Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE GOLDEN AGE of aviation is regarded as being the 1920s and 1930s. As noted by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, “Airplanes evolved from wood-and-fabric biplanes to streamlined metal monoplanes. The military services embraced air power. Aviation came of age.”

Here are photographic tidbits from this marvelous era.

Conquering the Atlantic. It was June 1919, when John Adcock, Arthur Whitten Brown, and their Vickers Vimy first flew the Atlantic non-stop. Charles Lindbergh in his Spirit of St. Louis was the first to do it solo, from N.Y. to Paris on May 20–21, 1927.

And, two weeks later, on June 4-5, 1927, Clarence Chamberlin and Charles Levine in Levine’s Wright-Whirlwind-powered Bellanca monoplane Columbus took off from Roosevelt Field, N.Y. (Lindbergh’s starting point as well), crossed the Atlantic non-stop, and landed 300 miles farther than Paris.

Clarence Chamberlin and his Columbus, June 1927. This and other images from Chronicle of Aviation.

Their intended destination was Berlin, but the Columbus ran out of fuel after some 43 hours so they set down in a German wheatfield. According to Chronicle of Aviation, Bill Gunston editor-in-chief, 1992, “The only real threat came when Chamberlin allowed Levine to take the controls so he could snatch some sleep. Levine’s inexperience became apparent, and the aircraft was soon in a spiral dive from 20,000 feet. Chamberlin woke up just in time to bring the airplane back on an even keel.”

An Emerging Business Model. Early airlines stressed the time-savings of flight. Transcontinental Air Transport took 48 hours to cross the U.S. Only a portion of the two days was by air, but it still beat the train by a day.

Brooklands, a Multiple Venue. England’s Brooklands Circuit was the home of British motorsports as well as its aviation.

It was September 16, 1933, that this crashed Vickers Virginia was photographed during a motorsports meeting at Brooklands.

The Adventure of It All. As described in, “In April 1933, RAF squadron leader Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, otherwise known as Lord Clydesdale, led an ambitious attempt to fly over the summit of the world’s tallest mountain.”

Lord Clydesdale, accompanied by Colonel Stewart Blacker, piloted a modified Westland PV-3 biplane. They were followed in a Westland PV-6 by Flight Lieutenant David McIntyre and photographer S.R. Bonnet. Philanthropist Lucy, Lady Houston provided support for this Houston Everest Expedition.

As expected, their success made international news, even to fanciful illustrations of the accomplishment. (Who’s piloting the photo plane here?)

Clouds of War Ahead. In March 1935, Hermann Goering was put in charge of the new German Luftwaffe.

Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering.

Goering had been the last commander of the World War I “Circus Richthofen.” Chronicle of Aviation cites a contemporary account from June 3, 1936: “The portly, upper-crust son of a judge, Goering has a taste for hunting, narcotics and good food, lending a touch of flamboyance to his party, in contrast to the rather shabby thugs who make up much of the Nazi membership.”

The Golden Age was coming to an end. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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