On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
AIR TRAVEL got a real boost in Britain directly after World War I. A half-dozen aeroplane designs were more than simply WWI craft with makeshift seats installed for hardy travelers. One was the first designed specifically to be a commercial machine. Others offered conversion comforts warranting their designations as Aero-Limousines and Pullmans.
One of the opening pages of the 1919 Jane’s is an ad for Grahame-White Aircraft, “Manufacturers and Designers of all types of Pleasure Aircraft.” Its Aero-Limousines carried from four to nine passengers in its nose. The pilot sat up above in a rarity at the time, an enclosed cabin.
“Now being centred on a Great Peace Programme,” Grahame-White flew out of the London Aerodrome, Hendon, “Britain’s Greatest Flying Centre.” The locale, in northwest London, is now the RAF Museum.
According to 1919 Jane’s, the British Aerial Transport F.K. 26, designed by B.A.T.’s Frederick Koolhaven, “is the first aeroplane primarily designed as a commercial machine.” It carried four passengers in its cabin, with a pilot in the open cockpit preferred at the time.
The Vickers Vimy began life as a long-range bomber in WWI, though it achieved post-war fame in other ways. Capt. John Alcock and Lieut. Arthur Whitten Brown flew one in the world’s first non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing in June 1919. (A U.S. Navy NC-4 achieved the first crossing earlier that year. Charles Lindbergh’s fame eight years later was for the first solo non-stop.)
The Vimy’s pilot had an open cockpit. Six passengers sat aft and below; largish portholes gave them their outward view. The Commercial’s fuselage was fabricated largely of spruce plywood.
The Bristol Pullman evolved from another WWI bomber, the Braemar triplane. Unlike most peacetime conversions, the Pullman enclosed its cockpit, a feature said to be disliked by pilots (who insisted on carrying fireman’s axes for emergency exits). Only a prototype was built,
The Pullman had “electric heating and lighting, richly upholstered armchairs installed on each side of a central gangway…. Triplex glass windows are provided.” A maximum speed of 125 mph or five hours’ range at an economical speed of 105 mph were also claimed.
Two might-have-beens were the Kennedy Giant and Beardmore W.B. VIII.
C.J.H. Mackenzie Kennedy is said to have worked with Igor Sikorsky, his Bolshoi Baltisky, a highly innovative 1913 precursor of these postwar airliners. Kennedy’s design lived up to its name, with a wingspan of 142 ft. By comparison, a modern Airbus 320’s span is 117 ft. 5 in.
No hangar could accommodate the Giant’s size. Its components were built by the Grammophone Company, Ltd, and then assembled outdoors. Though equipped with four 200-hp British-built Salmson engines, the Giant proved underpowered, capable of no more than straight flight.
By contrast, the Beardmore W.B. VIII never offered 1919 Jane’s a photo op. Patterned after the WWI Italian Caproni bomber, the W.B. VIII had three wings—and three fuselages. Its central pod housed the crew and one pusher engine. Its outer pair had passenger compartments in their noses alongside twin tractor propellers. Engines were mounted amidships, the outer pair driving their props through shafts running along fuselage sides.
An advanced feature, the crew got an enclosed flight deck. But imagine those passengers seated 1 L and 1R. They sure got great views of spinning propellers. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015