhaust muffler and dual magneto ignition. Its overall length is 22 feet 4½ inches, its overall height 6 feet 8 inches, its wing span 35 feet inches.

Its gross weight is 1220 pounds, its empty weight (no passengers, fuel, or baggage) 680 pounds. Its useful load (passengers, fuel, and baggage) is 540 pounds. Its baggage compartment is 10 inches wide by 10 inches deep and 24 inches long, with a capacity of 20 pounds.

With a full load it climbs at the rate of 450 feet per minute. It cruises (level flight) at 75 miles an hour. It has a landing speed of 38 m.p.h. and a cruising range (one continuous hop) of 206 miles. Its ceiling altitude is about 14,000 feet. Its gas consumption is 4 gallons per hour, and its gas tank capacity is 12 gallons.

Another model, popular with civilians before the war, now in active military use, has seating for three persons, faster speed, higher ceiling, longer cruising range.


EITHER of these planes could be put into production for civilian use, probably within a week from the time the government releases the necessary materials after the war.

The cost of such models is difficult to forecast. We do not know the future cost of labor or materials. Based on current figures, it seems probable that the light private plane can be made to sell F.A.F. (fly away factory) at about $20 to $25 per horsepower, or from $1300 to $1625 for a 65-horsepower plane. This is slightly higher than pre-war cost. But the automobile industry has recently announced that the 1942 models which they will produce immediately after the war will sell about 20 per cent higher than the original 1942 price.

Prior to the war, 50 per cent of all the personal planes sold were purchased on the time-payment plan. This financing followed about the same plan as automobile financing, and rates were not very different from those charged for cars. They were 6 per cent plus insurance, and amounted to about 10 per cent of the unpaid balance. A minimum of one third down and the balance in twelve months was usual. It is reasonable to assume that postwar time payment plans will be similar, arranged through banks or finance companies.

Pre-war insurance also followed the pattern of automobile coverage. The major insurance companies issue a comprehensive policy that includes or excludes crash coverages just as collision insurance can be included in or excluded from an automobile policy.

The consumption of gas depends on the skill of the pilot and the flying speeds he uses, as in an automobile. The 65-horsepower plane uses about 4 gallons an hour in level flight and travels about 75 miles. At 25 cents a gallon, this makes the private plane owner pay about 1⅓ cents a mile for fuel.

There will be plenty of trained airplane mechanics available to service planes. Automobile service stations will undoubtedly add a landing strip for planes to their installation. Prior to the war, a number of repair and replacement plans were instituted by manufacturers, finance companies, and insurance companies. These will unquestionably be resumed. Prefabricated lumber or metal hangars will be available at reasonable prices. Hangar rentals should average $8 to $15 a month.

Getting a license to operate a private plane is not so simple as getting an operator’s license to drive a car. While almost any able man or woman can learn to fly a plane in a few hours, the government regulations are strict, and considerable study is necessary before Washington will issue a license. Rules are being revised to make it simpler to get a private pilot’s license. (Some wag has remarked that the Civil Aeronautics Board is the only place where a man who wants to commit suicide must get a government permit to do it.)

Usually the civilian who purchases a personal plane receives free flight instruction from the dealer who sells it. There are also many reputable flight, schools. At present they are on war work, but later they will be available for civilians.

To get a pilot’s license from the government at Washington, the applicant must study and pass stiff examinations in aerodynamics, meteorology, navigation, and civil aeronautics regulations. He must also pass a physical and a rigid flight test where he has to demonstrate his ability to handle a plane under all conditions. He must have 35 hours of solo and 8 hours of dual flying. He must be a citizen of the United States, and at least 16 years of age. On the day of purchase, he must file application for registration or send written notice of the purchase to the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Once a plane is registered, the owner must then apply for an airworthiness certificate to entitle him or any other certificated pilot to fly it.

Good flying technique is based on the proficient performance of four basic fundamentals of flight : (1) straight and level flight; (2) the climb; (3) the glide; (4) the turn. These, plus take-offs and landings, are practiced in the eight hours of flight instruction preceding the solo. Both sexes and all ages can learn to fly a light plane. There are records of a ten-year-old boy and an old man of seventyseven who learned how to fly. I myself learned to fly at the age of fifty.

Once you have learned to fly your plane, it is far less fatiguing to fly than it is to drive a car. You don’t have to watch every second for cats, dogs, children, lights, road signs, ladies with baby carriages, and citizens who dive out into the middle of the block against the lights. Your hands and feet are light on the controls, you cast an occasional glance at the map to make sure where you are, you keep track of your instruments to see that your engine is functioning properly and that you are holding your course, and you relax. Nobody who has not been up in the sky on a glorious morning can possibly imagine the way a pilot feels in free heaven.


THEN you come down. And that’s where we Americans must stop kidding ourselves that the age of aviation is right around the corner. Because we have not the places to come down. Astronomical amounts of money have been spent by Federal, state, county, and local governments for roads on which to drive cars, but practically nothing has been spent for places to land planes. That’s where the block is. Manufacturers can make the planes, people can buy and fly the planes, but until provision is made for landing them there will be no wonderful multi-billion-dollar aviation industry to bring jobs and prosperity to America.

That matter should concern governors and mayors planning budgets to take care of demobilized G.I. Joes. They should build, not the big-city commercial airports, but the little landing strips parallel to the highway, preferably within walking distance or where a bus line gives ready access to the business district.

Several states have aviation commissions that are functioning in this way. They have drawn up plans and ideas for every community of 5000 population and over. This is a step in the right direction, but it is still far short of what we should aim at in the future. These communities should buy now the land for a centrally located airport, for development as air traffic grows.

Satisfactory landing strips consist of a straight sod strip adjacent to the highway, equipped with a wind sock and corner markers and preferably handy to a fuel pump. Later this strip, built to run into the prevailing winds, can be expanded into an Lor Tshaped strip, thereby allowing planes to take off and land from four directions. Then, as the traffic at the landing facility grows, more runways, hangars, service stations, and even a small control tower can be added.

With each of these air strips properly marked for identification, including direction pointers and airmarker numerals, a civilian flyer can travel in any direction to any part of the country, following his air map as a motorist follows a road map.

A system of checks on weather and wind conditions should be developed so that every principal municipal airport will have information available for the civilian as well as the commercial flyer.

Night flying is a more serious problem. It is very easy for a pilot to pick up lighted cities or villages from the air at night, but impossible to pick out a smooth spot for a forced landing. Proper facilities for night landings are expensive to install and to maintain. Let us first provide for civilian flying by day.

It is great fun to kid ourselves. But kidding does not pay dividends. Let us face facts. Let us not oversell the American people by promising them an airplane in every back yard as we promised them two cars in every garage twenty years ago. Let us not picture the air age as just around the corner when actually only time can bring us its benefits. It is no kindness to our people. It is no kindness to the aviation industry.

Intelligently considered, and properly handled, the private plane will help us to economize. It offers the maximum of transportation at the minimum of cost. Let us begin now to provide this inexpensive means of transportation by adding landing facilities for planes to our post-war road construction plans as integral parts of the highways we construct.