Read CHAPTER VII of Opportunities in Aviation , free online book, by Arthur Sweetser Gordon Lamont, on ReadCentral.com.

LANDING-FIELDS THE IMMEDIATE NEED

The immediate need, to establish aviation throughout the entire country, is a series of landing-fields from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. These landing-fields should not be designed primarily for transcontinental flying-stations, but for city-to-city flying. There is going to be a great amount of aerial traffic from New York to San Francisco, to be sure, but the future of flying is in the linking up of cities a few hundred miles apart. The War Department has already taken steps, and will establish thirty-two fields in the country to encourage flying. Many more are needed.

Atlantic City is apparently the pioneer air port of the country, and for many reasons this is natural. There are political and social advantages which make Atlantic City ideal. Rules have been laid down for the coming and going of airships, and a field for land machines and water space for seaplanes have been laid out. A large aeronautical convention has already been held there.

Every city in the United States will have a landing-field and hangars for airplanes, as well as mechanics to care for them. Whether this is to be a private or public enterprise lies in the hands of the people handling such things. Much could be said for either type of establishment. The thing must come; it is as logical as one, two, three. There are some, perhaps, who remember the roars of derision which went up when the first automobile garage was established in their town. Such a thing was visionary-there would never be enough machines to make it pay!

There are many reasons why it is impossible to consider the use of city roofs, for the present, as suitable landing-places for airplanes. In fact, the first successful landing on a roof made by Jules Vedrines last January was hailed as a feat of almost unparalleled daring. He flew and landed on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and won a prize of $5,000 for doing it. The police of Paris refused to allow him to fly off the roof, and he was compelled to take his machine apart and lower it in an elevator.

The theory of flight, the laws which make it possible apparently to defy all laws of gravitation, make it impossible for us to depend on the roofs of buildings in large cities and landing-places. It will be a long time before the dreams of men who would establish landing-places on hotel roofs can come true. The progress of aeronautical development has been great enough so that there is no need to overemphasize it to set ridiculous tasks which cannot be accomplished.

We shall not see the business man flying to his office in the city from his country estate unless some landing-field is built on the lower end of Manhattan Island as has been proposed. The Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York has taken up the matter of legislation to make landing-fields possible, and it must go through. The business man ought, in the near future, to be able to use the airplane for quick trips to Albany. It would save hours over rail time, and here the airplane has a wonderful field of usefulness.

Airplanes have made the trip from Washington to New York in very quick time, only to have to go on to Mineola to land on the airdrome there. It takes nearly an hour to come in from Mineola, but even at that the saving of time is still considerable. The speed and efficiency of airplane travel to and from New York and other cities is materially affected by the lack of landing-fields close to the business section of the city.

There must be a large field, broad in every dimension, to permit the landing and taking-off of airplanes. A machine must get up flying speed running across the ground before it gets into the air. The flying speed varies with the type of machine, and it may be estimated that most machines take-off and land at a speed of from forty-five to sixty miles an hour. The air must be passing through their planes at this speed before they will begin to fly, and it takes a little run to get up flying speed. Similarly, when an airplane lands, it must lose its flying speed gradually. It may glide to within a few feet of the ground, and then “flatten out” just off the ground and run along until it loses its speed, the air no longer passes over its planes fast enough to support it, and it drops to the ground.

Such are the limitations which the necessity for speed in airplane flight imposes. Compare the paper dart flying through the air. As long as it moves quickly it will fly. Or a kite, that will fly when the wind is strong enough. The airplane creates its own wind to support itself.

There are four forces acting on an airplane in flight, and they must be properly overcome and balanced. There is lift, the upward force exerted on the planes by the passage of air over their surfaces; and drift, the resistance to the passing of an airplane, the retarding force acting opposite to the direction of motion. Then thrust, the forward effort of a machine exerted by a propeller pushing or pulling. And finally gravity.

The primary conditions of flight are that lift made by the planes shall be equal to the force of gravity, and that the forward thrust must be equal to the drift. At that point a machine will sustain flight a fairly simple thing on paper. But the times that machines have stalled in the air, with their motors full on because their pilots have failed to sustain flight, have let the force of gravity overcome lift, are too numerous to mention.

That dart, if pointed at a proper angle and let loose, will fly; its lift will overcome the force of gravity, even though it has no motive power of its own. An airplane without an engine could be pushed off the Palisades at flying speed, and a skilful pilot could bring it to a reasonably safe landing at the foot. Flight does depend on motion, but motion does not depend on motive power. Given a sufficiently high altitude, the mere act of dropping through the air creates motion, and this motion will sustain flight.

An airplane is in no particular danger in the air if the motor stops provided it is in an open stretch of country with plenty of fields. Instinctively the pilot will nose down and glide, and on that glide he will find himself maintaining flying speed. He can turn and maneuver his machine, and pick out almost any field near at hand. The only limitations are that he cannot glide more than five times his height, and when he comes down to the ground he must stop gliding and land. He must land on anything that presents itself, a field if he has good judgment; if not, then a barn or swamp or woods. He must land when the end of his glide brings him to the ground.

This is commonly termed a “forced landing,” and in every sense of the word it is one. There is no pilot of any extensive flying experience who has not had to make a forced landing. Ninety out of a hundred are perfectly orderly safe landings; the odd ones are occasionally crashes. Incidentally it may be said that forced-landing practice by flying pupils is the most beneficial which may be imagined. It teaches control over a machine as nothing else will. It may be carried out from any height, shutting off the motor, picking out a field, gliding for it, turning and twisting to get into proper position as regards the wind, and “giving her the gun” just at the fence and flying on.

A forced landing over the country is safe, but over a city it is the most deadly thing imaginable. For a machine caught with a “dud” engine over New York there is no escape but a terrific crash in the city streets, against the side of some building, with danger to the pilot and the people in the street below. There has been no motor made by the hand of man which would not let a pilot down at some unexpected time. The instance of Major Woods, starting on his flight across the Atlantic, and forced to come down to the Irish Sea is one example. The NC-4, American naval seaplane, had a forced landing at sea, a hundred miles from Chatham, Massachusetts, on the first leg of the Atlantic flight from this side. Its engines had been carefully cleaned and tested, and yet they failed. Harry G. Hawker’s engine failed him half-way from Newfoundland to Ireland and let him down into the sea, from which he was picked up by the greatest good luck.

That is one of the most exasperating and human things about a gasolene-engine. It is efficient, but not thoroughly dependable. The best of them are liable to break down at the most needed moment, due to a hundred causes outside of the control of a mechanic or pilot. Care and rigid inspection will reduce the possibilities, but engine failure cannot yet be eliminated.

That is one of the principal reasons why the roofs of buildings around big cities are so dangerous. The sides of a building drop away from the roof. An error in judgment and the machine is over the edge.

It is even more dangerous to take-off. An airplane motor is ten times as likely to develop a weakness while it is cold. A motor starting a flight is never well warmed up, and fifty feet from the edge of the roof it may give out, with awful consequences. As a practicable thing, roofs are at present impossible. There is not a flying-officer in the world who will not agree.

An interesting series of experiments has been carried out in England on what has been known as the helicopter machine. This machine is not dependent upon speed to fly, but merely on engine power applied through a propeller of great pitch. The idea is not new, but is along the lines specified by Orville Wright when he said that a kitchen table could fly if it had a good enough engine.

The effort is being made to make a machine which can hover, can hold itself in the air by brute force of its propeller blades beating the air. The thing sounds impossible to adapt, say some aeronautical engineers. Those who have seen the experiments, however, express great optimism.

A machine of this sort would land and take-off in a very small space, and might be adapted to use around cities. It might even make flying over cities safe but for the human equation of the engine again. This machine is dependent on engine power. Apparently there would be two engines, or two driving mechanisms, one operating the lifting propeller and the other the pulling propeller.

For the present the great need is for landing-fields as near the heart of most American cities as possible. There should be quick transportation to the business section provided, as well as hangars and mechanics. When that is done we may very well say that aerial transportation for passengers and freight is an accomplished fact.