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


NORMAN BEL GEDDES had a grand design evolving between 1929 and 1932: His Airliner Number 4 was envisioned as a flying hotel traveling non-stop between Chicago and London in 42 hours. Here in Part 2, we discuss technicalities of this giant aircraft, together with details of my rendering the craft in GMax for Microsoft Flight Simulator.

A Vast Design. Norman Bel Geddes wasn’t aeronautically trained, but he collaborated with Otto A. Koller, a German aeronautical engineer. Indeed, they disagreed about details of an earlier design study; according to Wikipedia, Koller described Airliner Number 1 as “an absolute[ly] undesirable design.” Nor did Koller provide performance specifications for Airliner Number 4, which received extensive coverage in Bel Geddes’ book Horizons, 1931. Wikipedia notes, “Geddes devoted over ten pages of the book to the project, including a fulsome endorsement of Koller’s skills as an aircraft engineer….” 

The Bel Geddes Number 4’s wing span was to be 528 ft. 5 in. To put this in perspective, a Boeing 747-8’s span is less than half this, at 224 ft. 7 in. Whereas this largest of 747 variants has a Maximum Takeoff Weight of 987,000 lb., the Bel Geddes’ MTOW was a designed 1,275,300 lb.

Bel Geddes Power. Twenty engines, each producing 1900 hp, were located on a separate dual-pillar-mounted wing. Ten operated tractor-fashion; ten, pusher. 

These engines were accessible through elevators in the pillars and channels in the upper wing. Maintenance could be carried out in situ, or engines could be transported by rail to the craft’s machine shop. If necessary, a powerplant could be replaced with one of six engines held in reserve. 

According to, calculations indicated that a cruising speed could be maintained with only 12 engines in operation. All 20 gave a climb to 10,000 ft. in one hour, with a cruising speed of 87.5 mph at that altitude. Range was figured at 7500 miles, with an air refueling over Newfoundland as part of the Bel Geddes’ Chicago-London non-stop service.

Amphibious Operation. The Bel Geddes’ dual pontoons were designed for water-based operation, with an amphibious option.

As emergency measures, the pontoons carried six 40-ft. lifeboats, each capable of carrying 110 people. To seek help in an emergency, the design also carried two small seaplanes with folded wings; each could be dispatched on the water or while in flight.   

The Bel Geddes Crew. The airliner’s flight crew had a Captain, Mate, four Seamen, two Pilots, two Navigators, two Radio Operators, two Electricians, a Chief Engineer, two Engineers, and seven Mechanics.

Crew members addressing the needs of passengers included a Purser; a Cashier; two Telephone Operators; two Clerks; a Stenographer; a Librarian; a Baggage Master; two Baggage Men; a Chief Steward; a Chief Dining Room Steward; two Head Waiters; two Wine Stewards, 24 Waiters, and seven Bus Boys; a Chief Bar Steward; nine Bartenders; a Chief Deck Steward; six Deck Stewards; a Chef; six Cooks; two Dishwashers; 24 Room Stewards; 16 Room Stewardesses; a Doctor; a Nurse; and seven Musicians. And don’t forget those staffing the gym, solaria, barbershop, salon, children’s playroom, and gift shop. 

My documentation of the Bel Geddes Airliner Number 4 had only the left top view; no problem, just apply “Mirror.”

Indeed, the Bel Geddes Number 4 was a luxury hotel that would fly between the American Midwest and England.

Two fascinating means of travel. A special privilege was the Bel Geddes’ leading-edge promenading.

My GMax Model of the Bel Geddes Number 4. The Bel Geddes’ shapes were easily formed using GMax modifications of its Box, Cylinder, and Sphere Primitives. Unlike my vintage aircraft modeling, Bel Geddes details are enveloped within these surfaces. Also, modeling details such as its 20 powerplants and props are easy-peasy through GMax cloning.   

It wasn’t until rendering of the Bel Geddes flight deck that my GMax modeling got interesting, if not completely out of hand. I had no documentation of the flight deck, only an accounting of its crew and their responsibilities. I opted for showing the Captain, Pilot, Copilot, Chief Engineer, and one each of the Navigators and Radio Operators. Again, cloning gave me easy fabrication of each, though I had fun mixing and matching crew members (and faces) of earlier craft. As a final fillip, I figured my Captain had nothing better to do that peruse a Menu. 

A Gargoyle Analogy. Of course, these crew members are all but invisible in the vastness of the Bel Geddes Airliner Number 4. The Navigator, for instance, uses the GMax Tick18 animation (intended for rotating beacons): He’s writing calculations on a chart of the Chicago/London aerial route. The Engineer and Radio Operator appear to be adjusting one thing or another. And, of course, the Pilot’s controls are GMax-animated.

All this GMax fiddling is similar to that of the sculptor carving gargoyles way up on a cathedral, where they’ll be admired only from afar. Akin to that sculptor, though, I derive pleasure from knowing the Bel Geddes’ crew is hard at work (even if I chose not to render the women’s solarium and its masseuse). 

GMax is a great time-gobbling hobby, but Geez. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 


  1. phil
    January 17, 2021

    Lordy! What a monster …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: