Now You Can Fly Around the World (Jun, 1936)

This sounds like a lot of fun. As long as they keep the Hindenburg filled with helium and not hydrogen on that first leg.

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Now You Can Fly Around the World


By John E. Lodge

OUT of the sky over Lakehurst, N. J., a few days hence, the enormous silver Von Hindenburg, biggest Zeppelin ever built, is scheduled to nose down for a landing at the end of its maiden voyage to America. Not many weeks later, the four-engined, twenty-five-ton China Clipper will head out past the promontories of the Golden Gate on its first passenger flight to the Orient.

Those two events will forge the final links in a vast chain of airways to encircle the globe. Before the end of this summer, you will be able to buy tickets for an aerial circuit of the earth as easily as you now purchase them for a round-the-world cruise by steamer. Years of preparation, the flights of daring pioneers, and the latest advances in engineering and radio have given a solid foundation to what, but a few short decades ago, was a seemingly impossible dream.

It is only sixty-four years since Jules Verne’s classic “Around the World in Eighty Days” appeared in American bookshops. That imaginary circuit of the globe initiated a long series of real-life dashes by train, automobile, boat, and aircraft. Beginning with Nellie Bly’s seventy-two day journey, in 1889, and ending with Wiley Post’s eight-day flight, in 1933, these races against the clock have dramatized the advancing speed of transportation.

Such stunts, however, were pioneering trips far beyond the reach of the ordinary person. Now, on regular air lines, it will be possible to fly around the world in comfort, following the trail of Jules Verne’s hero Phileas Fogg by air. In twenty flying days, and for the price of a high-class automobile, you can make the journey.

The Lakehurst field is the scene of the start. Under the glare of searchlights, the giant Von Hindenburg towers higher than a ten-story building and stretches across the field for a distance greater than three and a half city blocks. With nearly fifty other passengers, as well as a crew of forty, you climb aboard the transatlantic Zeppelin. In your stateroom, you find a comfortable bed, electric lights, hot and cold running water. Overhead, the great gas cells hold 7,000,000 cubic feet of helium, enough to lift a weight equal to half a mile of automobiles lashed bumper to bumper!

There is a final inspection, then, at midnight, the command: “Up Ship!” The mooring cables drop away, and majestically the immense, silver cigar rises into the air. Almost noiselessly, its four 1,300-horse-power Diesel engines begin spinning their huge propellers. The ship gathers speed. The lights of Lakehurst drop to the rear. At eighty miles an hour, you are heading for the coast. Half an hour later, the vast cluster of pin-point lights marking New York City has slipped beneath you and faded away behind. The sky liner is taking the great-circle route to Europe, following the trail of Lindbergh. In stormy weather, it would head across for the Azores along a “bad-weather route,” 600 miles longer but out of the path of the northern gales. Sunrise finds you well up the coast, and midafternoon reveals the rocks of Newfoundland below. By evening, you are out over the Atlantic making the “down-hill run” to Europe. With prevailing winds at her tail, the big ship rushes on, hour after hour. An occasional steamer, the gleaming peak of an iceberg, alone break the monotony of tossing water. You have time to examine the great aerial hotel on which you are riding, to see the smoking rooms, the shower baths, the electric ranges, and even the full-size grand piano it carries.

By evening of the second day, you are gliding across Belgium, up the Rhine to the new airship shed at Frankfort on the Main. Forty-seven hours after leaving Lakehurst, you step down at the European airport. The fare for this 3,900-mile, transatlantic trip via the airways is $400.

In a special “Zeppelin service,” all-metal Junkers monoplanes are warming up on the line, ready to carry passengers to Paris, London, Berlin. You board the ship for the British capital, and the steady roar of its twin engines soon lulls you to sleep. Dawn is breaking when you awaken with the machine sliding down for a fast landing at Croydon, the air center on the outskirts of London. The fare for the Frankfort-London hop is thirty dollars.

At London, you purchase an Imperial Airways ticket for a flight to the other side of the globe. The ticket will carry you to Hongkong over one of the longest airways in the world. The fare, $875, includes meals and incidentals.

For the first leg of this long flight, you ride in a thirteen-ton, eighteen-passenger Hercules airliner. Four 555-horsepower motors pull the 130-foot ship through the sky. From the windows of its spacious cabin you watch smoking factories, the glittering stretch of the English Channel, the green fields of France glide past beneath you. In sight of the Eiffel Tower, the Jupiter engines are throttled down and you land at Le Bourget, the Paris airport, to discharge and take on passengers.

Off again, you leave the French capital behind and slide down across the map of Europe, over the high backbone of the Alps, above the olive groves and blue bays of the Italian seacoast to a landing at Brindisi, at the “heel of the boot” in Italy. Your next take-off carries you out over the fishing fleets of the Adriatic, over the coastline of Greece, above the white columns of the Parthenon, at Athens. Here, you leave the Hercules biplane behind and take your place in the hull of a great fourteen-ton Scipio flying boat for the crossing of the Mediterranean. The second day from London and the fifth from home, you plow to a stop at Alexandria, the Egyptian city founded by Alexander the Great near the mouth of the Nile.

Again, you mount a fresh steed, this time a De Haviland Hannibal. Its quartette of Jupiter motors pull you steadily into the East, over the Holy Land, the Dead Sea, the desert regions of upper Arabia. Below, you see camel trails, caravans, palm groves, towns with low, white buildings gleaming in the sun. By evening, you reach your stopping place for the night, the fabled city of Bagdad, in Mesopotamia.

At dawn, next morning, you head for Basra, at the head of the Persian Gulf, and the following day finds you winging on toward the Orient over strange scenes in Osman, Persia, Baluchistan. Reaching Karachi, at the mouth of the Indus River, you shift to a fast ninety-foot Atlanta monoplane with a cabin specially designed for hot-weather travel. Rice fields, tea plantations, dense jungles, sluggish rivers, teeming villages with brown men rushing out to watch you pass, make up the fascinating panorama that unrolls beneath the wings.

On the flight across India, you stop at Jodhpur, Delhi, Cawnpore, Calcutta, then fly on to Rangoon, in Burma, and Bangkok, the capital of Siam. Swinging south along the Malay Archipelago, your monoplane rolls to a stop on the Georgetown airport at the island of Penang. Here you leave the main line of the Imperial Airways, which runs on another 4,794 miles to Brisbane, Australia—12,754 miles from London. By next year, superfast flying boats, now under construction in England, are expected to clip the time of this long journey in half. The trip to Georgetown now takes about eight days; a few months hence, it will be made in four.

At Penang, you board a shuttle plane for the north, a slim-winged De Haviland “86” powered with Gypsy engines. Crossing the Gulf of Siam, skirting the coast of French Indo-China, heading north up the China Sea, you swoop down for a landing at Hongkong. In twelve days, since that midnight start at Lakehurst, you have traveled 13,700 miles. The total fare has been $1,305.

Across the bay from Hongkong, at Macao, mechanics are tuning up the four 800-horsepower engines on one of the China Clipper flying boats of the Pan American line. In these swift transpacific craft, you will travel 8,910 miles to San Francisco by way of the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, and Hawaii. These ships, and the elaborate precautions which protect them on their long journey, represent a new peak in aerial transportation.

Hundreds of weather stations, in a vast network that embraces half a dozen countries on two continents and innumerable islands of the Pacific, report flying conditions at frequent intervals. These reports form the basis of weather maps that determine when the ship takes off, what course it follows, and how high it flies. Directional radio, developed by Pan American engineers to function over hitherto impossible distances, aids in checking the position of the big boats along the route. Tiny bombs of aluminum powder form floating landmarks by which the navigator determines his drift. And, aboard every ship, a crack engineer sits in a special compartment, surrounded by 107 controls and instruments, adjusting the motors to meet the demands of each section of the flight.

This man, called the flight engineer, knows every quirk and rivet of the big machine. Not only is he capable of performing any necessary repairs, but each hour of the flight he takes seventy recordings, including the rate of gasoline consumption, head and base temperatures of two cylinders on each engine and oil temperature and pressure. His is a busy life from the time he takes off until he lands.

As you climb aboard the China Clipper at Macao, the flight engineer is adjusting all the motors so they will function in perfect unison when the pilot shoves ahead the throttles. With the big engines thundering, you gather speed. The slender hull rises in the water. A thousand feet, 2,000 feet, you roar across the bay. Then, the pilot eases back the elevator control and the great bird pulls itself free from the water and heads out over the Pacific. Your first stop is Manila, in the Philippine Islands, 700 miles away.

AT 5,000 feet, the pilot levels off and pushes a button, flashing on a light in the flight engineer’s compartment.

“Carburetors in normal cruising,” he speaks into a microphone.

The engineer makes the necessary adjustments, touches a button that flashes on a light in the pilot’s cabin and reports: “Carburetors in normal cruising, sir.”

From full power, the engines have slowed down to normal cruising speed, about 1,800 revolutions per minute. During the trip from China to America, the engines will revolve a total of 26,000,000 times. There are 900 explosions of gasoline vapor in each of the fifty-six cylinders each minute, or a total of 181,441,000 power strokes between Macao and San Francisco. The big ship can cruise at 157 miles an hour, and any three of the four power plants will keep it aloft, even when it is carrying a peak load.

You reach Manila that afternoon and at three o’clock the next morning you hop off for Guam over a 1,600-mile stretch of the Pacific. It is sunset when the great winged boat circles over this tropical island and slides down to a mooring for the night. At six the next morning, you are off again on a flight that requires the acme of navigating skill. Fourteen hundred and fifty miles away is the goal, Wake Island, a low speck of land only two and a half miles in width and four and a half miles long!

How can the pilot guide his ship through the sky with such accuracy? How does he find his way over 1,400 miles of water to this desolate dot of land in the mid-Pacific?

It is the navigating officer who keeps the boat flying on its course. Once every hour, day or night, he takes celestial observations, makes calculations, and determines the precise position of the craft. In addition, he checks up on the direction of radio stations broadcasting from the islands and from the mainland. To determine if side winds are drifting the ship away from its course, he uses an ingenious flask that is shaped like a miniature air bomb and contains a pound of aluminum powder.

ATTACHING his drift-indicating instrument to a window sill, he drops the flask into the sea. It shatters on striking, and the powder forms a tiny, glistening island that can be seen for miles. Speedily, he determines from the scale on his indicator the extent to which the ship is being blown sidewise.

This observation, however, will not reveal whether head winds are holding the craft back, or tail winds are speeding it along. To check up, the navigator determines where the boat should be fifteen minutes later, if there were no wind, and then determines her actual position at that time by radio bearing and celestial observation. The difference in positions represents the effect of the wind.

You see how well the navigation system works when, approximately fourteen hours after leaving Guam, your flying liner drops anchor at Wake Island. This previously uninhabited coral atoll, the home of millions of sea birds, will soon have a modern forty-five-room hotel, complete with baths, electric lights, and inter-room telephone service.

Your next hop is, in some ways, the queerest of all. On the 1,240-mile jump to Midway Island, you cross the International Date Line and lose a day. You leave Wake Island on Wednesday and arrive at Midway Island, the day before you started, Tuesday! Here, too, a modern hotel for aerial voyagers is under construction. So barren is the spot that, not long ago, a shipload of soil was carried all the way from the Philippines to make gardens possible.

Eleven hours after leaving Midway, the China Clipper ends the 1,380-mile flight to the Hawaiian Islands and you land at Pearl Harbor, near Honolulu. Twenty-four hours later, you are well out on the last, long leg to the California coast. This 2,410-mile journey begins in midafternoon and continues all night and half the next day. The captain and the first officer alternate at the controls at one-hour intervals.

After the flight is started, weather conditions may change. Then, the Pan American experts at San Francisco show their skill in routing the roaring plane, sometimes hundreds of miles out of its usual course, away from the path of the disturbance into smoother and safer air.

WHEN you come in, at the end of seven days of ocean flying, a brilliant afternoon sun is shining. The Golden Gate, the ships at anchor in the bay, the city of San Francisco, the winding coast line spread out below you as you soar toward the landing place. Once more, you are on the same continent from which you started. The trip from Macao has cost $1,000 and, taking for granted you have made connections throughout the trip, your total time from Lakehurst is nineteen days.

A few hours later, in a three-mile-a-minute Boeing monoplane, you are streaking eastward in an overnight hop to New York on an American air line. The Sierras, the Rockies, the Mississippi Valley, the Alleghenies pass below in the darkness and you sit down at the Newark airport, a few miles from your starting point, just as commuters are catching their morning trains for New York. You have circled the globe on regular air lines, traveled 25,292 miles, passed over nearly thirty countries, seen Europe, the Far East, the South Seas, with an elapsed time of twenty days and at a total cost in fares of $2,465.

The story of such a journey, but a single generation ago, would have read like a page of fantastic fiction. Now, it is entirely within the grasp of present-day travelers. High-speed Zeppelins, multimotored airliners, clipper ships of the sky have made it possible. The Phileas Fogg of 1936 can buy his tickets in advance and can make his air-line circuit of the globe in comfort.

  1. MacAddict says: January 15, 20086:00 am

    It wouldn’t have mattered if it was filled with helium, since the accident was caused by the aluminum oxide coating that became flammable when wet and exposed to static electricity…

  2. Doubtfull says: January 15, 20087:28 am

    Hasn’t the idea of the engineers actually using termite dope to prepare the skin of the Hindenburg been disproved again and again..?

  3. Alex says: June 29, 20099:52 pm

    Yes it has, but the rumour still persists.

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