Rockne Plane Crash Inspires Safety Inventions (Jul, 1931)

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Rockne Plane Crash Inspires Safety Inventions

FOLLOWING the recent tragic crash of a tri-motored airplane in which Knute Rockne, Notre Dame’s famous football coach, and seven others were instantly killed, a new impetus has been given to the invention of safety devices designed to prevent the recurrence of such catastrophes in the future. It will be remembered that one wing of the Rockne plane was torn off in mid-air.

Even at this late date, no one officially knows what caused the Rockne plane crash. One theory is that ice formed on the wings; another, that ice made certain instruments inoperative; still another, that ice forming on a propeller hub broke off, struck the propeller blade and shattered it, with the result that the engine, running wild, wrenched off a wing of the plane. Whatever the cause of the crash, the safety devices illustrated on these pages, every one of which is commercially available to airplane owners, are designed to improve the already excellent record of flying from a safety standpoint.
Huge parachutes, large enough to lower an entire plane to the ground, are now for sale by at least one manufacturer. The Rockne plane was flying at a height of some 500 feet when it lost its wing. A plane parachute, released at this height, would have been adequate to lower the ship in safety.

Two methods of doing away with the danger of ice forming on the wings are now available. One, manufactured by the Goodrich rubber company, consists of a thin rubber “glove” placed over the leading edge of wings and tail surfaces, and even of propellers. Underneath this rubber sheet is placed a length of flexible tubing through which air can be forced under pressure. This causes the tubing to expand, moving the rubber glove to such an extent that any ice formed on it is immediately cracked off. Actual tests have proved this device workable.

A second way of fighting ice is illustrated on this page. It is the invention of Archie F. Thompson, and consists of an asbestos base, curved to fit the leading edge of the wing, to which is fastened heating coils of the type used in an electric toaster. Over the coils is placed a surface plate of aluminum alloy. Electric current supplied by a wind-driven generator mounted alongside the fuselage heats the resistance wires and melts any ice which may have formed on the aluminum surface plate.

Super-power horns which amplify the voice to such a degree that verbal communication can be established between an airplane and a ground crew are now available. In case of fog or other emergencies, the value of such equipment is obvious.

One disadvantage of personal parachutes on a cabin plane is that the time required to secure a chute, fasten it, and jump, is likely to be so great that the ship will have crashed before the passenger leaves the cabin. A new type airplane seat in which is incorporated a parachute was introduced at the recent Detroit air show. The passenger sits comfortably on the ‘chute pack, and in case of danger has his safety device already attached so all he has to do is jump.

6 comments
  1. Charlene says: September 3, 20094:51 pm

    The actual reason was that the Fokker Tri-Motor was constructed almost wholly of wood laminate. Water got into the structural members of the wing and over time (months, probably) weakened the glue bonding the members together. The strut finally failed, which allowed the wing to enter uncontrolled flutter, which in turn tore the wing off the plane.

    The most important safety results of the Rockne flight were a) to force the Department of Commerce to release all accident reports so that pilots could learn from others’ mistakes, and b) to ban airlines from using wood composite aircraft when carrying passengers. (I don’t think they banned them at the time for carrying mail.)

    The artificial horizon was also a safety boon, but it didn’t come about because of TWA 599 – it predates heavier-than-air flight. The first artificial horizons were built for surveyors back in the 18th century; the first built especially for flight are from the 1880s, and were built for balloonists.

  2. KHarn says: September 4, 20098:30 pm

    Do you have any articals about he early passenger ejector seats? I once saw a newsreel that showed them rolling out the plane’s door and automaticly deploying chutes and was so impressed that I used it in a fan-fiction.

  3. JeffK says: September 4, 20098:49 pm

    The whole-plane parachute took a few decades, but they are in use today.

  4. Harry says: September 5, 200911:19 am

    As if airports didn’t have enough problems, can you imagine how unpopular the “holler at ‘em” communications system would be with the neighbors?

  5. mike says: September 6, 200912:42 pm

    Kharn, I believe I have seen an article on it here. The top left hand column has a list of topics, try transportation.

  6. Sandra A Hammond says: November 17, 201010:25 am

    I have an invention Idea for Aircraft Safety. Would like to be paid. For all aircraft! email me 310-847-0013 phone. Sincerly, Sandra A Hammond

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