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YESTERDAY, WE FOLLOWED a 1933 airways route from New York to San Francisco, based on A.K. Loebeck’s book Airways of America Guidebook No. 1 United Air Lines. Here in Part 2, Loebeck describes airline operation in 1933, including the science of avigation. 

Transcontinental Operation. Loebeck wrote, “The route followed by the United Air Lines from New York to San Francisco was the original transcontinental air mail route, first operated by the U.S. Post Office Department in 1920. The Department of Commerce and United Air Lines have completely equipped this route with radio stations for communication between ground and planes, and the entire route has been equipped by the Department of Commerce with beacon lights, intermediate landing fields and weather reporting service for day and night flying from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.”

“Planes,” Loebeck noted, “are flown approximately 700 to 1000 miles on each run. The inspection which precedes flight is highly systemized. There are nineteen checks to be made in engine inspection, nine for the fuselage, seven for the wings, besides those for landing gear, lighting system, controls, service and adjustments.’

Loebeck continued, “In addition to thirteen permanent airports at which the coast-to-coast planes stop, there are emergency fields spaced approximately thirty miles apart and numerous municipal and private fields.” 

Airliners of the Day. Loebeck said, “The predominant type of equipment operated by United Air Lines on this route is a low-winged all-metal, Boeing monoplane, powered with two 550 h.p. supercharged Wasp motors. These planes, cruising approximately 160 miles an hour, carry ten passengers, two pilots, and 1000 pounds of mail and express.”

Above, United Air Lines Boeing 247. Below, its instrumental panel. These and following images from Airways of America. 

Peter M. Bowers wrote in Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, “A total of 70 Boeing 247s was ordered by the various airlines that compromised United Air Lines in 1932, and 59 of the first 60 were completed for UAL as model 247 under ATC 500.”

Boeing 247. Image from Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, by Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

“One 247D,” Bowers noted, “had a rather exceptional career. Originally ordered by UAL, it was completed for Col Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn as an entry in the 1934 MacRobertson air race from London, England, to Melbourne, Australia…. After being second in the transport division of the race and third overall speed, the Turner 247D was returned to UAL and placed in airline service.” 

Aerial Navigation. Loeback gave examples of what he called “Avigation,” including the use of radio range beacons.

Loebeck described, “When the plane is to the right of the course, the pilot gets a dot-dash; if he is to the left of the true course, he gets a dash-dot; when he is on true course, he hears a steady stream of dashes, similar to the sound heard on a dial telephone.”

Pilot Requirements. “Not only must pilots have proven experience but they must maintain a high standard of personal conduct and physical conditions. The average flying experience of the 150 United Air Lines’ pilots is approximately 4000 hours.”

 A pilot talks to a ground station 200 miles distant and 12,000 feet below him.

“Most of the veteran pilots,” Loebeck observed, “gained their first experience during the war, but the younger ones, which includes men like Lindbergh, started their careers since 1918.”

Loebeck cited several interesting backgrounds: “One of the younger men began barnstorming in Oklahoma. Then he drifted into motion pictures and flew as a pseudo air warrior in such plays as ‘Hazardous Valleys’ and ‘Air Circus.’ Two of the older pilots, in the early days of aeronautics, conducted a flying circus up and down the Middle West.”

Loebeck Poses an Opinion: “Several of the younger men began as school teachers, and apparently their lives as pilots have been no more thrilling since they made the change. Many pilots with 5000, 6000, and 7000 hours to their credit have never had an accident of any kind, and report that they have participated in no outstanding flights. ‘None’ is written on their reports after ‘Records held,’ ‘Achievements,’ and ‘Outstanding Flights.’ ”

“Pilots as a rule,” Loebeck said, “are poor talkers. They would rather fly than talk.” 

They had a capable spokesman in Armin K. Loebeck. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

One comment on “AIRWAYS OF AMERICA—1933 PART 2

  1. Bob Storck
    February 24, 2022

    You ought to investigate the unholy monopolistic alliance between United Air Lines and Boeing, intended to give UAL domination in the market, at least in the US. Instead, that spurred the warp speed development of the Douglas DC-1/2 and eventually the DST/DC-3 which wound up being FAR superior and the dedicated Boeing contract handicapped UAL for years.
    In fact, had it not been for WWII, UAL may have folded.
    Yes, famed aviator Roscoe Turner finished second in class in the MacRobertson in a specially prepped and extra fuel tank laden 247, but was beaten by a completely standard KLM DC-2 … which was carrying passengers on a regular airline route … and it had become lost, landing in the dark on a muddy horse race track, and lost over six hours getting unstuck and awaiting daylight.
    The winner was a specially built, sleek twin engine DeHavilland Comet, and the KLM DC-2 was the actual winner based on a handicap.
    That directional radio beam was still in use well into the 60s, and a simple clever technique synchronized the transmission cone signals. One to the right, and one to the left of course, and you could hear the signals merging as you corrected course until the dit-dah or the dah-dit gradually became a long, uninterrupted da-a-ah! No needles or special equipment … just a receiver and earphones.

    Cheers, Bob

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