The U.S. Aircraft Industry - An Overview T. A. Heppenheimer
Inspired by the first successful flights in 1903 of Wilbur and Orville Wright, of Dayton, Ohio, men such as Glenn Curtiss of Hammondsport, New York started their own aircraft companies, competing with the Wright Brothers, who had swiftly capitalized upon their success by creating the Wright Company. A California planebuilder, Glenn L. Martin, established a firm called the Glenn L. Martin Company. These outfits all did plenty of business during World War I. Following that conflict; there was little demand for new aircraft, for there were plenty of war surplus planes and engines. Martin built some of the earliest bombers--one sank a captured German battleship in a 1921 exercise, impressing military planners.
Other airplane builders also went into business: Donald Douglas, William Boeing, and Alan Loughead, who pronounced his name "Lockheed," and took to spelling his company's name that way. All three found good prospects. Donald Douglas got started by working with a wealthy enthusiast who wanted a airplane that could cross the country nonstop. By building it, Douglas gained experience that allowed him to develop a long-range Army plane, the World Cruiser. Two World Cruisers flew around the world in 1924 in a succession of short hops.
Airmail held promise. It earned federal subsidies for mail carriers that made it easy to turn a profit. A few brave travelers also began buying airplane tickets. Boeing gained an important success in 1926 with a single-engine airplane that was well suited for carrying mail and passengers over the Rocky Mountains. The same year Lockheed, which then employed the engineer Jack Northrop, crafted the Vega, which set speed and altitude records and became popular as an airliner. Jack Nothrop later founded his own plane-building firm.
That war brought an enormous surge of business to the aircraft industry. Several companies built the important warplanes of the era:
Boeing: B-17, B-29 bombers
Convair: B-24 bomber
Lockheed: P-38 fighter
Curtiss: P-40 fighter, C-46 transport
Douglas: C-47, C-54 transports
North American: P-51 fighter
Republic: P-47 fighter
Most importantly, the War Department bought airplanes by the tens of thousands. Here are aircraft deliveries by year:
Fleets of B-17s and B-24s escorted by P-47, and P-51 fighters, destroyed many of Nazi Germany's factories and railroads. B-29s carried firebombs that burned Japan's cities to the ground. The C-46 carried supplies to China. The C-47, a military version of the DC-3, carried troops as well as cargo. Over ten thousand of them entered service. General Dwight Eisenhower, the top U.S. commander, counted it as one of the items that did the most to win the war. The end of the war brought a swift collapse of the aviation industry, as the nation became awash in used aircraft.
Missiles and jet bombers also drew attention. North American made a strong and early commitment to develop a missile of intercontinental range, the Navaho. This project needed rocket engines, guidance systems, and advanced designs that called for close understanding of supersonic flight. North American brought in good scientists and developed the necessary know-how to forge ahead in this new field. Boeing showed similar leadership with jet bombers. The company used scientific data from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, supplementing it with data from its own wind tunnel, a research facility that helped to determine the best shapes for aircraft flying close to the speed of sound. This allowed the company to develop the earliest important jet bomber, the B-47. It first flew in 1947. The Air Force purchased over 2000 of them from 1948 to 1956.
The Navy and Air Force had their own requirements. Convair built the B-36, which had six and later ten engines. Boeing countered with the B-52, which mounted eight jet engines. It became the main bomber of the Air Force's Strategic Air Command. Almost every company in the industry built fighter aircraft in the 1950s, including Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, McDonnell, North American, Northrop, Republic, and Vought. Missiles and space flight brought new opportunities. In 1954, the Air Force launched a major push toward rockets of intercontinental range, able to reach Moscow. These included the Atlas from Convair and the Titan, built by Martin. Douglas created the Thor, based in England, which had less range but was available sooner. These missiles evolved into launch vehicles for the space program.
While airliner sales remained very strong, military demand fell off sharply with the end of the Cold War. Officials of the Defense Department responded by facilitating a series of mergers, to consolidate the industry within a small number of companies that would have enough business to remain strong. Boeing, holding great power due to its success in selling airliners, bought out McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell International. Lockheed merged with Convair and with Martin Marietta, forming the firm of Lockheed Martin. A similar merger created the firm of Northrop Grumman. Today, these three U.S. companies dominate the American market for commercial airliners, military aircraft, and launch vehicles for space flight.
Air Transport - Commercial Aviation - An Overview T. A. Heppenheimer
On January 1, 1914, a wealthy manufacturer named Thomas Benoist launched air service between Tampa, Florida, and nearby St. Petersburg. Those towns were separated by Tampa Bay; the only connections were by once-a-day boat or by railroad. His airline drew business all through the winter, but his prospects faded when the tourist season ended in spring. His airline shut down permanently. No one else tried to carry passengers by air for several years, and there was a reason: railroads. The United States had a quarter-million miles of track, with rail carriers offering fast, convenient service from downtown terminals.
Early airline builders therefore tried a different approach, by carrying airmail. The U.S. Post Office became involved during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The planes of the day were little faster than mail trains, and aviators saw that their best hope lay in cross-country service. Flying at night, three pilots carried mail from San Francisco to New York on a trial flight in February 1921. In 1923, the assistant postmaster general, Paul Henderson, began installing powerful beacon lights to mark air routes for routine night flying in clear weather. Scheduled transcontinental air service began in mid-1924. This did not suit the railroads, which depended on income from carrying the mail. In Washington, railroad lobbyists won passage in Congress of the Kelly Act of 1925, which turned the new airlines into privately owned businesses. A follow-up law, in 1926, gave the government responsibility for aircraft safety. Collectively, these acts served to create an air transport industry that was regulated by the U.S. government and received direct subsidy through a complex set of contracts awarded to airlines to carry the mail.
Brown's reforms worked. The airlines he selected continued to dominate the nation's air routes for the next fifty years. However, Brown was a Republican. When the Democrats returned to Washington with President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1933, they lost little time in declaring that Brown's actions amounted to a scandal. He had used his powers in high-handed ways, and Democrats declared that he and the airlines together had committed fraud. Roosevelt responded by turning the airmail over to the pilots of the U. S. Army. It didn't work-they were unprepared, and a number of them crashed. Roosevelt had to rely on the airlines, whose pilots knew their business. But the Air Mail Act of 1934 cut their mail pay particularly sharply, forcing them to rely even more on passenger traffic for their income.
Brown left a further legacy, in the area of overseas travel. An ambitious young airline operator, Juan Trippe, convinced Brown to give him a monopoly on the right to carry airmail to foreign countries. Trippe's airline, Pan American World Airways, started with its 90-mile (145-kilometer) route in 1927 from Florida to Cuba and completed its conquest of Latin America in 1930, with 20,308 miles (32,683 kilometers) of airway in 20 Latin American countries. Profits from these Latin American routes subsidized Trippe's losses as he expanded his operations. In 1935, he introduced his four-engine Clipper flying boats on a route that crossed the Pacific, reaching from San Francisco to the Philippines. In 1939 he introduced commercial service across the Atlantic.
The air transport revolution swung into full power with the building of advanced new airplanes in the latter 1930s. Carriers expressed much interest in four-engine airliners that could carry more passengers at higher speeds, while carrying extra gasoline for longer range. Two aviation leaders competed for advantage in this field: Donald Douglas, whose firm of Douglas Aircraft was building the DC-3, and Howard Hughes.
Hughes' father had made a vast fortune in oil. Howard Hughes started his career in Hollywood, but turned to aviation, buying control of TWA. Working with Lockheed Aircraft, he crafted the Constellation airliner. Designed in 1940, it flew as fast as the fighter aircraft of the day, and could cross the nation nonstop. Donald Douglas had to match it, and did so with his own four-engine aircraft, the DC-6 and DC-7. The rivalry between these airliners and the Constellation then spearheaded the development of advanced commercial airliners until the coming of the jets.
But during 1956, as orders for the 707 and DC-8 mounted, the nation's airways were far from ready for the new jets. They needed radar and electronic aids to navigation, which were in short supply due to federal budget cuts. Then in June 1956, a DC-7 and a Super Constellation collided over the Grand Canyon, killing 128 people. This drove home the point that the air routes were unsafe even for fast propeller-driven aircraft. Congress responded, and soon the needed equipment was in place.
The new jets entered service in large numbers during the 1960s. Demand soared, leaping from 62 million passengers in 1960 to 169 million, nearly three times as many, in 1970. Juan Trippe expected that this trend would continue, as did William Allen, president of Boeing. Together they crafted an entirely new and very large commercial jetliner that was to serve this new era-the Boeing 747. However, it nearly wrecked both companies, as debt and delays plagued Boeing, followed by a national recession, which dried up demand. Boeing survived by offering new versions of earlier jets and came up with enough sales to survive. Still, it had a very close call with bankruptcy. The 747 was too large for most routes, which opened up an opportunity for an airliner of slightly smaller size. Lockheed came in with its L-1011, while McDonnell Douglas offered its DC-10. McDonnell Douglas won the competition and Lockheed stopped building airliners and became purely a military airplane builder. McDonnell Douglas stayed in the commercial world, but lacked the funds to develop anything more than variations of its DC-9 and DC-10. This raised the prospect that Boeing would hold a monopoly over the airlines. Competition eventually came from Europe.
For half a century, the nation's airlines had been a heavily regulated industry in which competition was more in the way of service than in fares. This regulation prevented new airlines from entering the market while stabilizing those already operating. These arrangements came to an end in 1978, as the nation entered an era of deregulation. Airline executives won new freedom to introduce cut-rate fares and to serve new routes, as well as to abandon less lucrative routes. For travelers, the consequences brought a bonanza, with passengers saving $100 billion in ticket fares during the first ten years. However, airline service was reduced, and flights to less attractive destinations were unavailable.
Some of the traditional carriers did not survive deregulation. For instance, already weak Pan Am needed new routes and new aircraft. Lacking money and credit, it declared bankruptcy and went out of business in 1991. A corporate raider, Frank Lorenzo, purchased control of Eastern Airlines. He worked vigorously to cut the pay of his employees-and soon found himself in a battle with his labor unions. When the smoke cleared, Eastern also was bankrupt.
Other airlines also fell short. Braniff Airways gambled that new aircraft would help it recover market share-only to fly into a time of high fuel prices, high interest rates, and a new recession which forced the airline to shut down. TWA was in and out of bankruptcy before finally folding in 2001, as it agreed to sell its assets to American Airlines. As the new century began, the nation counted only three strong surviving carriers: American, United, and Delta.
In the United States, airline traffic topped 600 million passengers per year in 2001, for a fourfold increase in just 30 years. New airports could help relieve this congestion, but the nation recently has built only one large new one near Denver. Everywhere else, plans for new airports have faced stiff competition. It has also proven difficult to build new runways at existing airports although much effort is underway to expand on numerous airports around the nation.
The Government Role in Civil Aviation - An Overview--Edmund Preston, Agency Historian, Federal Aviation Administration
The American Government has played an important part in shaping the nation's air transportation. At the dawn of the 20th century, Langley's Smithsonian was a significant source of information for those interested in the possibility of heavier-than-air flight. The Institution distributed literature about aeronautical principals as part of its scientific mission, which was partly supported by federal taxes. Among those who studied this material were Wilbur and Orville Wright, whose own experiments led them to achieve controlled, powered flight in 1903.
Despite its early start, the United States soon lost aeronautical leadership. European enthusiasm for air power was sparked by an arms race and then by the outbreak of war in 1914. During the following year, Congress took a step toward revitalizing American aviation by establishing the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA); an organization dedicated to the science of flight. Upon entering World War I in 1917, the U.S. government mobilized the nation's economy, with results that included an expansion of the small aviation manufacturing industry. Before the end of the conflict, Congress voted funds for an innovative postal program that would serve as a model for commercial air operations.
To fulfill its new aviation responsibilities, the Department of Commerce created an Aeronautics Branch. The first head of this organization was William P. MacCracken, Jr., whose approach to regulation included consultation and cooperation with industry. A major challenge facing MacCracken was to enlarge and improve the nation's air navigation system. The Aeronautics Branch took over the Post Office's task of building airway light beacons, and in 1928 introduced a new navigation aid known as the low frequency radio range. At the same time, NACA was producing benefits through a program of laboratory research begun in 1920. In 1928, for example, the organization's pioneering work with wind tunnels produced a new type of engine cowling that made aircraft more aerodynamic.
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Aeronautics Branch cooperated with public works agencies on projects that represented an early form of federal aid to airports. In 1934 it received a new name, the Bureau of Air Commerce. In 1935 the Bureau of Air Commerce encouraged a group of airlines to establish the first three centers for providing air traffic control along the airways. In the following year, the Bureau itself took over the centers and began to expand the control system. In 1938, the Civil Aeronautics Act transferred federal responsibilities for non-military aviation from the Bureau of Air Commerce to a new, independent agency, the Civil Aeronautics Authority. The legislation also gave the authority the power to regulate airline fares and to determine the routes that air carriers would serve.
The approaching era of jet travel, and a series of midair collisions, prompted passage of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. This legislation gave the CAA's functions to a new independent body, the Federal Aviation Agency. The act transferred safety rulemaking from CAB to the new FAA, and also gave the FAA sole responsibility for a common civil-military system of air navigation and air traffic control. The same year witnessed the birth of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), created in the wake of the Soviet launching of the first artificial satellite. NASA assumed NACA's role of aeronautical research while achieving world leadership in space technology and exploration.
In 1967, a new Department of Transportation (DOT) combined major federal responsibilities for air and surface transport. FAA's name changed to the Federal Aviation Administration as it became one of several agencies within DOT. At the same time, a new National Transportation Safety Board took over the CAB's role of investigating aviation accidents. The FAA gradually assumed additional functions. The hijacking epidemic of the 1960s had already brought the agency into the field of civil aviation security. The FAA became more involved with the environmental aspects of aviation in 1968 when it received the power to set aircraft noise standards. Legislation in 1970 gave the agency management of a new airport aid program and certain added responsibilities for airport safety.
In the 1990s, satellite technology received increased emphasis in the FAA's development programs as a means to improvements in communications, navigation, and airspace management. In 1995, the agency assumed responsibility for safety oversight of commercial space transportation, a function begun eleven years before by an office within DOT headquarters.
As the new century began, issues facing the FAA included the progress of reforms aimed at giving the agency greater flexibility. Airline accidents, although rare in statistical terms, showed the need for further safety advances. The huge volume of flights challenged the capacity of the airport system, yet demonstrated the popularity of air travel. In September 2001, however, the air transportation system was challenged by terrorist attacks in which hijacked airliners were used as missiles that killed thousands of U.S. citizens as well as many others from around the world. The government's response included legislation, enacted in November, that established a new DOT organization. This new Transportation Security Administration received broad powers to protect air travel and other transportation modes against criminal activity. Its creation was the latest step in the evolution of U.S. government's civil aviation role to meet changing needs and priorities.
General Aviation-an Overview Dr. Janet Bednarek
Perhaps the best way to define general aviation is to begin by listing what it is not. General aviation is not military aviation and it is not scheduled commercial aviation. To a great extent, all other uses of aviation in the United States fall into the category of general aviation. These uses include, but are not limited to, private and sport flying, aerial photography and surveying, cropdusting, business flying, medical evacuation, flight training, and the police and fire fighting uses of aircraft. The airplanes used in general aviation range from small, single-engine, fabric-covered aircraft to multi-million dollar business jets. They also include helicopters, restored warbirds, and homebuilt aircraft designed to use advanced composite technology.
What is now known as general aviation really did not emerge fully until after the mid-1920s. Nonetheless, even before then a number of individuals began to experiment with uses of flight technology that would later become important parts of general aviation. For example, the first uses of airplanes for crop treatment, aerial surveying, and corporate flying all dated before the mid-1920s. Also, the first production and purchases of aircraft for private uses also happened very early in the history of flight. Wealthy individuals and some early exhibition pilots purchased aircraft from such pioneer aircraft manufacturers as the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss. Just before World War I, Clyde Cessna, a self-taught exhibition pilot, briefly operated his first aircraft company, one he founded with the purpose of building and selling small, relatively inexpensive aircraft for personnel use.
As aviation grew as an activity in the late 1920s, government regulations at both the state and federal levels worked to make access to flight a little more difficult. While the new programs did help give birth to the commercial airline industry, they also began to demand that pilots earn licenses and that aircraft receive certification. During the 1930s the Federal government initiated a number of programs supporters hoped would help spur general aviation. Eugene Vidal, who headed the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce, pushed for the creation of a government program to encourage the design and manufacture of a safe, affordable aircraft. Some new aircraft designs emerged from the program. Later in the 1930s, the newly established Civil Aeronautics Authority sponsored a pilot training program. This program increased the number of pilots in the United States-both men and women, and both whites and African Americans.
The late 1920s and the 1930s also witnessed the expansion of general aviation enterprises. Crop dusting, proved valuable in the South in fighting the boll weevil, soon spread throughout the United States and included the treatment of forested areas as well as the aerial seeding of rice fields. Business travel also greatly expanded, ensuring that the high-end of the general aviation aircraft manufacturing market became and remained healthy. During this time period the first affordable small aircraft-the Aeronca C-2, introduced in 1929-made its appearance. Soon thereafter American engine manufacturers, beginning with Continental, began to finally produce small affordable aircraft engines.
General aviation aircraft manufacturers provided a number of products for the war effort. First, they acted as sub-contractors, using their skilled work forces to produce aircraft components for the manufacturers of military aircraft. They also sold a number of aircraft to the Army that were used in the Aerial-Observation-Post program in which Army pilots flew small aircraft in order to spot targets for Army artillery. Some general aviation manufacturers modified their small aircraft so that they could serve as training gliders for the Army Air Forces combat glider program. Given the large number of individuals trained as pilots during the war, general aviation manufacturers hoped that the time when private aircraft would come into widespread use was finally at hand. However, as events unfolded, World War II marked not the beginning but the end of any golden age for general aviation.
In the decades after World War II certain segments of general aviation continued to grow and develop. Business aviation continued and important technological changes occurred, including the introduction of turbine engines, both jets and turbo props. These high-end business aircraft remained in demand. The late 1940s also saw the introduction of helicopters, which become very important in such activities as medical evacuation and law enforcement. The biggest advancements, though, came in avionics - the radio and navigation equipment available to general aviation pilots.
In terms of personal flying, the post-war period witnessed a number of difficult times. First, the post-war boom in private aircraft purchases never materialized. Many companies, including some that had been very successful in the 1920s and 1930s, were forced out of the aircraft business. The survivors, such as Piper, Cessna and Beech, had to work hard to rebuild the personal aircraft market in the 1950s through the 1970s. They did see some successes as each company made the transition from fabric-covered to all-metal aircraft.
The four topics presented in this section give a broad overview of various aspects of America's aviation history, covering the U.S. Aircraft Industry, Air Transport-Commercial Aviation, the Government Role in Civil Aviation, and General Aviation-an Overview. These essays, slightly abridged here, can be found in full-length form at the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission's History of Flight website in the overview of flight essay section.
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