National Geographic : 1948 Feb
Our Air Age Speeds Ahead BY F. BARROWS COLTON ROTESTS arose not long ago when the manager of National Airport at Wash ington, D. C., installed parking meters around the traffic circle in front of the main building, where people drive up to put friends on planes or make brief visits. "I had to do it," explained the manager. "Why, people were coming over here and parking their cars for three or four days while they went to Europe!" That shows, as well as anything, how com monplace air travel has become, how com pletely the Air Age has arrived. This age of flight, in which the human race is conquering the great overhead ocean of air, earth's last frontier, is developing as fast as scientific research and available funds will permit. Man is learning to live, travel, even earn a living, and if necessary defend himself far up in what some flyers call the "New Sea," where Nature never intended he should go.* Today a plane exists that is designed to carry its pilot to the breath-taking altitude of 80,000 feet, 15 miles, well beyond the height reached by the National Geographic Society-U. S. Army Air Corps stratosphere balloon Explorer II, which now holds the alti tude record for human flight.t That sky-climber is the rocket-propelled experimental Air Force plane the XS-1, built to fly 1,700 miles per hour, more than twice the velocity of sound. Babies Born in Flight Whether or not you ever ride in airplanes, aviation is fast changing the world you used to know. Several babies already have been born in planes in flight! Some New York businessmen, living in outlying suburbs, now get to work in 15 min utes by air instead of in over an hour by train, subway, or ferry. Their only complaint is lack of time to finish reading the morning paper! Every minute of every day there are ap proximately 100 tons of mail in the air over the United States. There are now helicopter mail deliveries and taxi service. Airplanes are used in count ing wild ducks and game, in spotting poach ers, who sometimes use planes themselves, and in reseeding denuded western lands. Prisoners, deportees, migrant laborers, sea sonal fruits and vegetables are now carried by air. Planes are used to tow advertising signs, patrol pipe lines, shoot coyotes, and spray bodies of water to keep down mos quitoes. Topographic surveys for extension of Penn sylvania's great high-speed auto turnpike from Harrisburg to Philadelphia are being made with aerial photographs. It is estimated that various U. S. military and civil agencies alone have photographed 18 to 19 million square miles of the earth's surface from the air, one third of the total land area. Bad weather, the old bugaboo of aviation, is being conquered. Most of the leading air ports of this country soon will have equipment for enabling passenger-carrying planes to land under conditions that previously would have halted all flying. There used to be a rueful parody on the famous Air Corps song, "Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps (ex-cept the wea-ther)!" But that's no longer true. Almost daily for a year and a half, pilots of the Air Force's All Weather Flying Project have flown the 750 mile round trip from their base at Wilmington, Ohio, to Andrews Field near Washington, D. C., without ever seeing outside the cockpit. They have flown in all kinds of weather. When it was clear, special opaque windshields and goggles kept them from seeing outside. Every flight, including take-offs and landings, was made entirely with the aid of instruments. A Seattle inventor has developed a one seater helicopter, a sort of aerial motorcycle, which weighs only 125 pounds, has a speed of 90 miles per hour, and a cruising range of 200 miles. Other inventors have developed combination automobile-airplanes (page 258). One is called the "airphibian." You fly it to the airport of your destination, land, take off the wings, tail, and propeller, leave them at the field, and drive the fuselage into town like any car. Radar Devices Warn of Danger Radar devices that penetrate fog and dark ness to warn of ground below or mountains ahead are rapidly coming into use on com mercial airliners and soon will be required. Scientists now foresee the time when, flying in a plane powered by the lightning-fast ram jet engine, you may leave New York at noon eastern standard time and reach San Fran cisco before noon, at 11:00 a. m. Pacific time! * See "New Frontier in the Sky," by F. Barrows Colton, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1946. t See "Man's Farthest Aloft," by Capt. Albert W. Stevens, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1936.