National Geographic's Collectors Corner

Collaborative site for collectors, dealers, & anyone interested in our history.

100 Years Ago: March 1921


This is the seventy-fourth entry in my series of condensations of National Geographic magazines as they reach the 100th anniversary of their publication.



The first, and main, article listed on the cover this month is entitled “A Personal Narrative of the First Aerial Voyage Half Around the World – From London to Australia by Aeroplane”.  The inside title of the article is simply “From London to Australia by Aeroplane” with the subtitle “A Personal Narrative of the First Aerial Voyage Half Around the World”, completely flipping the cover title.  The article was written by Sir Ross Smith, K.B.E., who also had the article copyrighted in his name.  The cover documents “85 Illustrations” for this article, but, by my count, there are only eighty-three.  Of those illustrations, eight are full-page color plates, listed on the cover as “Ceylon and India in Full Color”.  These plates (I to VII representing pages 281 to 288) are true color photographs and not the colorized, or painted, black-and-white photos as had appeared up until now (i.e., 1921).  They are credited as “Autochrome by Helen Messinger Murdoch”.  Autochrome is an early form of color photography using plates coated with dyed starch grains, patented by the Lumiere brothers in 1904.  The article also contains seventy-three black-and-white photographs, with thirty-five of these being full-page in size.  The remaining two illustrations are a sketch map of the voyage that spans two pages (pages 230-231), thus generously counted as two.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

While the author flew with the Number One Australian Flying Squadron in Palestine during the war, a Handley-Page aeroplane was flown from England by Brigadier-General A. E. Borton to take part in Allenby’s last offensive.  That monster plane was used in night bombing operations.  The author had the good fortune to be detailed to fly the plane.  It proved to be not only terribly destructive, but also unfailingly reliable during long-distance flights.  That fact opened the author’s eyes to the possibilities of its commercial use.  It was his experience piloting the Handley-Page that led him to embarking on the first aerial voyage from London to Australia.  That trip was discussed, in jest, during the war when General Borton planned a flight to Mesopotamia and asked the author to join him.  He added that after reaching Bagdad they should fly on to India.  The author suggested they continue on to Australia to see the Melbourne Cup.  After the Armistice was signed, the commander of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East joined the two aviators for an inspection tour to India.  On November 29,1918, they took off from Cairo accompanied by two air mechanics.  It took three weeks to pioneer a route to India.  They arrived, without mishap, on December 10, 1918.  That was the longest flight made up to that time.  From there, General Borton and the author chartered a steamship, the R.I.M.S. Sphinx, to sail to Australia to explore routes and prepare landing grounds.  On February 10, 1919, they sailed from Calcuttta.  On board were equipment and 7,000 gallons of petrol to be left, 200 gallons a pop, at each landing ground.  Two days later at Chittagong, East Bengal, the Sphinx caught fire and blew up.  They lost everything but their lives, narrowly escaping.  The returned to India, acquired another vessel, the R.I.M.S. Minto, and set out again, this time without the petrol.  The expedition was successful.  During a three-month period, they visited Burma, the Federated Malay States, the Netherlands Indies, Borneo, and Siam.

Upon their return to India, they were saddened to find that their plane had been used in a bombing offensive against the Afghans, and had crashed in a storm.  They were cheered up by the news that the Australian Government had offered a prize of 10,000 pounds for the first machine (manned by Australians) to fly from London to Australia in 30 days.  The authors biggest problem was reaching England in time.  Fortunately, General Borton was called back to London to report on the route.  The author and his two mechanics were able to join him.  Sadly, General Borton, not being Austrailian, was disqualified from the competition.  However, he was very kind in acquiring a machine from Messrs. Vickers Ltd. For the flight.  The author’s brother, Keith, was in England and, during the war, had been flying for the Royal Air Force.  He was made co-pilot and, along with the mechanics, made a total crew of four.  Vickers did not fully commit to the competition until October, leaving little time to prepare.  The “Shell” Marketing Co. agreed to have petrol supplies at the required depots, and Messrs. Wakefield Ltd. did the same for lubricating oil.  The route the author decided upon was England, France, Italy, Crete, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Burma, Siam, the Federated Malay States, Dutch East Indies, to Port Darwin.  From Port Darwin on, the route would be handled by the Defense Department of Australia.  For convenience sake, the author divided the route into four stages: London to Cairo; Cairo to Calcutta; Calcutta to Singapore; and Singapore to Australia.  The author had been over the entire route except for the first stage, so he understood weather conditions at the landing grounds.  General Borton had flown the first stage back in August 1918, and gave good advice, charts, and photographs to the author.  For the first two stages, weather was the only concern.  The Royal Air Force would assist.

From Calcutta onward they would rely on their own arrangements.  Those last two stages were the most hazardous.  Owing to dense jungle and rough ground, landing places were few and far between.  Many they had contemplated were too small to land a big machine.  After leaving Calcutta, the author proposed landing on the race course in Rangoon, from which he would fly across a mountain range to the Siamese aerodrome in Bangkok.  He then proposed to skirt the coast of the Malay Peninsula to Singapore, where, once more he would land on a race course.  The next stop would be the Dutch Flying School, near Batavia.  There were no further aerodromes until Port Darwin, a distance of 1,750 miles.  The author knew that the Vickers Vimy was quite capable of flying that distance non-stop, but to make nearly certain the success of the voyage, an aerodrome must be built midway.  General Borton had selected a site at Bima, on the island of Sumbawa, in the Dutch East Indies.  The Governor-General, Count Van Limberg Stirum was most enthusiastic over the development of commercial aviation.  He promised the assistance of his government.  Remembering the Count’s interest, the author wired him a request for an aerodrome at Bima.  Ten days elapsed before the author received a reply.  He was happy to learn that not only Bima would be prepared, but an aerodrome at Atamboea, on the island of Timor, was also being built.  That news greatly eased Sir Ross’s mind.  It meant that their machine be fitted with tanks for a non-stop flight of 1,000 miles.  That greatly added to their buoyancy and gave the crew room for comfort.  The machine was a Standard Vickers Vimy bomber, similar to the one used by Sir John Alcock for the transatlantic flight, with the only alteration being an extra petrol tank.  The plane was powered by two Rolls-Royce “Eagle VIII” engines, each with 360 horse-power.  The wingspan was 67 feet, and the total weight, fully loaded, was six and a half tons.  The Vickers factory was in Weybridge, about 20 miles from London.  After completing the office work in London, the crew moved to Weybridge and practically lived on the plane.  The fitting, testing, and final adjustments were made.  Their petrol capacity would carry them four 13 hours at a cruising speed of 80 miles an hour – ample for the longest stages between aerodromes.

The question of spare parts was of vital importance.  They intended to start immediately so could not ship parts ahead.  They had to carry them which added considerable weight, but absence of a certain part could have delayed them for weeks, putting them out of the competition.  They assembled everything to be weighed.  The author decided on a weight limit for the plane at 13,000 pounds fully loaded.  After the “weighing in”, there was an excess of 300 pounds.  Since the spares were indispensable, the crew decided to forgo their personal kits.  So, they intended to set off, each with a toothbrush and the clothes on their backs.  The machine was ready, but the author decided to wait one more week before departing to allow time for petrol to reach the remotest aerodromes.  While they waited, they read in the press of the progress made by other contestants.  Monsieur Poulet had left Paris on October 14 and had by now reached Mesopotamia.  The Sopwith machine piloted by Captain Mathews had also left England some time previously.  The weather was bad throughout the week.  The author had intended flying over to Hounslow on November 13 and starting off on the flight the following morning.  On November 11 the weather broke.  It was too good an opportunity to miss.  They took off from Weybridge. As far as they were concerned, the flight to Australia had begun.  During the voyage, the plane worked well.  They landed at the official stating point without difficulty.  Hounslow was the main civilian aerodrome of London.

At 8 o’clock on the morning of November 12, they took off in spite of a forecast for bad weather.  They climbed slowly upward through the mist-ladened skies. To make sure the plane was running perfectly, they circled Hounslow for ten minutes and then set off.  At 2,000 feet they emerged from the fog belt into brilliant sunshine.  The world was lost to sight, veiled by the dense pall of mist.  They set off by compass course for Folkestone.  Upon nearing the coast, the fog cleared.  Every inch of the coast had been charted so they immediately knew where they were.  The author regretted leaving England a bit.  Stormy seas were sweeping up the channel; the frigid breath of winter stung their faces and chilled them through.  The area around Folkestone was a snow-clad landscape.  The machine was flying stately and steady as a rock.  The engines were throttled down to about three-quarters of their top speed.  Sir Ross felt that a small machine was good for short joy rides for sightseeing, but there was something more majestic and stable about the big bombers.  The author compared a bomber to a body with the pilot as the brain and the levers and controls as the nervous system.  They became one as the plane expressed the pilot’s temperament.  The engines were the machine’s lungs.  They were intricate, but marvelously reliable.  They swept over the coast of England at 90 miles per hour.  The sun came out brightly and the channel, all flecked with white tops, spread beneath them.  Two torpedo-boats looked like toys.  Midway, the gray-white cliffs of England grew misty, and Gris Nez, France was ahead, growing in detail each moment.  The weather held until they reached France.  They flew into a bank of clouds thinking it might be only a local belt, but it was a dense wall of nimbus clouds surcharged with snow.  The machine became deluged with sleet and snow.  It clogged up their goggles and coving their faces with frost.  Advancing was impossible, so they turned around and came back out into the sunshine.  They lowered their altitude and tried to fly below the clouds but the snow was so heavy that visibility was only a few yards.  Again, they became frozen up, and with their low elevation, flying was extremely hazardous.  They decided to climb above the cloud-mass and set a compass course for Lyons.

They climbed steadily in a wide, ascending spiral, until they reached 9,000 feet, just above the clouds.  Below, the snowstorm raged, but they were in a world all their own, with bright, dazzling sunshine.  The author’s brother worked out their course.  They set their compass heading for Lyons.  For three hours, they had no glimpse of the earth, so navigated solely by compass.  The cold grew more intense.  They lost all feeling in their hands and feet, making it difficult to work the machine.  Occasionally, immense cloud barriers rose high above the lower cloud strata.  The was no way around them, so they plunged into them.  Those barriers were charged with snow, coating the plane in ice and covering the crew in snow.  Around 1 p.m., they decided to have some sandwiches for lunch.  The sandwiches were frozen so they had hot coffee and chocolate sticks instead.  They were miserably uncomfortable and uncertain of their location adding to their anxiety.  The only things that cheered them up were the engines which roared away in a deep-throated song.  The situation was becoming desperate.  Ahead loomed a dome-shaped cloud lined with silver edges – “the cloud with a silver lining”.  Next to it was a patch of clear sky, two miles across, resembling a tremendous crater seven thousand feet deep.  They headed the Vimy down in a wide spiral.  The landscape was snow-covered, but they were able to pick out a large town and identify it as Roanne.  Fortune rode with them; Lyons was only 40 miles away.  They forgot about the cold, the snow, and the gloom.  The reached Lyons and landed.  The author regarded the journey from Hounslow to Lyons as the worst stage of the flight, due to the winter conditions.  They had flown 510 miles in weather conditions officially reported as “unfit for all flying”.  They were so stiff and cold that they could barely walk, but their spirits were high.  The past would soon be forgotten; new adventures awaited them in the near, rosy future.

The French flying officers were surprised to learn the crew had come from London.  They were still more surprised to learn that the Brits intended to leave for Rome the next morning.  They all turned in early, very tired, but very happy.  Next morning was November 13.  They had difficulty getting the 300 gallons of petrol they needed.  They also required 24 gallons of hot water for the radiator.  It had been drained the night before to prevent freezing into a solid block and bursting the radiator.  It took a couple of hours to get the needed fuel.  They had meant to be airborne after an early breakfast, but were not in the air until 10 o’clock.  For a short time, they encountered some clouds, but as they progressed those drifted away.  Eastward, the Alps reared up, serrating the horizon with snowcapped peaks.  Below, charming villas lay tucked away over the hillsides.  A train was taking sightseers to Monte Carlo, and the playground of Europe.  The cold was severe, but after the showers of the previous day, the going was excellent.  It was much easier to navigate by landmarks then by compass and calculations.  They crossed the River Durance and passed above the city of Aix.  Then they swung east, heading for the coast and Cannes – across the famous Riviera.  They soon caught sight of the sea.  The Mediterranean washed the cliffs of innumerable little bays and inlets as the Vimy skirted the coast.  Nice soon lay below them.  A large crowd had collected on the Promenade des Anglais to witness their flight and cheer them on.  Onward again they soon circled Monte Carlo and the famous Casino.  They were tempted to land, but there was no place suitable.  They flew on along the coast and soon said goodbye to France.  Mentone, nestled in its bay, was the last glimpse they had of France.  They still followed the railway line that ran along the coast and crossed the border into Italy.  Less than a half an hour later they passed San Remo.  Instead of following the coast-line north, they kept east across the Gulf of Genoa.  They picked up the coast again at Spezia.  Turning south they hit a strong headwind.  That fact, plus the late start, meant that they could not reach Rome before nightfall.  Sir Ross knew there was an aerodrome at Pisa, since it was on the air route to Egypt.  They decide to spend the night and head for Rome early next morning.  They picked out the aerodrome, and it looked wet.  They landed successfully through a whirl of mud and water.

As they taxied across the slippery field, several Italian flying officers came out to greet the Brits.  By means of gestures they learned that there was an English officer stationed in Pisa.  After considerable trouble, they reached him by telephone and asked him to come to the aerodrome.  The author was happy to learn that the officer was Captain Horne of the R.A.F.  Accommodations were promptly made, and after attending to their machine, they motored into Pisa and spent the night at a hotel.  Heavy rain prevented their departure the next morning.  The aerodrome looked more like a lake.  They started the plane and started to taxi, but bogged down in the mud.  It took thirty Italian mechanics to help extricate the machine.  A second attempt had the same result.  The gave up and returned to town.  That afternoon it stopped raining so they did a little sightseeing, including the famous Leaning Tower.  The next morning, even though it was drizzling, they when back to the aerodrome and tried again.  Eventually they were able to take off.  The flight to Rome was one long battle against heavy head winds and through dense clouds.  Then the oil-gauge on one of the engines dropped to zero.  They shut down the engine and flew on the other, looking for a place to land.  Fortunately, the Italian aerodrome at Venturina was nearby, and there they landed.  They quickly discovered that the fault was in the gauge itself.  It was only a matter of minutes before they were airborne again.  The wind had increased so the flight to Rome was boisterous and unpleasant.  Their average ground speed was fifty miles an hour, so it was late afternoon when they reached the city of the Caesars.  They circled the city, admiring it.  Upon landing they were welcomed by the commandant of the Italian Flying Corps.

The original plan was to fly from Rome to Athens, and then on to Cairo.  This was due to the aerodrome at Suda Bay, Crete being flooded.  They were informed that it wasn’t but told to double check at the British aerodrome at Taranto.  The Crete route saved a considerable distance so, the next morning they headed for Taranto.  They took a slight detour to fly over Naples and its bay, but were disappointed to find it clouded over.  They turned and headed for Taranto, across the Apennines.  Flying was difficult over the mountains and Sir Ross was relieved when they cleared the mountains.  They reached the coast and followed it down to Taranto.  The town seemed busy from the air, with a great number of ships and transports anchors off shore.  When they landed, they were greeted by a number of R.A.F. officers.  It was one of the main aerodromes on the route from London to Cairo.  After a good night’s sleep, they were up early and started for Suda Bay.  Once again, the weather was cruel.  They flew down the coast to the heel of Italy and then headed across open sea to the island of Corfu.  In driving rain, they spotted Corfu, turned, and headed down the coast of Greece.  Bad weather made the flight down the rugged coast very hazardous.  The reached Cape Matea, the southernmost point of Greece, and headed across the sea to Crete.  The weather cleared, and soon Crete loomed before them.  Wheeling above the town of Canea, on the opposite side of a narrow neck to Suda Bay, they soon located the aerodrome.  They made a good landing and again were greeted by officers of the R.A.F.  The crew spent the afternoon overhauling the machine, preparing for their longest oversea flight in the first half of the journey.  They found Canea a picturesque and interesting old place.  They dined at a café, and slept in a small British hospital.  The beds proved infested so the slept on the floor of an adjoining room.

It rained heavily overnight and was still drizzling by morning.  After their experience in Pisa, they decided to take off as soon as possible rather than risk the ground becoming a bog.  They took off quite easily.  To save time, they charted a route across the island through a pass instead of over the mountains.  They found the pass and soon were on the other side of the ranges.  The air was clearer and they crossed the coast-line.  They set a compass course for Sallum, on the African coast, 250 miles away.  Aboard were four spare inner tubes that would make first-class life-buoys.  Sir Ross would have preferred flying at 5,000 feet, but clouds forced them to stay between 1,500 and 2,000 feet.  There was a light, favorable wind, and going was smooth and even.  The water was monotonous, with no landmarks for them to judge speed and distance.  The finally spotted two ship, which looked very tiny and lonely.  They proved the only specks of life they saw until they reached the African coast.  On reaching Sallum, they turned and flew along the coast as far as Mersa Matruh.  They then headed to Cairo, across the gray-brown sea of sand.  They passed over Wadi Natrum, which was merely a cluster of palm trees.  They spotted the Pyramids, and soon the minarets of the Egyptian capital.  They crossed the Nile and landed at the Heliopolis aerodrome, thus completing the first, and worst, of the four stages of the journey.  That route, from London to Cairo was pioneered in 1917 by General Borton.  A familiar stage, with all the prospects of fine weather, lay before them.  They received a rousing welcome for the men with whom the author had server in the war.  Sir Ross bought a newspaper and read of the deaths of two competitors and the progress of a third, Monsieur Poulet, who left Paris a month before they did, and was at the time in India.  They turned in for the night and slept better than anytime since they left England.

They had intended to stay a few days in Cairo, but, due to the delay at Pisa, they were a day behind schedule, and they wanted to make it up.  There had been a heavy fog overnight and rain had begun to fall.  The reports from Palestine indicated the weather conditions were unsuitable for flying.  However, the Vimy had been overhauled and everything stood ready.  Despite the forecast, they took off from Heliopolis and for fifty miles they followed the Ismailia Canal to Tel-el-Kebir, the famous old battlefield where the British defeated the Arabi Pasha.  Soon they reached Ismailia, and the Suez Canal.  Below they saw a steamer, heading south down the canal, perhaps headed for Australia, the author mused.  Ahead were the great desert sands and blue skies.  Kantara soon lay below them.  It was a British storage depot that sprang up during the war.  Soon Katara lay beyond the rolling eternity of sand.  They were flying at an altitude of 1,500 feet.  El-Arish, Rafah, and Gaza all came into view, with sand between them.  Gaza look sad from the air, being desolate and in ruin.  It was a once-prosperous town.  Next, they passed over the Medjdel aerodrome.  Soon after leaving Medjdel they ran into heavy clouds, and on reaching Ramleh heavy rains began to fall.  Sir Ross was tempted to land, being stationed there for five months during the war, but he was not on a joy-ride.  He was familiar with Palestine rainstorms, and from Ramleh to the Sea of Galilee the weather was despicable.  The torrential rain cut their faces and they could barely see.  Fortunately, the author knew the country very well.  After passing Nazareth, they followed the valley down to the River Jordan.  The main stream had eroded a narrow channel across a forbidding plain of great barrenness and desolation.  The river entered the Dead Sea at nearly 1,300 feet below sea level.  The Sea of Galilee was 700 feet above the Dead Sea’s level.  The crew flew 500 feet above the river.  Most of their journey through the Jordan Valley was done at an elevation below sea level.  On reaching the Sea of Galilee the weather improved.  They crossed over the great lake and headed northeast for Damascus.  They climbed to 5,000 feet.  The land looked bleak and desolate.  Soon Damascus appeared on the horizon, like a mirage.  Soon the details of the city could be made out, a forest of minarets and cupolas.  Damascus invited and offered a haven of rest.  Great was their joy on touching the ground.

Sir Ross was greeted by old comrades; the Vimy was serviced; and they rode into Damacus in a Ford.  They took lodging at the leading hotel and slept, undisturbed by parasites.  They were dismayed when, on awakening with the morning, they discovered heavy rains falling.  The aerodrome surface was rapidly becoming soft and the Vimy was sinking in.  As there was no sign of the weather clearing, they greased the tires and started up the engines.  To their relief, the Vimy move ahead.  They took off, but not without the propellers kicking up water and mud.  They rose into the air, cut by the lash of the elements.  Fortunately, the storm did not extend more than a score of miles beyond Damascus.  They were now heading for Tadmur, again across a rolling expanse of dreary gray sand.  They made good speed, 85 miles per hour. Tadmur was a miserable village of mud huts near the ruins of Palmyra.  From Tadmur they turned east, to Abu Kemal, on the Euphrates.  Shortly after leaving Tadmur, the plane flew over an encampment of several hundred tents and a vast herd of camel.  The machine’s sudden appearance caused a stampede of not only camel but also the tent’s occupants.  The crew later learned that the camels were the spoils of a victorious raid.  On reaching Abu Kemal they turned southeast, following the course of the Euphrates.  They passed over fertile tracts and numerous villages.  One of those villages was Hit, and its bitumen springs, the source of pitch used on native boats since Noah’s ark.  On leaving Abu Kemal they encountered strong headwinds which diminished their speed considerably.  The author feared they would not reach Bagdad before nightfall.  The sun was fast sinking and as they flew over Ramadie it dipped below the horizon.  They could not make the forty miles to Bagdad before it got dark so they looked for a place to set down, and landed.

They had landed on the old Ramadie battlefield.  Soon after landing the C.O. of Indian cavalry came out to greet them and offered them the hospitality of his camp.  They were happy to learn that there was a small supply of petrol so they could fly straight to Basra without having to land in Bagdad.  They had an excellent dinner, but around 11 o’clock that night a heavy windstorm swooped down upon them.  They rushed to the plane which was in danger of being blown over and crushed.  Fifty men from the camp helped hold the machine down.  A severe gust caught one of the ailerons and snapped the top balance-wires.  The ailerons flapped dangerously and could have snapped off.  By weight of arms, they managed to secure the ailerons.  The plane was turned to face the wind and weathered the storm.  The storm abated by morning.  By the time the damage was repaired and the plane fueled, it was noon.  For the first time since leaving London, they had promise of a good flying day with a following wind.  They swept along at 100 miles an hour.  In less than thirty minutes they flew over glorious old Bagdad.  The map of Mesopotamia unrolled before them.  There laid the old battlefields of Ctesiphon, Laff, and Tubal.  Kut el Amara next came into view.  Exulting in the fair weather and following breeze, they swept on.  Three thousand feet below, the two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, confluxed and united in the Shatt-el-Arab, with the village of Kurnah at the junction.  The flight from Bagdad to Basra took just under three hours.  A river barge generally took a fortnight.  Basra was a hive of activity.  It was the main shipping port during the Mesopotamian campaign.  A large military base and aerodrome were still evident.  The aerodrome stretched to the horizon, and with the British camp, extended for miles along the eastern bank. 

They crossed over to the town in a river boat called a mahailas – a Viking vessel strangely.  The town was an unloving place, so after dispatching mail, the returned to the plane.  As there was a Royal Air Force depot there, they decided to delay a day and allow the mechanics to overhaul and adjust the engines.  On the morning of November 23, they made a daylight start for Bander Abbas, 650 miles south.  They passed over Bushire and several coastal villages.  The coast itself was rugged with sharp, razorback ridges and deep valleys.  Occasionally, they passed over small flat plains dotted with hills and flat tabletops.  The Persian Gulf was an exquisite shade of green, which mingle with the mud of the rivers.  At Bushire they turned inland towards Bander Abbas.  The mountains seemed to have been molded in yellow clay.  There were streaks and strata of many shades, mostly the rust of ironstone.  There was no place to land if they had had engine trouble.  So, it was with no small relief when the author brought the Vimy to a safe landing at Bander Abbas.

The British Consul and the Persian Governor extended a hearty welcome.  Although dog-tired, the author could not sleep that night.  He was worried about the flight to Karachi the next day – a 730-mile, non-stop distance over treacherous country.  The British Consul had prepared a document which they were to carry.  It commanded the locals to treat them kindly in case they were forced down.  Fortune favored them again with a following breeze and excellent weather.  The country was a repetition of that passed over the previous day.  The engines were perfectly synchronized and roared away harmoniously.  Sir Ross had trouble keeping from nodding off.  He performed the same cycle of observations over and over again, checking gauges and counters, occasionally scanning the landscape.  He kept an alert eye for suitable landing spots.  Frequently they passed over small villages, scaring the inhabitants and their animals.  For the last 100 miles, they left the coast and flew on a compass bearing direct for Karachi, and so they entered the aerial gateway to India after a non-stop flight of eight and a half hours.

The usual routine of overhauling the engines and refilling the tanks with petrol were carried out before they could rest.  That took three to four fours, and as they had a 750-mile flight the next day, they put 369 gallons of “shell” into the machine, over a ton of petrol.  They were surprised to received word that Poulet was in Delhi, a day’s flight in the lead.  They were tired, but the local R.A.F. officers arranged a dinner, so it was the witching hour before they turned in.  Three and a half hours later, they continued the flight.  This was the longest non-stop they had undertaken.  A nine-hour flight should land them in Delhi.  After circling above the aerodrome, they turned east, straight into the rising sun.  A golden mist hid the earth from view.  Passing over Hyderabad, the vapors rolled away and they had a grand view of the River Indus.  Once more, they crossed desert; for three hours they followed the railroad track across the dreary Sind Desert.  They were glad to reach the city of Ajmere, situated in a basin of green hills.  The country beyond was, for the most part, flat – a vast, verdant carpet irrigated from the great rivers.  Practically since reaching the African coast they had been flying over desert.  During the afternoon the air became turbulent and the Vimy was tossed about.  The author welcomed this for it gave him an opportunity to be more active and avoid cramping.  They first noticed Delhi from fifty miles distance.  Quickly details became apparent.  They circled above Delhi to allow the people to see their machine.  They had set a record of arriving 13 days after leaving London – a distance of 5,870 miles.

They climbed out of the machine and were greeted by General McEwan, the R.A.F. chief in India, and other old friends.  The author regretted he couldn’t respond in kind; after nine straight hours with roaring engines, he was quite deaf.  After several hours, his hearing returned, and he learned that Poulet had left the same morning for Allahabad.  After attending to their machine, they dined at the R.A.F. mess.  Sir Ross had intended to push on to Allahabad next day, but they were all exhausted so took an extra day, putting in six good hours on the machine making everything ready for an early morning start.  That evening they drove into the city for some sight-seeing.  They awoke at 4:30 next morning to the sound of a Yankee alarm-clock.  A friendly R.A.F. pilot came up in a Bristol fighter and flew with them for a few miles along the course to Jumna.  Half an hour later the oil-gauge dropped to zero, so they laned at Muttra. The trouble was only minor and so into the air once more they flew, on to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal.  Seeing it from 3,000 feet above impressed the author; much detail was lost, but it could be seen as a whole.  They hovered around lazily, taking photographs of the magnificent monument.  Then they were back on course crossing the vast plains of central India and their patchwork of irrigated fields.  They reached Allahabad after four and a half hours.

They searched the aerodrome for Poulet and were informed he had taken off the same morning for Calcutta.  There was great excitement at the aerodrome the next morning.  While taxiing for takeoff, a bull broke unto the field and charged toward the machine.  The author roared the engine and the bull stopped.  Someone ran out and distracted the bull which gave chase.  They took the opportunity to hurriedly takeoff.  As they circled, they could see the bull was still in charge of the aerodrome.  They followed the course of the Jumna as far as Benares, then headed southeast following the railroad to Calcutta.  Forty miles north of Calcutta they came above the River Hooghly.  Factories and Mills came into view, with villages clustered around them.  The villages grew denser and became the outskirts of a great city.  Calcutta slipped away beneath them.  Thousands of people had gathered to watch the crew’s arrival, and when they landed the police had difficulty keeping the multitude back.

They learned that Poulet had moved on that same morning for Akyab.  That night, after the usual overhaul, they stayed with friends and slept well.  Their departure the next morning from Calcutta was marked by an incident which could have spelt disaster.  The race-course was really too small for a machine as large as the Vimy; but the surface was good, the engines were fine, and she rose like a bird.  A large number of kite hawks were flying around.  At about ten feet, two hawks flew straight into them, one striking the wing, and the other into the port propeller.  There was a crash, and a scatter of feathers.  They were headed straight for some high trees and more hawks were circling about.  While trying to avoid the birds, they almost clipped the trees, missing them by a very narrow margin.  Sir Ross was relieved when he had climbed to 1,000 feet and clear of the birds.  They had intended to fly from Calcutta to Rangoon race-course, but as a race was scheduled at Rangoon, they decided to stop at Akyab.  They passed over a dreaded span of country, the Sundarbans, with little chance to land if there had been engine trouble.  The mouth of the Ganges there frayed out into a network of streams, producing a jigsaw of islets and swamps.  They breathed more freely after they reached Chittagong, a place the author spent four days when his ship caught fire and blew up.  From Chittagong they followed the coast of Burma, and eventually reached Akyab.  Sir Ross’s brother peered over the side as they circled above the aerodrome.  There was a small machine near the center of the field.  It was Poulet!

Poulet was the first to greet them on landing.  He came forward with a cheery smile and outstretched arms – a true sportsman.  They inspected Poulet’s machine which had been drawn up next to the Vimy.  In proportion, it was like an eagle and a sparrow.  The Vimy towered over the little Caudron.  The pilots agreed to leave together for Rangoon in the morning, but they still had some work on the machine to finish so Poulet took off first.  An hour later the Vimy was airborne.  No airplane had ever landed in Rangoon so it became a race.  For the first 100 miles they followed the coast-line, then, flying east, they crossed a low mountain chain.  On the other side they found the Irrawaddy River.  They followed it down its course as far as Prome.  From there, the railroad guided them on to Rangoon.  The author had no problem locating the landing ground – the race-course, a green patch framed by a compact ring of cheering humanity.  They came to earth in amid cheering, and were welcomed by the Lieutenant-Governor of Burma, Sir Reginald Craddock and Lady Craddock.  They were told that no race had every been so well attended, nor bet on so heavily.  This race, halfway round the world, was a great event of the locals’ lives.  Nearly all had never seen an airplane before.  Due to the air turbulence between Akyab and Rangoon, Poulet did not land until an hour after the Brits had, even though he had an hour’s head start.  He was welcomed no less warmly than they were.

The police experienced great difficulty clearing the race course that evening.  Many natives had brought food and bedding intent on holding a festival for the duration of the planes’ stay.  They had been planning it since news came from London of Sir Ross to land in Rangoon.  The crew were guests of Sir Reginald and Lady Craddock, who insisted that they went to bed early.  They did, and slept soundly.  They had arranged with Poulet to start off together and keep company as far as Bangkok.  The Vimy was considerably faster than the Caudron, but could be throttled down to let the little plane keep up.  They started their engines, but poulet had trouble starting his machine.  To avoid overheating the engines, they took off and circled the race-course waiting for Poulet.  The race-course was much too small for the Vimy, and their undercarriage brushed some treetops on takeoff.  No damage done.  They circled the field for twenty minutes but no Poulet; apparently, he had engine trouble; so, they reluctantly departed.  The headed due east to Moulmein, immortalized in Kipling’s famous ballad, “On the Road to Mandalay”.  The maps they had of that country were poor and lacking in detail.  They had a 7,000-foot mountain range to cross and the were flying at 4,000 feet, just below the cloud deck.  They tried, and failed, to find a pass through the mountains, so decided to climb above the clouds, or at least to a safe altitude.  At 9,000 feet, they climbed above the clouds, but more clouds climbed higher ahead of them.  They were flying into a twenty-mile-an-hour headwind; they set a compass heading; and, at 11,000 feet, plunged into the clouds.  They had no special cloud-navigating instruments, so the author was feeling a bit concerned.  It was difficult to keep their heading, speed, and altitude at the same time, and there were a few anxious moments.  They flew for an hour before they felt certain that they had cleared the mountains.  They cut their engines and began to fly as slow as possible, at only about forty miles an hour.  Down they went – ten, nine, eight thousand feet – and as they approached the 7,000-foot level, Sir Ross pushed the Vimy to full throttle again.  Once more, he lowered speed and began to descend. When they reached 4,000 feet, it was agreed that they had cleared the range.  When they reached 1,500 feet, they broke through the bottom of the clouds and the jungle below came into view.  An hour later, they reached the Mekong River.  Following downstream, they landed at Don Muang aerodrome, twelve miles north of Bangkok.

Don Muang was the headquarters of the Siamese Flying Corps.  The author had visited there a year earlier, so the crew was among friends.  They had several hangars, a number of machines, and an up-to-date workshop.  The valves in two of the cylinders needed to be re-ground, so the two mechanics, Bennett and Shiers worked all night to complete it.  They originally planned to fly from Bangkok to Singapore, roughly 1,000 miles, but they learned there was a good aerodrome at Singora, about half-way, with 500 gallons of petrol depoted there.  They left Bangkok in good weather, and were escorted for the first fifty miles by four Siamese machines.  For the first hour, the flying conditions were ideal, with a good following wind, but ahead were clouds.  Soon, they were caught in a monsoon.  They decided to fly along the coast for safety.  The clouds lowered so soon they were flying at only 1,000 feet.  By following the contour of the coast, at times they were heading into the wind.  The rain came down in sheets.  It smote them like hail.  That went on for about three hours, but it was not continuous; it came in waves.  They were wet and miserable.  An hour before reaching Singora, they passed through and outstripped the storm.  They were still at 1,000 feet.  They passed over villages and scared the water buffaloes in the paddy-fields.  When they reached Singora, they saw the aerodrome was half underwater.  There was a narrow strip along the center that was dry.  They would have to land in a crosswind.  As they flew closer, they noticed the strip was covered in small tree-stumps.  There was no other place to land, so they came in.  Miraculously, they came to rest safely.  The only damage was the tail-skid.  It had hit a stump and was torn off.  Sir Ross walked back along their tracks and notice that the wheels had missed by a few inches several stumps a foot to eighteen inches high.

The whole native population assembled to see them.  They thought the devil had come to take charge of the convicts there.  The first thing the author asked was as to the availability of the petrol.  He found there were not 500 gallons, but only 500 liters, and it was for Poulet.  The author sent a request to the Asiatic Petroleum Company at Penang for 200 gallons ASAP.  Next, he requested the Governor of Singora to have the tree stumps cleared.  They pegged their machine down for the night.  It took Bennet six hours to fix the tail-skid.  He made a piece of scrap-metal into the part he needed using a lathe powered by four coolies.  It took four more coolies to get the job done after the first “engine” conked out.  He was done by 10 p.m. as rain began to fall.  The storm through which they passed had reaches Singora.  Ten inches of rain fell and they spent the night holding down the plane to keep it from flipping and being crushed.  Luckily the ground was sanding and drained quickly.  After breakfast they returned to their machine.  The government sent 200 convicts to clear the stumps from a strip 400 yards long and fifty yards wide.  The day of rest from flying was a delight, and a necessity to recover from the recent storm.  Late afternoon the petrol arrived from Penang.  After a much-needed night’s sleep, they went down to the aerodrome, fueled the plane, and started the engines.  Takeoff was difficult, three patches of water were on the runway and the Vimy was barely able to reach takeoff speed.  They were told the weather would be better on the western coast, so they followed the railroad across the peninsula.  The weather was better on the western shores, with high clouds and scattered sunshine.  Near Kaula Lumpar [sic] they entered tin country, with many tin dredges in full operation.  They flew past rubber plantations and paddy-fields.  They passed above Malacca, and reached Singapore in the afternoon.  The race-course was too small for the Vimy.  Bennet climbed out on top of the fuselage to hold the tail down for landing.  The plane stopped 100 yards from where it touched down.

The next day, December 4, was Sir Ross’s birthday.  They had eight day to reach Australia to make the thirty-day time limit.  The heat at Singapore was intense, more so after coming from London’s winter.  Their host wanted them to go dancing, but they begged off.  They arrived at the race-course at daylight.  They were barely able to clear the rails; the wheels brushed the tree-tops; and they dodged some houses.  After a wide sweep above Singapore, they headed for open sea and Java.  Passing down to the Sumatra coast they ran into scattered thunder storms.  On reaching the Sumatra coast, they encountered headwinds and flying became bumpy.  They crossed the Equator and the weather improved.  They had now travelled over 10,000 miles on this voyage.  Numerous small islets passed below them.  Soon the large island of Muntok came below.  Instead of hugging the coast of Sumatra, they set a compass course and headed over the sea.  Myriads of tiny white fisher-sails passed through the channels beneath them.  The hazy contours of the mountains marked the western end of Java.  They flew inland and reach the city of Batavia.  Following the railroad, they landed at the Dutch Flying School at Kaledjat.  The Dutch had sent out four planes to escort them in, but they had missed them.  They covered the 650-mile distance in just nine hours.

His Excellency Count Van Limberg Strrum, the Governor-General of the Netherlands Indies, and a large number of officials greeted them.  After a well enjoyed meal, they set to work on their machine.  The petrol available was “heavy”, and needed to be strained.  It took them eight hours to filter 350 gallons.  Since the next stage was only a short lap, they did not leave Kaledjat before 7:30.  With beautiful weather favoring them, they sped rapidly over fertile tracts of the island.  Java seemed one bounteous garden amid volcanic mountains.  The most striking sights were the paddy fields, cell-like squares giving the effect of a mighty grid. Here and there nestled native villages.  Nearing Soerabaya the flying became very bumpy.  It was no small relief when the town spread beneath them.  Heading the Vimy down, they made a low circle above the town to the amazement of the natives.  As the aerodrome was small, they decided to set down on the north end in case they needed to turn.  That was unnecessary, since they made a good landing.  They were easing off to a stop when the Vimy became bogged.  Opening up the starboard engine, the plane began to turn, but the port wheel sank.  They shut off the engines, and the plane straightened. They had reached the eastern end of Java.

The natives, who had been kept back by the Dutch soldiers, rushed the ground.  Their weight on the sun-dried crust soon, broke it up, and mud oozed through.  The Vimy sank to her axles and was surrounded by a pond of mud.  With the help of soldiers and coolies, they managed to drag the plane 10 yards, but it sank again. Laying down a pathway of bamboo mats, they finally had the plane moved by 200 coolies.  It would be impossible to take off in the mud, so they decided to have a mat-paved runway built.  Bamboo matting was collected, using the roofs of a nearby village as a source.  The British consul invited them to dinner that evening.  Next morning, they were glad to see native streaming into the aerodrome from every direction bearing sheets of bamboo matting – literally carrying their houses on their backs.  The runway was laid down and they attempted to take off. Pieces of matting flew up hitting the tail and puncturing a tire.  The plane ran off to one side and got bogged badly.  They extricated the plane, again, and rebuilt the runway, this time pegging down and interlacing the matting.  More matting arrived on a motor-lory, so they lengthened the runway.  They said a second good-bye and, just twenty-four hours after landing, they took flight, with the mats flying in all directions.  They circled low over the town and anchorage to give the engines time to settle down to normal running, and then headed on a direct compass course to Bima.  There was nowhere to land along the 400-mile stretch, in case of emergency.  They skirted the coast of Bali and Lombok, keeping only 2,000 feet above the sea.  The Bima aerodrome was in excellent condition, clearly marked with a white ring and encircled by a water-retaining wall.  The natives scampered in all directions, and would not come near until they saw that the crewmen were out of the plane.

The local sultan and the Dutch officer met them and offered the use of a native bungalow.  That night, someone tried to climb in the author’s window.  One shot of his light pistol sent the man running.  On arriving at their machine, the next morning, they were presented with coconuts.  They took the cargo of nuts on board, since the water was unsuited for drinking.  They set off again in dazzling sunshine.  After following the coast of Flores to Reo, they crossed over to the south side of the islands and ran into isolated rainstorms.  They saw an erupting volcano on the eastern horizon, but with the weather looking bad, they could not afford to make a deviation.  They flew as far as Pandar, and then swung off direct for Timor.  The thick volcanic smoke obscured the land and all distant vision, but eventually, they picked up the Timor coast.  Ten miles inland they came down on the aerodrome at Atamboea, their last landing ground before Port Darwin.  The Dutch officials welcomed them and arranged for petrol and oil, allowing the time for a thorough overhaul.  This was one of the aerodromes specially made by the Governor-General of the Netherlands Indies for the Australia flight, and had been completed only the day before their arrival.  A guard of Dutch soldiers kept watch over the machine, while the crew proceeded to the camp, six miles away.

To no surprise, none of them overslept the following morning.  They were eager to make history.  They were at the aerodrome before sunrise.  They found a swarm of even earlier rising native all around the Vimy.  They had to haul the machine well back and raise the tail over the fence to have the distance needed on such a short runway.  The propellers were just “kicking” over, like two great fans, and the native sitting on the fence in their slip-stream were enjoying the cool breeze. When Sir Ross opened up the engines, they toppled back into the crowd; the crew laughed heartily.  Soon after 8 the fog began to thin, and at 8:35, they opened up the engines and just managed to scrape out of the ‘drome.  Scrape was exactly what the branch-tops of a gum-tree did to the bottom of the plane.  It was the closest shave of the trip.  A chain of high hills rose before them.  Since the air was warm, they gained altitude slowly, so they made a detour to avoid them.  They were still flying low when they approached the coast.  They were ready for the final lap – the jump across the blue Indian Ocean that laid between the crew and Port Darwin.  They took measurements and set a compass course for Darwin.  At 11:48 they spotted a faint smoke haze directly ahead.  It soon resolved itself into the smoke-plume of a fighting-ship, the Sydney.  They swooped low, and, at twelve past noon, passed over the vessel.  They saw the sailors looking up and waving.  They took a speed test, and found they were averaging seventy-five miles an hour.  An hour later, they noticed haze ahead and to port.  It proved to be land.  Ten minutes later, they spotted Bathurst Island Lighthouse.  After circling Darwin low enough to observe the crowds and landing-place, they landed at 3:00 p.m., on December 10th, 27 days, 20 hours after taking off from Hounslow.

They were mobbed by about 2,000 joyous fans.  The Administrator of the Northern Territory and the Mayor of Darwin were barely given time to officially welcome them when the assemblage lifted the crew onto their shoulders and conveyed them to the jail.  It was only for speeches.  After an exchange of much hot air, they returned to the Vimy and lashed her down for the night.  During their stay in Darwin, they were guests of Mr. Staniford Smith, at Government House.  During their journey, they had not read any newspapers, and knew nothing of world events save for at their landing sites.  They were amazed to learn how closely their race half way round the world was followed in the news.  The grandest spectacle of their entire journey was when they arrived over Sydney and its wonderous harbor.  The city and its environs, massed along the waterfront and extended into the hinterlands, flanked by the Blue Mountains, composed a spectacle of exquisite charm and beauty.  [See: “Lonely Australia, the Unique Continent”, National Geographic Magazine, December, 1916.]  They headed up the coast and, turning through the entrance, entered the port.  They flew about 600 feet above a myriad of ferry-boats and vessels, then across roof-tops and waving crowds.  Not the least pleasant experience upon our arrival in Melbourne was the paying over of the 10,000-pound prize by the Prime Minister, the Right Hon. W. M. Hughes, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.  The crew divided it evenly, four ways.  In Melbourne, Sir Ross formally handed the Vimy to the Commonwealth Government on behalf of Messrs. Vickers Ltd., as a historic relic.  At the request of the authorities, Sir Ross flew the machine on to Adelaide, the author’s home town.  Thus, he realized his dream of flying for London to his own home.



In keeping with the aviation theme, the second, and last, article in this month’s issue is entitled “America in the Air”, and was written by Brigadier-General William Mitchell, Assistant Chief of Air Service, Formerly Commanding Aviation, First Corps, First Army, and Group of Armies, A.E.F.  The article has the subtitle “The Future of Airplane and Airship, Economically and as Factors in National Defense”.  It contains ten black-and-white photographs, five of which are full-page in size.  One of the full-page photos is a frontispiece opposite the first page of the article.

The flying-machine, dreamed of for centuries, became a reality with the development of the gasoline engine.  Before that, all sorts of flying-machines were tried, ending with the steam-powered one built by Professor Langley, of the Smithsonian Institution.  His creation failed to carry a man to and from an airdrome until a gasoline engine was fitted to it years after his death.  Although the Wright Brothers had experimented for several years, their first public demonstration took place in 1908, only twelve years before this article.  Similarly, lighter-than-air craft – dirigible balloons, or “airships” – had been experimented with for a long time, but they also had to wait for the gasoline engine for propulsion.  Much as people would like to see aeronautics be applied to civil and commercial used, that would come gradually.  It took many years for the railways to supplant the stage-coach, and for the motor-car to do away with horse-drawn vehicles.  In 1921, over 90% of all aeronautical applications were used exclusively as elements of national defense by the countries owning them.  An airplane was one of the most complicated, rapidly changing instruments which had ever been known heretofore.  [In the preceding article, Sir Ross Smith use of the British form aeroplane was retained, but airplane was the official name for a heavier-than-air machine in America – Editor.]   Until the World War, all military power was exerted either on land or on water.  All offensive and defensive equipment was built accordingly – in two dimensions.  With the coming of the fighting airplane, all those notions had to be modified.  It acted both over the land and over the sea; it considered no frontiers, such as rivers, mountains, deserts, or coast-lines; and its only limit was the amount of fuel in its tanks.

The services adapted, slowly at first, but by the second year of the war, no action was taken without a thorough aerial preparation.  From then until the end of the war the offensive air service, the planes that fought the opponent’s air force, and then his ground forces, constantly increased.  The branch of aviation for bringing the enemy’s air force to combat and force it to fight was called pursuit aviation.  They were the fastest, most maneuverable, and most heavily armed airplanes possible.  [See: The National Geographic’s “Aviation” number, January, 1918.]  Those pursuit aircraft attained speeds of 160 to 170 miles an hour, and climbed to a height of 20,000 feet in twenty minutes.  They were equipped with two to four machine-guns.  In the air, teamwork was essential.  It was easy to get separated in the vast space of the air.  Success depended on the training of the pilots and their commanders.  Pursuit aviation constituted 60% of all the offensive aviation in the World War.  The only defense against an air force was another air force.  Anti-aircraft guns and other ground-based defenses had comparatively little effect.  Only one-tenth of one percent of American airplanes that went over the line were shot down by anti-aircraft fire.  The war probably advanced aviation more than would fifty years of peace.  The second great branch of aviation was known as bombardment.  That branch carried heavy missiles and dropped them on targets that they were designed to attack.  Loaded with high explosives, the air-bomb could cave in whole fronts of buildings, shatter armor, and demolish military equipment.  The concussion alone could kill people.  Projectiles from large cannons were designed to pierce the armor of battleships.  Twenty-five such shots went clean through the German flagship Derfflinger in the Battle of Jutland, but never destroyed the speed of that ship.  One of our air-bombs, weighing one ton and containing 1,000 to 1,400 pounds of explosive, would have put that ship out of action.

American cities were particularly subject to the destructive effects of bombardment due to the inflammable character of their constructions, and the difficulty in getting people out in case of such attack.  New York was a notable example.  It was situated on a narrow peninsula, easily identified from aircraft, either by day or by night.  Escape routes were limited, most people would not escape from a bombardment.  The damage caused by fires would be great.  Bombardment was not limited to coast-lines, because there were no coast-lines in the air.  A bomber could fly inland to the limit of its fuel, if unopposed, and deliver its load of bombs.  A modern bomber could carry from one to three tons of bombs.  A group of 100 planes could deliver 100 tons to a target.  During the war one group of four squadrons could carry only 3½ tons per trip.  When Germany initiated gas attacks, attention to the possibility of gas attack from the air was obvious.  It was never used by either side for fear of counterattack.  The cost would be too high while the military effects minimal.  Both sides had a rough equality of air power, but if one side had dominance, nothing could stop it from carrying out air gas attacks.  In an area the size of New York, if two tons of crying gas were dropped every eight days, the whole population would have to wear gas masks and goggles.  If mustard gas were used, it would take 70 tons of this very poisonous substance.  The whole city would need to be evacuated, paralyzing transportation.  If phosgene gas were used, 200 tons would be required every 8 days.  It would kill every unprotected man woman and child.  Gases even more deadly were being developed.  It was hoped that they would never be used, but the only defense from such an attack was an adequate air force.  To protect an area the size of New York, all means of protection must be used, including search-lights, anti-aircraft artillery, machine-guns, and barrage balloons, all used as auxiliaries under command of the air force.  Barrage balloons acted as aerial barbed-wire fences.  They could be raised as high as 20,000 feet.  The thin cables would clip wings, break propellers and otherwise damage aircraft.  The barrages had to be protected by aircraft, or the balloons would be shot down.  The anti-aircraft defenses of London during the war were particularly efficient, especially once the necessity of coordinated action in the air was realized.

The third great branch of offensive aviation was being developed just as the war ended, and has continued to be developed after the war.  It was called attack aviation.  It utilized machine-guns and cannons for shooting at objects on ground or on water.  The planes were armored over their vulnerable parts, and were really flying tanks.  Their first targets were actual tanks.  The plane’s small cannon could fire 100 shots a minute; its six to ten machine-guns could fire from 500 to 1,000 rounds of ammo per minute.  The plane flew very low and surprised whatever they attacked.  By 1921, air forces could be handled by radio, so a means of communications between airplanes while in the air, aiding coordination and adding the power of combination.  Besides the three offensive aviation branches, another military application was observation.  It was necessary to reconnoiter the enemy, his armor, his infantry, and his calvary.  This scouting was done using aerial photograph, take from altitudes as high as 28,000 feet.  Military maps of whole areas were made by aerial photography.  Through photography, railways, depots, and troop concentrations were located; and estimates of troop strength could be made.  Observation aviation also adjusts the fire of artillery.  These spotter planes virtually handled the targeting from the air.  Planes were used as a means of communications by troops on the ground when telephone lines were cut.  They were also used to deliver food and ammo to ground troops.

During the war, almost all aviation was used over the land.  After the Armistice, however, interest in transatlantic flight has increased.  A British airship flew from England to New York and back, and several airplanes had made Atlantic crossings.  The use of aircraft to protect sea lanes became apparent.  The first problem was to what effect a plane would have against a heavily armored warship.  There was no question that a small aerial bomb could sink an unarmored ship.  Airplanes have from five to eight times the speed of a battleship, and consequently they had the power of initiative.  As we had lost so few planes from anti-aircraft fire in the war, it was likely that few planes would be lost as a result of action from any ships themselves.  The effect of a bomb on an armored battleship was terrific.  It would inflict great damage and would kill a great may of the crew, if not blow the ship to pieces.  Bombing was more effective than cannon fire.  Cannons had only a 1% chance of hitting a battleship from 40,000 yards, while a good bomber would make 30 to 40% of hits.  The bombs used against battleships were designed for targets on land.  One could expect remarkable results when the problem of armor-piercing bomb was studied.  Submarines had great value, but due to slow speed and expense, they would gradually give way to an air force.  Battleships cost $45,000,000, and for that amount of money, about 1,000 bombers could be built, each one could carry a bomb that could sink a battleship. Airplanes required two or three men to operate, while a battleship required a crew of 800 or more.  Improvements in engines had reduced the number of forced landings, so planes could operate over water safely.  Vessels of very high speed could be equipped to form movable airdromes, or airplane carriers.

So far, only airplanes, or heavier-than-air craft, have been discussed.  Lighter-than-air craft, or airships, had taken on an increased economic interest.  The rigid airship, as constructed in Germany had proved its great usefulness, both in war and in peace.  Originally devised for reconnaissance, those great airships were used for bombardment against England and France, and caused a great deal of destruction during the war.  One made a 4,000-mile flight to German East Africa and back.  They could remain at very high altitudes for a long time.  Very few were ever shot down by airplanes.  By the end of the war, the Germans had one airship, the L-72, that was designed to attack New York.  It was able to travel about 17,000 miles, maintaining an altitude of 30,000 feet.  The crew would have had oxygen apparatus for breathing and engines placed to provide warmth.  The airship would have been unreachable by airplane.  The French now had that airship in a hangar in southern France to study it.  It would take several years to catch up to where the Germans were at the end of the war.  A nation needed airships for reconnaissance at a great distance, over land and water, for attacking hostile airships, and for dropping explosives against target on land and at sea.  A large airship could carry 200 fully equipped infantrymen and drop them by parachute.  It could transport 20 tons or more at a speed of 70 to 90 miles an hour.  More points can be reached than were possible by any other means.  For commercial purposes, the airship offered interesting possibilities.  They were safe.  In fact, the Germans have carried over 200,000 passengers without a fatality.  For travel across the Pacific, and to South America, airships were a very efficient way to go.

When examining the commercial possibilities for the airplane, the immediate concern was the high cost of the necessary ground organization.  With limited gas, airdromes needed to be at close intervals, around every 200 miles.  Techniques needed to be developed for guiding planes across the country.  Between each airdrome, emergency landing spots would be distinctly marked.  All that infrastructure seemed impractical from the standpoint of cost; but the automobile had to have roads everywhere and gas stations.  The cost would be significantly less than that expense.  It would tremendously facilitate rapid travel from one part of the country to another.  It costed, on average, $60 an hour to operate an airplane, and about 20 to 50% higher for seaplanes, the most expensive planes to operate.  Seaplanes had the advantage of many landing spots.  This was particularly true in Canada, with its numerous lakes and rivers.  The downside was they couldn’t be used in winter.  The advantage of airplanes was speed – at 30,000 feet altitude, they could travel at over 200 miles an hour.  Turbo-boosters were used at that high altitude.  They are turbines actuated by the exhaust from the engine, that in turn worked an air compressor that delivered compressed air to the carburetor.  It was believed that at high altitudes speeds of 300 to 400 miles an hour could be reached using such equipment.  That would enable rapid travel between the U.S. and Europe, San Francisco and New York, and other long-distance connections.  The U.S. was in the best position to manufacture airplanes.  It had the climate, the resources and the manufacturing and engineering ability.  Its men made the best pilots in the world.  From a national defense standpoint, airplanes offered more security, dollar for dollar, than any other military element.


At the bottom of the last page (page 352) there is a notice regarding change of address.  If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month.  If a member wanted the May issue redirected, the Society needed to know by April first.



Tom Wilson  

Views: 154

Reply to This


Legal notice about this site

Note: Any sales or trade arrangements are solely between users of this site; The National Geographic Society is not a party to and does not endorse or promote any particular sales or trade arrangements between collectors, dealers, or others. Due to the immediate nature of this medium, National Geographic Online also does not review, censor, approve, edit or endorse information placed on this forum. Discussion boards on National Geographic Online are intended to be appropriate for family members of all ages. Posting of indecent material is strictly prohibited. The placement of advertisements or solicitations unrelated to National Geographic also is prohibited. National Geographic Online shall review information placed on this forum from time to time and delete inappropriate material that comes to its attention as soon as it is practicable, but cannot guarantee that such material will not be found on the forum. By posting material on this discussion board you agree to adhere to this policy prohibiting indecent, offensive or extraneous advertising material, and to legally assume full and sole responsibility for your posting.

© 2023   Created by Cathy Hunter.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service