National Geographic (December 1953), 721-39.
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Aviation Looks Ahead on Its 50th Birthday
Air Travel Sets Records
The Wright brothers, though gifted dreamers, could not have visualized in those struggling pioneer days the hordes of people who would one day travel by air.
In 1952 United States domestic and international scheduled airlinesi.e., those certificated for route operations by the Civil Aeronautics Boardcarried a record 27,386,504 passengers, the equivalent of nearly one-sixth of the Nation's population. In 1953 we shall undoubtedly better that total; figures for the first six months show a 20 percent increase over the corresponding period of 1952.
To handle the growing tide of traffic, our scheduled airlines are constantly modernizing and adding to a fleet of some 1,400 planes. Our airlines fly 236,000 route miles and offer more lift capacity than the rest of the world's air carriers combined.
While achieving that growth, the airlines constantly improved their records for safety.
On February 11, 1953, the domestic scheduled carriers completed 12 months of operations without a single fatality. During that period they averaged a landing or take-off every seven seconds, or approximately 13,000 per day.
Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville, the younger brother, lived until 1948 and saw aircraft put to a multiplicity of uses which would have strained the imagination of a Jules Verne: rain making, crop dusting and spraying, power-line patrol, mineral prospecting, game surveys, forest-fire fightingeven the herding of livestock.
Today, exclusive of the military and the airlines, there are approximately 88,000 airplanes in service in the United States, most of them operated by private flyers.
A half century ago there were only two power-plane pilots in the entire world. In 1952 there were 267,759 active civilian pilots in the United States alone.
More than 16,000 of these flyers are members of the Civil Air Patrol, civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Organized into 52 wings, one to each State and Territory, CAP flies air search and rescue missions, airlifts supplies in time of disaster, supports the Nation's aerial defense observation system, and currently instructs more than 48,000 cadet members in aviation subjects.
Airlines Plan a New Era
Of aviation's many facets, the one affecting our lives most directly, and perhaps of greatest interest, is public transportation.
As president of the Air Transport Association of America, a nonprofit service organization representing 42 scheduled airlines, I am intimately concerned each day with the sharp growing pains of a still-youthful industry. In 1952, for the first time, the airlines entered the billion-dollar industry class in annual gross revenue. We have grown big, but we are destined to grow much, much bigger.
That growth will see many changes. What will they hold in greater speed, comfort, and convenience for airlines customers?
I'll answer that question, but first let me disclaim the role of prophet. Few industries are so dynamic and changeable as the air transport business. (I once told my board of directors they were "a grand bunch of prima donnas.") Competition is keen, the problems large, the imponderables many. No one can foresee all the changes that lie ahead, and none can claim special clairvoyance.
Nevertheless, a number of developments can be predicted with reasonable certainty if the world remains at peace. In most instances my thinking on these future developments typifies the viewpoint of many colleagues.
Our Nation is about to enter a new era in commercial air travelthe age of the gas turbine aircraft, already introduced elsewhere in the world by the enterprising British with their jet-powered Comet airliners.
Basically, there are two types of gas turbine power plants: the propellerless turbojet, usually referred to simply as the jet, or pure jet, obtaining thrust from a blast of hot gas; and the lesser-known turboprop, which gears its whirling turbine to a propeller.
Today practically all developmental work on large piston aircraft engines has been abandoned in the United Sates in favor of these two new types. Our latest airliners, the DC-7 and the Super Constellation, probably will be the last big new-model transports with reciprocating engines.