Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A World Ruled From the Air

Three 1920 predictions by the British Air Ministry’s Cuthbert Hicks about the future speed, carrying capacity, and military influence of aircraft — two predictions proved wild underestimates, while a third proved a wild overestimate.

At the moment the fastest officially recognized speed attained by aircraft is one hundred and eighty-seven miles an hour — three miles every minute. What it will be in ten years’ time no one can say, but, remembering that ten years ago the record speed was barely fifty miles an hour, I do not feel that it would be extravagant to prophesy a three-hundred-mile-an-hour rate in 1930. In other words, aircraft could reach from Europe in ten hours.

This prediction proved an underestimate. A 300 mile per hour flight airspeed was surpassed in 1928, and by 1930 the record stood at 357.7 miles per hour. The modern-day record: 2,193.16 miles per hour.

It is well to remember, also, that there are machines being built today that will carry one hundred men or their equivalent in weight or bombs. Perhaps in ten years’ time it will be possible to carry two hundred and fifty men or their terrible equipment. Why not?

The prediction was that in 1930 planes could carry approximately 50,000 pounds. That was a considerable underestimate as well. 1929’s Dornier Do X aircraft had a maximum takeoff weight of 123,460 pounds.

The time is coming when aircraft will be so perfected that land and sea forces will cease either to be useful or necessary, for a squadron of aircraft will have more value than an army division or a navy squadron… So I repeat that aerial supremacy will rule the world; and when that supremacy is temporarily in the hands of an unscrupulous nation, then flying will be a curse. For an invincible air fleet will be able to force its will upon any country, however large, with ease.

Land and sea forces hardly ceased to be useful or necessary. Today, the U.S. Air Force has fewer active duty members than the Army, or about the same number as the Navy. And although some nations certainly maintain greater air power than others, no one single country gained true “aerial supremacy” or “an invincible air fleet.”

 

A World Ruled From the Air (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 3, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 30th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

A Tenderwing in the High Air

This 1919 article about the novelty of air travel made a few projections. “Tenderwing” didn’t become a common word as predicted, but the practice of photographing airplane passengers did disappear as predicted.

A tenderfoot is defined as one who is not yet hardened to the life of the plains, so a person who is not yet hardened to the life of the air must be a tenderwing. The word isn’t in the dictionary yet, but I fancy it will be there some day soon.

That… didn’t happen.

All prominent people like to have their pictures taken, including Presidents and Generals. And right here let me say, please, that taking pictures of air travelers about to get aboard will soon be over. In a few months the novelty will be worn thin, and the news value of the thing lost forever. There is no particular lust for photographs of obscure citizens about to enter a railroad train. There used to be, but there isn’t now.

That did indeed happen.

This article also references a plane flying at 90 miles per hour, far slower than the 575 MPH average for a commercial jet today.

A Tenderwing in the High Air: Sensations and Observations of a Confirmed Groundling on an Aerial Passenger Liner Between New York and Washington (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 19, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 18th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Technology

Business Before Pleasure on the Wire

In 1919, NYC had 3+ million telephone calls daily — more than the system could handle. “The strain at times is tremendous, and we hear many complaints of the inadequacy of the service, the slowness of operators in responding, and the tardiness of making connections.”

In an era where calls required an operator to connect the two parties, the rise in calls was outstripping the rise in operators.

As a matter of engineering record it now takes about ten seconds on the average to get the echo of “Number, please,” and from twenty-five to thirty seconds on the average to get a connection. The operators are far less numerous than they should be; it takes a year to train one so that she will have “poise on the board,” or, in other words, so that she will not lose her head in emergencies, and equipment lacking on account of the war embargoes is just being got in. In the halcyon days Central used to answer on an average in three seconds, but then the burden on the switchboards was not so heavy.

 

Indeed, 82 years later, the same issue still existed to an extent. There were numerous reports of NYC residents unable to get their phone calls through on 9/11, because the system was jammed.

Business Before Pleasure on the Wire: Effect of ‘Phone Philandering on the Call Frequency Curve of the City and Some Suggested Mitigations (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 28, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 29th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,Technology

Peace Taking Over War’s Inventions

Several months after World War I ended, technological innovations produced for the conflict were being repurposed for peacetime uses.

Take this sound pinpointer, used to calculate where distant enemy weapons were located. This same invention could also be used for bridges.

One thing about bridges that has puzzled engineers up to this time is some way to measure the stresses… The plan, yet in embryo, is to adapt the instrument that listens to guns to listening to steel bridges, and by the vibrations received in the microphones to calculate the measure of the strain on the structure, or on any part of it.

Or take a device for measuring steel without drilling into it, used to speed up the production of rifles. This same invention could not be used for railroads.

A flaw in the rail is the explanation of many a railroad accident in which lives are lost and properly destroyed. The defect is within; there is no way of telling at the mill. So it is with steel in bridge building and other structures; a bad place inside may one day bring disaster. With this device developed to test out large pieces of steel, a step from uncertainty to certainty in an important matter will be taken in a great industry.

In the words of Bo Burnham: “War! Huh! What is it good for? Increasing domestic manufacturing.”

 

Peace Taking Over War’s Inventions: Tests for Gun Barrels Serve for Steel Rails and Big Gun Detectors Measure Bridge Strains — Bureau of Standards’ War Work Not Lost (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 23, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 20th, 2019 at 1:59 pm

Putting the Airplane to Peacetime Uses

The development of the airplane, first invented in 1903, truly took off as a result of World War I. In January 1919, after the war, what should be the purpose of airplanes?

This prediction largely ended up coming true:

Some of the practical men even go so far as to say that a perfectly developed peacetime air service, elastic enough to be used for defensive purposes, would make unnecessary a standing army of the proportions now being figured on. These men believe that, if the United States put its energies and ingenuity at work in the air, it would solve, once and forever, this perplexing problem of a universal training, a large standing army, and big military budget for the nation’s defense.

Well, except for the part about eliminating the big military budget for the nation’s defense.

Several other uses for airplanes were accurately predicted in that article as well, such as mail delivery and firefighting:

 

Airplane carrying of mail is practical, and as soon as the necessary steps have been taken for establishing air mail routes they will be flown — except in particularly bad weather — with a reasonable degree of regularity.

The Bureau of Forestry has use for planes in operating fire patrols, and with dirigible balloon auxiliaries in carrying fire-fighting crews and landing them in small clearings. As it is today these fire fighters have to go many miles round about, over mountains and almost impassable streams, canyons, and swamps to get into action and to stop a sweeping forest fire.

 

Putting the Airplane to Peacetime Uses: America Must Decide Whether Aviation Is to be a Minor Branch or the Chief Recourse for Defense — Progress in Mapping Aerial Lanes of Travel (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 5, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

January 5th, 2019 at 4:43 pm

Is An Air Ministry Necessary?

America is debating whether to create a new military branch: the Space Force. 100 years ago to the week, America debated whether to create the air force — or, as they called it then, an “Air Ministry.”

A key difference between then and now was the stance of the president. While Donald Trump supports the Space Force creation, signing a policy directive in June to jumpstart the process, Woodrow Wilson during World War I was opposed to a new branch devoted to aviation.

Indeed, the Air Force would not be created for another 29 years in 1947, two years after the end of World War II. In the United Kingdom, the formation of the Royal Air Force was similarly controversial, but was formed in April 1918.

Planes and pilots were certainly used during WWI and WWII. In fact, the first military use of airplanes was before WWI, in 1909, A military airplane was also used in 1916 against the Mexican general Pancho Villa, who had raided a town in New Mexico and killed 17 Americans.

For years, the military’s air operations were under the auspices of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps. “Because aircraft were initially used for observation and reconnaissance missions, rather than offensive/defensive work, it made some sense to have them be part of the Signal Corps,” Sarah Dunne, Archivist and Librarian for Maine’s Owls Head Transportation Museum, tells me.

This similar to how today space operations are under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force.

Interestingly, Trump’s Space Force directive overrules both Defense Secretary James Mattis and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, both of whom originally opposed the idea. That’s unlike in 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of War Newton Baker, and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels all opposed an “air ministry.”

Actually, why was it called an air ministry back then in the first place? “Odd that the writer chose the term ‘air ministry’ – very British. We didn’t have government departmentts called ‘ministries,’ I don’t think,” Dunne tells me. “Perhaps more than anything else, shows the American sense of kinship with the British?”

This 1918 article quotes extensively from Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, who opposed an “air ministry.” He gave four primary reasons:

#1: the status quo was already working.

“I took exception to the opinion that the Signal Corps had been inefficient in its handling of airplanes. Since then my opinion has not changed. I still believe that in the face of unparalleled difficulty there has been accomplished by our Government in aviation production an unparalleled task, and that it has been done with characteristic American energy, capacity, patriotism, and enthusiasm.”

#2: it would add more bureaucracy.

“Moreover, at the present time I see no reason for taking out of the hands of the Secretary of War and of the Secretary of the Navy and of the Aircraft Production Board the various controls which now emanate from them. To my mind that would only add a complication instead of removing one.”

“If we need a Ministry of Aeronautics, why not have also a Ministry of Submarines, or a Ministry of Military Food Supply, or a Ministry of Clothing, or a Ministry of Ordnance?”

#3: Congress shouldn’t oppose the president on a matter like this, especially during wartime.

“Those who advocate a Cabinet member for Aeronautics, despite the contrary opinion of the President, seem to me no less reckless than the pilot who takes the air without examining his petrol tank. If the President desires so radical a change in Government machinery — and if it becomes necessary he will desire it — then he will ask for it, and, of course, then he shall have it. But why impose on him what may be only a complication?”

#4: air should be considered less important than land or sea.

“While the airplane is highly important and while its quick production and development may even be vital to our military success, it is, and must be in its last analysis, only an adjunct to the army and navy. It seems to me a total misconception of its functions to segregate its production or its distribution from the routine work of the two great military branches of the Government.”

“That cannot be done any more than you can segregate its work in action from that of the army and navy. It can only operate in the field under the protection of the army and on the sea from the haven of the fleet. Why should it be regarded as a thing apart, a latter-day miracle, which is to wing us to victory in some marvelous manner, above our soldiers, beyond our ships?”

 

Is An Air Ministry Necessary?: Senator Sheppard of the Military Affairs Committee, an Administration Man, Tells Why He Thinks Not — Production Adequate, Public Tension Unjustified (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 11, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 14th, 2018 at 5:14 pm

3,000 Planes a Month

America is the leader in aviation technology today, and has been for decades. But that was not the case in 1918, even though the Wright Brothers who hailed from Ohio had invented the airplane only a few years before.

As this May 1918 article explained, the U.S. had some major catching up to do upon entering WWI:

It must be remembered that all the warring nations had three years of advantage over the United States in bringing aircraft production to its highest efficiency, because they had been fighting three years when we began. Some of our aircraft producers had foreign contracts, but not many; and the aircraft industry in the United States, on that day in early April when we threw Uncle Sam’s hat into the ring and decided to make the world safe for democracy, was at a low ebb. Although two young Americans invented the aircraft, people of the United States, generally speaking, took no very intense interest in doing their traveling by air, and it was extremely difficult for aircraft manufacturers to keep going, even in a small way.

But with our entrance into the war, the whole situation changed. Aircraft companies sprang up like mushrooms.

As Dr. Bert Frandsen writes in his article The Birth of American Airpower in World War I in Air & Space Power Journal, the American military only had 26 qualified aviators at the start of the war, and “Aircraft production was so small that airplanes were made in shops instead of factories.” By the end of the war, we had created the Army Air Service (later largely turned into the Air Force in 1947), with 190,000 men and 11,000 aircraft.

 

3,000 Planes a Month: Careful Inquiry Shows Real Progress in American Output, Including One Machine Which Is Unburnable (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 26, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

May 23rd, 2018 at 11:24 am

World’s Scientists in Life-and-Death Race

“These pictures are six months old,” says a quote from an army officer to begin this 1918 article, “so the devices they show are, of course, perfectly obsolete.”

World War I sparked a massive technological boom, a silver lining to an otherwise horrific blemish on humanity’s history. That would come to be true of World War II a few decades later as well. As this 1918 article describes:

“It is probable we would have had to wait a generation or two, without the stimulus of war, for the development of the airplane into a safe and practical vehicle, or for a satisfactory method of utilizing the antiseptic properties of chlorine, or for a feasible process of fixing atmospheric nitrogen — to mention only a few outstanding advances in the fields, respectively, of physics, medicine and chemistry.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson made a similar point at his eloquent Rice University commencement address in 2013, challenging the graduates to innovate without the impetus of war:

If you go to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, there is that section of his speech. ‘We’ll go to the moon before the decade is out.’ And it sends chills up your spine, because he galvanized an entire nation.

But what’s missing on the granite wall behind, where this is chiseled in, is the other part of the speech, where he introduces the war driver. No one ever spent big money just to explore. No, no one has ever done that. I wish they did, but they don’t. So we went to the moon on a war driver, but that’s conveniently left out in the granite wall behind Kennedy.

20 years after we landed on the moon, George Herbert Walker Bush wants to give a similar kind of rabble rousing speech that Kennedy did. July 20th, 1989, he goes to the steps of the Air and Space Museum in Washington, an auspicious day, commemorating the moon landing. An auspicious moment. And he puts a lot of the same language in his speech, reflecting on Columbus’ voyages, all the great explorers of the past, saying it’s our time. It’s time to go to Mars.

It got costed out at $500 billion. It was DOA in Congress at $500 billion. But wait a minute, that was going to be spent over about 30 years. You divide $500 billion by 30, that’s about $16 billion a year — that’s NASA’s annual budget. You could have just made that the trip to Mars.

But people got spooked by the money. Why? You know what else happened in 1989? Peace broke out in Europe, that’s what happened in 1989. The war driver evaporated. No, we didn’t go to Mars. And people are saying, ‘Oh, we lost our drive. We lost our will.’ No, it’s the same will we’ve ever had. We just weren’t threatened. That’s a sobering thought.

 

World’s Scientists in Life-and-Death Race: Allies Now Outstripping Teutons in Discovery and Invention, Which Have Been Speeded Up to Greater Progress in the Last Four Years Than in Previous Four Decades (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 21, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

April 19th, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Orville Wright Says 10,000 Airplanes Would End the War Within Ten Weeks

Less than 14 years after Orville Wright became the first human being to ever take flight in an airplane, he had lived to see his invention was being used in World War I, the first major war to utilize the technology en masse. (His brother and co-inventor Wilbur Wright had passed away in 1912.)

In this article, Wright predicted that “10,000 airplanes [used by the U.S.] would end the war within ten weeks.” Alas, that prediction proved overly optimistic. The war continued for several more years despite U.S. manufacturers producing 12,000 airplanes per year.

Orville Wright Says 10,000 Airplanes Would End the War Within Ten Weeks: Building a Vast Aerial Fleet Is “the One Thing That the United States Can Do and Do Quickly” – Our Plants Equal to the Task (PDF)

From Sunday, July 1, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

July 2nd, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Marconi on the War Needs and Ideals of Italy

 

Guglielmo Marconi — in the above article given the Americanized first name William — invented the radio in 1895. Although it took a bit more time for the technology to become widespread and used en masse by the public, it had already earned him the Nobel Prize by 1909 and household name recognition by this article’s publication in 1917. In a fascinating story, Marconi was originally supposed to be on board the Titanic in 1912.

In this article, Marconi — by this point an Italian Senator — offers his thoughts on Italy and the war. Among other things, he explains why Italy’s original August 1914 declaration of neutrality could no longer stand, why Italy’s terrain and geography made it “the most difficult front in Europe,” and why Italians were forced to adopt two meatless days a week.

Marconi on the War Needs and Ideals of Italy: Wireless Telegraph Inventor Tells How America Can Help His Country — He Thinks Submarine Problem Still Unsolved (PDF)

From Sunday, June 3, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

June 1st, 2017 at 12:47 pm