Air Transport, Today and Tomorrow


By V. P. CONROY, Vice President of traffic, Transcontinental & Western Air Lines, Inc.

Delivered before student body of Iowa Wesleyan College, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, November 12, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 250-253.

I AM honored to have this chance to say a few words to you about aviation. Distinguished speakers have preceded me—Mr. Pogue, chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board; Doctor Renner, the eminent geographer of Columbia University, and Colonel Wilson, transportation chief of General MacArthur's Forces in the Southwest Pacific.

These men have told you some of the things that are going on in aviation today and how it is influencing the course of the war. All of you, I am sure, are convinced by this time, if you were not when this course started, that the airplane is not merely an invention that touches the lives of a few people but is one that is influencing in one way or another the lives of everyone on the globe. Few inventions since time began have been more important.

Many students consider the printing press the greatest single achievement in the history of inventive genius and not many will disagree. Without it, we would be a world's people, for the most part, illiterate, uncultured and unlettered. We would be living in groups, unfamiliar with the living habits of others. We would be residing in primitive dwellings and wearing primitive clothing, for there would be no newspapers, no magazines, no information of any sort conceived by one group and passed on to others through the medium of the printed word. There would have been no industrial revolution, no golden eras of discovery and progress if the world would have had to depend upon the spoken word or painfully slow, hand-written parchments. The world would have remained a series of peoples each living in their own little sphere.

The printing press changed all this, opening up new vistas of learning, which when fully unfolded brought about in five hundred years the civilization we know today.

In a way, the airplane is like the printing press. The two can be likened because the airplane has brought the world's people closer together than was ever possible with the steamboat and railroad, both of which are not only slower but which are circumscribed by fixed routes over which they operate. They can go only certain places; the airplane can go, and does go, everywhere, just like a book, when translated into different languages, can be read everywhere. Mountains, oceans, icebergs, tropical jungles are no barriers at all to aircraft.

Since there are no natural obstacles to overcome, therefore, the airplane can reach any part of the earth's surface where people live. Furthermore, it can do so in a matter of hours, not weeks. I know of one airplane recently that left Washington on a Monday, flew 21,000 miles on a trans-Pacific mission and returned to the capital on Friday. That trip was not unusual; it is happening every day.

All of you read of Wendell Willkie's recent trip to Russia and China. He flew all the way around the world, or more properly, over the top of the world because he returned by way of Alaska, which as Doctor Renner told you is the shortest route between the United States and Asia. If Mister Willkie accomplished nothing more, he made us all feel a closer bond of sympathy with the people of Russia and the people of China in this war against the dictators. He was able to do this only because he was able to cover, in such a short space of time, such an extended territory. He visited more places, he talked to more people, than he possibly could by any other form of transportation. He obtained their frank reaction to what we are doing to win this war. He gave us in America an intimate glimpse into the lives of these people and he carried to them full assurances that we were interested, not in their lands, but in their welfare. The success of his mission stemmed principally from the fact that he visited so many places in such a short time. This speed of travel dramatized his visit, both to us and to the peoples he visited. Without doubt the ties of our relationship with China and Russia were greatly strengthened.

If so much good will could be won by a single diplomatic call, how much more can be accomplished in peacetime if these foreign neighbors of ours are brought within the orbit of a friendly system of trade. It must be remembered that ail races have an abundance of certain commodities and a shortage of others. The herdsman of Afghanistan may have nothing but a flock of sheep but if he could trade for his surplus wool a box of oranges for himself and his family he would be happy to barter. It may sound like oversimplification of a very complex economic problem but the fact remains that before any man can satisfy his natural wants, he must find someone who has what he lacks and who wants what he has in abundance. When two such men meet, you have a system of trading. When peoples of two or more countries exchange commodities in this fashion, you have a system of international commerce.

In the past, this international bartering has been carried on by means of the steamboat and the railroad. The result has been that the man with surplus wool and the man with an extra box of oranges has exchanged goods just so long as there is a third party to handle the actual physical transaction. That third party has been the steamboat or the railroad, and in some cases where there are roads, the motor car. The railroad by the same token needed steel rails and roadbeds and the steamboat needed navigable seas, harbors or rivers. Because these three agencies could operate only as long as the prescribed facilities were available, this meant that trading had to be limited to what we may call the more cultivated sections of the world. Countries like Brazil, Alaska, China, India and sections of Africa have had very limited facilities for this type of surface transportation and the trading therefore was very limited. In many, many cases the inhabitants had the means to buy, just as many people now have the means to buy automobiles, but there was nothing available for them to buy. The transportation facilities to bring needed commodities to these isolated areas simply were not there.

The airplane, however, is providing these needed facilities. Many of you know how the airplane has been used in Alaska, where it is so hard to get from one place to another because there are so few highways, railroads and all-year waterways. Statistics are hard to follow but it may interest you to know that as early as 1937, Alaska with a population of only 60,000 carried by air 68 per cent as much express and freight as the entire United States. In winter and summer, airplanes were flying food, medical supplies, tools, mining machinery, clothing, luxury items, schoolbooks, in fact almost anything you could name, into all parts of Alaska. Moreover, this cargo was carried in airplanes which for the most part would have been regarded as obsolete in the states.

As other speakers have told you, the war has given us a far more convincing demonstration of what the airplane can do now in the way of carrying cargo—troops, jeeps, cannon, ammunition, food, medical supplies and the like. Any article that can be broken down into parts and can fit inside the cabin can be flown. Not so long ago, a hospital burned down in Alaska. Within three days, a 24-bed pre-fabricated building, complete with beds, bedding, surgical instruments and even a few doctors and nurses were flown from the United States and the demolished institution was replaced.

In Kansas City, where I live, we seem to eat a lot of bananas. I checked on it the other day and learned to my surprise that in normal years, a total of one hundred and twenty-three million pounds of bananas are shipped into Kansas City each year. It takes eleven thousand freight cars to haul this enormous load. Most of them come by boat from Central America to New Orleans and then are shipped north by rail.

Thinking this would be an interesting problem, I asked our engineering department to determine how many airplanes the size of the TWA Stratoliner would be needed to haul one hundred and twenty-three million pounds of bananas from Costa Rica to Kansas City each year. The answer surprised me because I learned that it would take only one hundred and forty seven Stratoliners to handle the supply.

Let's take another example. Henry county here has a population of 18,000 persons. If every soul in this county decided to attend the annual Iowa picnic in Long Beach, it would take 600 Pullman cars approximately 53 hours to carry them to California.

There is now being built in California a 4-engine airplane called the Constellation. It was conceived by Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, president of TWA, and according to original specifications, it was designed to carry 57 persons. On that basis, 104 of those airplanes could haul every man, woman and child to Long Beach in five hours less time than it would take the train to make it. In other words, each airplane could make three round trips between Mount Pleasant and Long Beach in 48 hours while it was taking the train 53 hours to go one way. And the airplane, by flying both ways, could carry another 18,000 passengers on the return trips east, making a total of 36,000 passengers carried in all. That is how the airplane can compete against surface forms of transportation. It is making several trips while the other vehicle is making one.

In ocean shipping, the airplane's advantage is even greater. All of you no doubt have read of the huge airplane that Glenn Martin built. This big flying boat is called the Mars. Grover Loening, the distinguished research engineer, tells us that 50 of these flying boats could carry 300 million ton miles of freight per year, which is about the same tonnage that one Liberty ship can carry. Yet—and here is why so much emphasis is now being placed on cargo planes—the amount of steel that goes into one Liberty ship could form the hulls of 200 giant planes the size of the Mars. Such a fleet could thus carry 1200 million ton miles of freight, or four times that of a single steamer.

And big airplanes, as we think of them now, are going to be dwarfed by the aircraft which will be plying the lanes of air commerce tomorrow. How large they eventually will be no one knows. Any one of you can create your own design and there will not be a single aeronautical engineer in the country who will say that such an airplane may not be built some day, provided, of course, you have observed certain principles of aerodynamics.

Who would have dreamed, even a few years ago, of a vehicle that could fly sideways? Yet, Igor Sikorsky has developed such a machine in his famous helicopter which can not only fly sideways, forward and straight up and down, but can fly backwards and even hover stationary in the air like a gull.

Two witnesses before a senate sub-committee in Washington a few weeks ago told of new airplane designs. One described a craft with wings 400 feet long and which, when built, would weigh over a million pounds. The designer claimed his mammoth plane could carry 3,000 troops a distance of 1,200 miles at a speed of 354 miles an hour.

Another witness described a plane he called the Airwing which is supported by both engines and helium gas. It was designed as a flying aircraft carrier with a retractable flight deck which could launch 12 fighter planes while in the air and which could carry 36 tons of payload. This is about the capacity of the average railroad freight car. When completed, according to the designer, this plane will be able to land and take off either from airport or water at 10 miles per hour.

Both of these designs sound fantastic and I cannot vouch for their feasibility. But it would be folly for me to deny such planes will ever be built. The mere fact that they have been designed on the drafting boards show that engineers are applying their imaginations in an eternal search for new aeronautical discoveries. And as long as imaginations are brought into full play, we can expect the airplane to advance in design and performance. There can be no doubt about that.

The development of the airplane provides a great challenge to you young people. It offers enormous opportunities—opportunities that will be multiplied many-fold when air transportation spreads its wings over the entire surface of the globe after the war. To prepare for that day, it is important that you learn all you can about aviation. For eight years, Germany has taught her youth about aviation and we are just starting. You may be interested in reviewing Germany's record in this regard just to see how thoroughly our foe plunged into the subject.

On November 17, 1934, the German minister of education promulgated a decree making the study of aviation subjects mandatory in certain schools throughout the Reich. A new and broader decree, issued in 1939 after the outbreak of war, restated these aims in the following words and I quote:

"It is the task of the schools and universities to enable and inspire the youth for the preservation and further development of aviation which is a vital necessity for the German nation, so that those elements will be available to aviation which it requires for the defense of the Reich and Germany's world prestige." End quote.

No subject was overlooked in the ministry's program. The course, extending from primary grades through the universities, covered flight instruction, model airplane building, meteorology, mathematics, aircraft mechanical trades, airport construction, aerial photography, polar geography, every subject, in fact, that concerned aviation in any way no matter how remotely.

Grade school youngsters, for instance, were given blackboard instruction in the various parts of the airplane. With the use of kites, teachers taught them about such technical subjects as the lift and drag characteristics of an airfoil.

The physiological effects of flying on the human body were taught in biology, while in geography, aviation was stressed, and again I quote from the decree, "particularly in questions of traffic, in studying climate, discoveries and explorations of the earth, in cartography and for the comprehension of landscapes through air photographs." End quote.

Aviation was taught too in foreign language courses, for, as the decree states, "the teaching of modern languages serves not only to convey a certain amount of knowledge, but ultimately to give an orientation of the young German towards a foreign world. The feelings of difference and tension generate a nationalistic attitude and one's own consciousness of strength. By dealing with aviation literature the pupils get a first-hand insight into an extremely important activity of foreign countries and nations which we shall have to confront actively in war or in peace, as friends or enemies." End quote.

The aviation theme also found its way into the study of art and poetry. Teachers in the primary grades were commanded to use as subject matter colorful stories, both fact and legend, of flight so that, and I quote, "the pupil's understanding of the old human longing for flying is awakened and he will be proud of the fact that a German, Lilienthal, was the first flier." End quote. The ministry erred in this because Lilienthal was not the first man to fly.

In establishing these courses in the Nazi educational system, German leaders had one central plan: to develop a generation of air-conscious citizens who would be trained pawns in Hitler's attempt at world conquest. They realized long before the leaders of other nations, that in the airplane they had an instrument of tremendous striking force. By it, they hoped to enforce their will on weaker neighbors. To what extent they succeeded is known to us all.

As a nation which traditionally has preferred peace to war, we have no program of world conquest, no plan to train youth solely in the ways of war, even though war has been forced upon us. Our interest in the airplane has been primarily to serve the cause of peace and it will be in this role that aviation will find its highest level. When that day dawns, you may ask, what will the opportunities be for American youth? My answer to that question is that the opportunities will be virtually unlimited, for both men and women.

I will not go into the subject of pilots, mechanics and other technical branches because that is not my job and moreover the topic will be dealt with by a later speaker. My job is that of traffic—the business of handling passengers and cargo that are transported by air. Passengers have always constituted the bulk of airline traffic with mail and express following in that order.

To handle this traffic, an airline requires a rather complex organization. It is broken down into several departments and operates something like this:

First of all there is the reservations department.

(Described telephone sales, control and ticketing).

(Described how personnel is selected and trained for these jobs).

Then there is the airmail and express division.

(Described how it functions, how airlines are paid only for mail they carry and do not receive a subsidy).

(Described how traffic departments will be expanded as operations expand, requiring personnel with world-wide vision).

As I have stated, passenger traffic has always been the backbone of the airline business but with the advent of the cargo plane, the situation may be reversed after the war. President Roosevelt a few days ago passed on to Congress a preliminary report of his Post-War planning commission, which envisioned a vast fleet of commercial aircraft operating in the post-war period. It is a foregone conclusion that a sizeable portion of this fleet will be exclusive cargo carriers, operating both domestic and international routes.

The growth of air express has been little short of spectacular and it is to be remembered that this express has been carried in regular passenger planes. In June of this year, the 17 domestic airlines carried more than 3 million pounds of air express. In June of 1938, only a little more than half a million pounds were carried.

It is possible that considerable freight will be flown after the war in gliders, attached like a string of boxcars behind a towplane. Many of you who will be living on farms may be sending your produce and perishable crops to distant cities in farm-to-market airplanes operating in regular scheduled service. Many of you, without the slightest question of a doubt, will be flying your own private planes. Such planes will be available at low cost and the upkeep will be cheaper than driving your family automobile.

Virtually all of you will have airmail service almost at your doorstep, for there will be no town of any size that will not have some kind of airline schedules. Furthermore, it is likely that all first class mail going any considerable distance will be sent by air. Air routes will crisscross the

nation like major highways, affecting in varying degrees the living habits of every city and country dweller.

Scores of highways will have landing strips, built at convenient intervals, to accommodate residents who will be flying their own planes.

Some of you no doubt will be actively working in some phase of air transportation. Most of you will be patrons either as passengers or as freight customers, or both. Rates will come down because it will cost less to buy and operate a transport plane than it does now and there will be vastly more customers than we have had in the past. Rates will be low enough so that you will plan your vacations by air and thus visit distant places you have not been able to visit because they were too far away to reach by rail, boat or motor car. A trip to Australia for the average American in the past has been looked upon as a high adventure but

in the future, that land down under will be as accessible as California is to the New Yorker. I know of one school in the middlewest that is looking forward to the day when it will enroll many of its students from England because, through the miracle of air transportation, they will be able to return home for short visits during the school year.

This is not fantastic dreaming. It is the future as you will see it and the day is not far distant. We owe it to ourselves and to our country to equip ourselves for the new era of flight by becoming fully conscious of what it is going to mean. Iowa Wesleyan and all the high schools in this area which are participating in aviation courses are to be commended for preparing their students for the Air Age. That age, which will rival the great epochs of the past, is already here.

I thank you.