National Geographic (December 1953), 721-39.
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Aviation Looks Ahead on Its 50th Birthday
Jet Debut Expected Soon
Soon I believe 1956 will see a jet transport introduced in domestic operation and another placed in service by a United States transatlantic carrier. Our first jet may be an improved type of the British Comet, or a new Boeing 707 transport, now in prototype construction phase. Other possibilities are on the drawing boards.
Many of our present airliners could be converted to turboprop power, and we may see such aircraft in service by 1956, or perhaps even sooner. New planes specifically designed for turboprop operation are contemplated, but American manufacturers have indicated they will introduce their speedy jet transports first.
In 10 to 15 years jetliners of American manufacture may replace most piston-driven aircraft on transcontinental and a number of other long-haul routes.
You may be an inveterate air traveler, but I predict your first flight in one of these jets will be the smoothest, most pleasant journey you have ever undertaken.
Your plane will be luxuriously fitted, with seats for about 80 passengers, plus a lounge. You will fly at 35,000 to 40,000 feet, (10,000 to 12,000 meters) far above the weather. Outside, the air will be rarefied and below zero, but inside the cabin, with its double windows for safer pressurization, you will still be warm and comfortable.
Since the jet has no propellers, your plane will be virtually without vibration; therefore, fatigue will be reduced. The roar of the engines will be muted to a murmur by sound insulation in the fuselage. You will cruise at about 550 miles (880 kilometers) an hour, compared to 365 (580 kilometers) for our fastest piston liner.
Despite one stop en route, our first jet transports will cross the continent in less than seven hours, clipping an hour from the non-stop DC-7 schedules.
But in 25 years, perhaps sooner, an airlines passenger will leave New York at noon and arrive in Los Angeles at noon! The time zone differential will erase the three hours required by his supersonic jet to streak across the country.
The jet's optimum performances will be on long flights at high altitudes. The turboprop, more economical to operate, promises to be most effective on intermediate runs and on extreme long-haul routes.
The turboprop has a glittering future, both as a transport plane and as a cargo carrier. Although not so fast as the jet, it will cruise at 450 miles (700 kilometers) an hour. When fully engineered, it will reduce cargo costs per ton mile, enabling the airlines to capture an increased share of the freight and express now being carried by surface transportation.
Last year domestic and foreign airlines carried more people to and from the United States than did ships. Domestically, our airlines accounted for nearly 57 percent of the first-class travel market, as compared to about one percent in 1932. Jets and turboprops will increase the trend to air travel.
I am confident than in 10 years' time the scheduled airlines will carry 60,000,000 passengers a year compared to our present 27,000,000. Instead of 2,000,000 miles (3,000,000 kilometers) per day, our planes will log 5,000,000, equal to 10 round trips to the moon every 24 hours!
Airlines are planning the large-scale introduction of helicopters, an innovation that seems likely to arouse more general interest than perhaps any other "new look" in aviation.
I predict that in 10 to 15 years big multi-engined 50-passenger helicopters will replace fixed-wing aircraft on many routes of less than 300 miles (500 kilometers) through large population areas. They will be economical, safe, and reasonably fast. Their ability to hover and descend vertically will enable passengers to disembark at downtown heliports instead of outlying airports, saving valuable timeand saving time is commercial aviation's prime asset.
Flying by Robot Control
The next logical step leads to the ultimate in airplane control, fully automatic flight. It is, of course, many years away, but CAA spokesmen and a number of other aviation leaders see it in the future picture.
Here, in general terms, is how it will work.
Ground crews, after preparing a step-by-step sequence of events for your flight, will put the information in code on a punched card. The pilot will feed the card into an electronic programming device, then sit back and watch as the ingenious robot goes to work.
It will take your plane off along an airport radio beam, switch to various omnirange stations while navigating you to your destination, then land your plane according to terminal approach and glide radio beams. Throughout your flight the robot will control the throttles and the plane's automatic pilot.
In recent years civil aircraft equipped as flying laboratories have made partially automatic flights, but much work lies ahead before the system is entirely safe and feasible.
You can be sure the robot will not replace your trusted, efficient human pilot. Mechanical brains, though they minimize the possibility of human error, cannot cope with emergencies or changes in flight plans. Man must monitor the equipment and be ready to assume manual control of the aircraft when necessary.
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Today the aviation industry is blessed with many young men who possess the elements of genius, who are resolute, who are spurred on by faith. They are the spiritual heirs of the brothers Wright.
These men, given an era of peace, will continue the transformation of our world with the magic carpet born at Kitty Hawk.