Twenty Years Ago…
50 years of Airventure
Finally this year, I had the opportunity to attend Airventure 2002. It was well worth the effort to travel to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We arrived in Oshkosh on Friday afternoon. The place was brimming with people and with luck we found a decent site to pitch tent and settle in. Camp Scholler is not only a fun place to camp but is also very close to the action, within walking distance to the airport and the airshow. There are shuttle buses that operate on a regular basis between the campground, the entrance to the airshow, seaplane base and the EAA Museum.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Airventure. It is estimated that more than 750,000 attended this year; an estimated 10,000 aircraft were flown with a total of 2503 showplanes.
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Historically, airships have endured awe-inspiring success due to their sheer size, but also spectacular failure such as with the infamous Hindenburg crash. Throughout history, there have been dramatic and disruptive airplane innovations, which have altered the course of events. We are in the midst of the next major revolution with the advent of the drones. In recent years, interest in airships has slowly seen a comeback with modern uses in tourism, surveillance, freight, and military operations.
Transformational Airplane Designs
The desire to fly has enthralled humankind for centuries. As far back as 1700 BC, legend indicates that Daedalus prepared two pairs of wings and along with his son, Icarus, launched over the sea. While Icarus crashed to his death from having flown too close to the sun, Daedalus did survive. Although there were myriads of attempts at flight, it was not until the 18th century that saw considerable progress in flight. Advances in aerial navigation, basic aerodynamics, and aeronautical principles led to the development of the glider and the first manned flight. The 18th century also saw development of the ballonet: an elliptical vehicle capable of flight against the wind.
Lighter than air (LTA) vehicles, also known as airships or dirigibles were derived from balloons and evolved by trial and error. There are gas filled, tethered, untethered, and novel vehicles that advanced in development as new materials and technologies became available. The first dirigible was flown by Henri Giffard in 1852 from Paris to Trappe. The dirigible was steam engine powered and achieved speeds of 6.7mph. This was followed by a gas engine powered dirigible in 1872, metal dirigible powered by a Daimler engine in 1897 and the first zeppelin flew in 1900, achieving speeds of 18mph.
By 1909, pleasure flights were offered in the Zeppelin followed by commercial flights the following year. By 1914, almost 34,000 passengers were carried. With the advent of war, Zeppelins were used for air raids provoking a wave of international outrage at his act of German barbarism. The success of the Zeppelin led to the building of a fleet of airships. Hydrogen was used in these lighter than airships (LTA). The two lifting gases typically used were Hydrogen and Helium. Hydrogen was lighter, provide more lift and was cheaper, but was highly flammable. Helium was a commodity during the war, since US had monopoly on helium supply in the world and were the sole users of helium in airships.
In 1930, the fatal crash of LZ-128 due to a hydrogen fire resulted in the death of all passengers and pilot. The consequence of this event, led to the development of LZ-129 also known as the Hindenberg. Regular transatlantic service began in 1936. The Hindenberg crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey killing all aboard on its first North American flight in 1937. Pan American Airways started scheduled flights across the Pacific. The Hindenberg was obsolete even before it flew, marking the end of the airship era.
After the first successful powered flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903, rapid progress occurred in aircraft design spurred especially by the two World Wars where dominance in air afforded the most success. Before the end of the 20th century, man had flown higher than the birds that he so eyed wistfully before flight had become a reality. The first men had landed on the moon, walked in space and unmanned exploration of the galaxy and beyond advanced quickly leading to improved technologies to support these efforts that also benefited other uses that were more firmly rooted on Earth.
The first pilotless, steam powered aerodromes designed by Samuel Langley flew in 1986 along the Potomac River and were used for aerial reconnaissance in the Spanish-American wars. During the World Wars, they were used extensively for reconnaissance. The first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flew a merely decade after the first successful Wright Brothers flight.
In 1917, Elmer Sperry and Peter Hewitt, constructed a radio controlled automatic airplane called the “Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane” that could fly 50 miles and carry a 300lb bomb. The success of the “flying bomb”, led to the rail launched Kettering Aerial Torpedo “Bug”. Through the 1920s and 1930s, progress continued in the remotely controlled ships. The “Pilotless Aircraft Branch” of the US Air Force was established in 1946 and three types of drones were developed with air launched Q-2, the most important one that became the “father” target drones. Following the success of pilotless and remotely piloted technologies, the US Air Force began experiments in the 1950s for high altitude reconnaissance.
The remotely piloted or unmanned aircraft systems (RPAS/UAS) can have varying levels of automation and autonomy. The many applications that these vehicles can be used for include security, monitoring, emergency response, surveillance and recreation. The evolution and revolution of new technologies and advancement in automation have transformed the drone into a domesticated item that now is used recreationally by millions of people and the list of commercial uses continues to grow.
The Rebirth of the Dirigible
Interest in airships has rejuvenated as transportation needs to remote and distance areas arose in recent years. Previously these remote areas that are not easily accessible by roads such as in Canada and the Artic were serviced by airfreight, sea shipments, and ice roads. The impact of global warming has the continued use of these ice roads unreliable. Lockheed Martin has been under a contract to build heavier than air airships that can carry up to 20 tons of cargo to serve these areas. There is also a growing interest to using airships in congested overly populated areas to relieve rush hour traffic nightmares.
There is mixed opinion on the economic practicality of these especially concerning with passenger and freight operations; however, advances in technology and innovation supports viability in the modern use of the dirigibles. They have excellent range performance and low cost. In recent years, research continues on the modern application of LTA designs for tourism, surveillance, border patrol, freight and lifting operations, and special military operations.
Dirigibles can be classified by hull such as rigid, semi-rigid and non-rigid; by payload capability such as heavy-lift or medium lift; and by vertical force such as heavier than air or lighter than air and hybrid. In addition, there are several unconventional airships:
- Spherical airships that achieve trade-off between maximum lift and minimum air resistance and prove excellent for mooring as shown in Figure 4. Prototypes of Spherical airships have been built by 21st Century Airships Inc., a Canadian company.
- Lenticular airships that are shaped like wings and helpful for maneuver control and make it possible to compensate for accidental overloading. Prototypes of this type of airships were created by French LTA Corporation
- Double-hull and multiple hull designs used for hybrid vehicles and achieve a reduction in in length for a given volume of gas providing increased lift and load capability. Advanced Technologies Group Ltd., a British company has built the double hull design
- Winged airship designs derived from airplane design, and exploits the aerodynamic lift generation capability and provides natural stability. The whale shaped airship, Manned Cloud, is shown in Figure 7. Proposed by French designer, its purpose is to serve as a luxury fitness, spa and restaurant.
Through application of new materials, technologies and techniques, modern airships can be designed that are safe, stable and reliable and humankind’s fascination with airship design continues to grow and evolve. There are also innumerable drone designs based on their mission and purpose from small quadrotors to the large Global Hawk and Predator drones.
From Dirigibles to Drones: A marriage made in heaven
In 2013 Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, announced that they would start testing drones for utilization in package deliver. More recently, Amazon has filed a patent with the US Patent Office for a giant flying warehouses or Airborne Fulfillment Centers, which would house merchandise, warehouse workers and drone launching platforms that would be used to launch drones to make deliveries. The airship will hover over the intended delivery area at an altitude of 45,000 ft. Winged drones with little or no power would glide down to the delivery site to deliver the package. After delivery, they would be collected at the collection zone and shuttled back to the airborne fulfillment center.
Two centuries later, humankind continues to remain fascinated with the dirigible. In recent years, drones have revolutionized and captured our attention to the same if not higher level. In addition, I suspect they will continue to excite and fascinate us in the future. In combining these two revolutionary and transformational technologies, it seems Bezos has proposed a marriage made in heaven at 45,000 ft.
Clyde Cessna’s name is one that is instantly recognized by pilots around the world. He was one of the first to recognize the possibilities of general aviation. The Cessna Aircraft Company has produced a variety of aircraft, the most popular of which are the Cessna 152 trainer, Cessna 172 Skyhawk, Cessna 182 Skylane, and Cessna 206 Stationair, Cessna 180, Cessna 185 Skywagon, Cessna 210 Centurion, Cessna 340, and many more . The Cessna 172 is one of the most produced general aviation aircraft. Clyde Vernon Cessna was bitten by the flying bug after witnessing an aerial exhibition in 1910. Born in Hawthorne, Iowa in 1879 and raised in Kansas, Cessna had a natural mechanical ability and loved to pull apart and reassemble equipment. He was self-taught and had a natural aptitude to improve efficiency of farm equipment from an early age. He was working as an automobile salesperson, when he saw the Moisant traveling air circus and was impressed enough that he quit his job, and went to New York and started working for the Queen Aeroplane Company.
Inspired by the Bleriot X1, Cessna created his first monoplane known as the “Silverwing” using a 40hp, 4-cyclinder motorboat motor. He conducted his first test flights in Great Salt Plains in Oklahoma. He was not discouraged after crashing on his first attempt. After thirteen failed attempts, he was finally airborne in the Silverwing but only, for a few minutes, before he crashed into the trees. In 1911, he earned the nickname of “The Birdman of Enid” after completing a successful five-mile flight with a landing at the point of departure. Over the next three years, he built several monoplane designs. In 1916, Cessna rented the Jones Motor Car factory and the manufactured the first aircraft in Wichita, Kansas. The entry of United States into the World War, exhibition flying came to a halt and led him to abandon aircraft manufacturing and return back to farming, but not for long.
In 1924, Cessna along with Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech formed the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. The company built the Travel Air 5000, a four-place monoplane based on Cessna’s design, which later became the first aircraft to fly between American mainland and Hawaii. A conflict between Beech, who favored biplanes and Cessna, who preferred monoplanes, arose and Cessna left Travel Air in 1927 and formed Cessna Aircraft Company. The first aircraft designed was an internally braced cantilevered aircraft . Cessna hired 20 employees and produced his A series using different engines and later also upgraded his B, C and D series airplanes. He sold 78 aircraft and was in the process of expanding his factory when the Great Depression began. Demand for private planes disappeared and the company went bankrupt forcing Cessna to close the plant in 1931.
In 1934, the Cessna Aircraft Company saw a new beginning under his nephews – Dwane and Dwight Wallace. They persuaded Cessna to reopen the company, convinced the stockholders that all would work for free until company was seeing profits. The iconic Airmaster series aircraft C-34, a four place, high winged aircraft featuring Cessna’s first flaps was built during this time. Averaging 17 miles per gallon, it was considered a very efficient aircraft. It was also used for racing and considered unbeatable. It earned the title of “World’s Most Efficient Aircraft”. In 1936, Cessna, after selling his shares to his nephews and retired moving back to farm, where he lived until his death in 1954. With the success of the C-34, the company under the Wallace brothers introduced the Model T-50, a twin-engine design. The start of World War II, brought thousands of orders for the T-50 trainers from United States and Canada. By 1944, Cessna Aircraft Company occupied several thousand feet of factory space and employed more than 6,000 workers. The end of war also saw the revolution in flight, an increase in what was termed “family flight”. The planes designed were light affordable and rugged . By the 1950s, Cessna Aircraft Company built 8,000 trainers and continued to grow and expand. Today it remains the largest private aircraft company in the United States.
Clyde Cessna is remembered for his outstanding contribution in designing the early monoplanes, founding and managing aircraft manufacturing companies and producing high efficiency general aviation airplanes . He never held a pilot’s license, had only rudimentary education, self-taught, smart and resourceful. He was successful because he pushed forward despite repeated failures. Despite his limited involvement with the Cessna Aircraft Company, his contribution to aviation is apparent. Without his vision and dedication, the designs that continue to be flown today would not have materialized. Clyde Cessna was unarguably an incredible designer, engineer and entrepreneur who was instrumental in creating the most iconic general aviation aircraft brand that continues to thrive today. He was posthumously entered into the National Aviation Hall of fame in 1978 and Flying Magazine ranked him 27th in their 51 Heroes in Aviation. Clyde Cessna definitely deserves a spot amongst the Wright brothers, William Boeing, Louis Bleriot and other early aviation pioneers .