- March 3, 2018
by Major Donald E. Keyhoe
The Fortress was standing empty on the runway, its engines idling, when Captain “Pappy” Tooman got aboard. He climbed into the deserted cockpit and sat looking over the instruments. Suddenly the throttles opened, the brakes unlocked, and the B-17 roared down the runway, controls moving as eerily as if the Invisible Man had taken over.
About that time, most people (including this writer) would have been grabbing desperately at everything. “Pappy” just sat. The Fortress took off, circled and landed – and he still hadn’t touched anything in the plane, but the seat of his pants to a cushion.
Radio remote control is just one of a dozen flight aids devised or made practical during the war, and now helping to make peacetime flying safer.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be flying in airliners taken off and landed by remote control, although Tooman and other pilots who check radio-controlled planes before they let them fly solo will tell you that their landings and takeoffs are often more precise than those of the average pilot.
But it would still seem to call for intestines of the better sort to sit twiddling your thumbs while a couple of men safe on the ground send you hurtling along a runway, or a lad in a “mother” plane puts you through whatever maneuvers his fancy dictates. Radio control’s chief contribution to peacetime flight has been its part in full automatic piloting, of which, as the saying goes, more in a moment.
Tooman’s B-17 was one of four “babies” being checked for the 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Designed to fly through atomic clouds, each “baby” carried recording instruments and was guided by its “mother,” another plane that sensibly circled some twenty miles away, letting Baby do the dirty work.
The lethal possibilities of remote control are painfully obvious. Several “babies” could be dived low over Manhattan, for instance, with enough atom bombs to reduce the population considerably. On the plus side, remote control has had a big part in developing the even more uncanny automatic brain that operates “pushbutton” planes.
A little while ago, I flew in an Army pushbutton ship at the All-Weather Flying Center, Wilmington, Ohio. It was a C-54, a four-engined job, which does everything but cook. According to Major Paul Biggers, boss of the project, they could add that item overnight. Solid, ruddy-faced, and given to occasional whimsy, Biggers is the official pilot of the pushbutton C-54.
“Actually, nobody’s the pilot,” he told me. “The crew and I just go along for the ride.”
Inside the cabin, he pointed out the automatic flight controller, a panel with a dozen pushbuttons, rheostats, and toggle switches.
“Say you want to fly to New York,” said Biggers. “You punch your course, altitude, distance, and the series of radio ranges you’d follow. Right now, they have to be set separately, but they can be hooked up so all you have to do is push one button marked ‘La Guardia.’ A master sequence selector does everything else – and in the right order. It won’t get mixed up and retract the landing gear while you’re on the ground, like some pilots I could mention.”
With the “brain” set for a half-hour flight, Major Biggers showed me into the cockpit. Up to then, I’d accepted the idea of a pushbutton ship the way you accept radar-to-the-moon and 1,500-mile-an-hour flying stovepipes, but seeing it operate was something else.
At the end of the runway, Biggers taxied into the wind and set his brakes. After a clearance from the tower, he pushed a circuit-selector button, sat back, and waited. First, the flaps went down and the throttles slid forward. For eight seconds, the engines revved at takeoff speed, then the brakes went off.
With the autopilot steering, the ship held a straight path down the runway. When our speed reached 85, I was glad Biggers was in the pilot’s seat, even if he had come just for the ride. But I needn’t have worried. The C-54 made a perfect takeoff, began climbing, and a moment later, the landing gear came up and locked.
Biggers stretched, looked around and grinned. “Well, how about a game of gin rummy?”
The cockpit might as well have been uninhabited, at that. At 800 feet, the change in barometric pressure set off a unit that raised the flaps, setting the throttles for normal climb. At 2,500 feet, the ship leveled off, the throttles shifted to cruising power, and the ship banked to the preselected course.
Simultaneously, a propeller-driven gadget called the air log began to count off the miles flown. On this hop, it had been set for a thirty-mile run, during which time a device using the principle of the magnetic compass held the plane on course.
While we were knocking off this distance, a dozen passengers ambled in and out of the cockpit to see the ship fly itself. A local radio announcer popped in with a portable microphone, getting people to give their impressions, consisting chiefly of “Incredible… Fantastic, isn’t it? I don’t see how it does it!”
Also, by the law of averages, two or three passengers probably wandered aft to the john. With all that traffic constantly shifting the plane’s balance, a human pilot might have become a bit huffy. But the “brain” patiently maneuvered throttles and controls, holding the assigned altitude. There was also a slight crosswind, but the autopilot brushed that off, nosing upwind to offset it.
At the end of the thirty-mile run, the air log shut itself off. Immediately, the C-54’s nose began to swing from side to side, like a bloodhound hot after a jailbird. “It’s hunting for the first radio range,” explained Biggers. The ship turned, homed on the station signals. As we passed above the station, a change in signals set off another sequence, and the C-54 banked smartly toward the second range. I had my eye on Biggers the whole time, and the only move he made was to light a cigarette.
We flew over the last range station, the ship made another precise turn and nosed down, throttles moving back for a power glide. At 880 feet, the pressure unit lowered the flaps and landing gear, and when I looked ahead, I could see the runway from which we had taken off. The “brain,” operating through the radio-navigation unit, had taken us around a rectangular course and now had us lined up in a normal approach.
“If anything went haywire,” I asked Biggers, in what I thought was a casual tone, “would you have to wrestle against the automatic pilot?” He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Well, I could. It’s made so you can override it. But this overhead switch cuts it off, so why wrestle?”
The ship passed a radio beacon marker and its signals nosed us down into a radio glide path – air speed 110. At fifty feet, I took a firm grip on a cockpit frame, just in case. But the ship landed without even a small bounce. As we lost speed, a delay switch put on the brakes, changing pressure on either side as needed to keep us in a straight line.
We stopped, engines idling. “Too bad the weather wasn’t zero-zero,” Biggers said as he taxied in.
“We’d have had a real show,” I told him. For my part, I was quite happy.
“Yes, but you don’t get the full effect unless there’s fog right down on the ground,” he said. “Even the best airline pilot might get a little nervous then – if the CAA let him take off, which they won’t. But it’s all the same to a pushbutton ship.”
Automatic control will certainly cut down airline crashes, especially the kind that happen while pilots are approaching airports through fog or low clouds. Pushbutton planes will not get confused or take shortcuts, or make mistakes in radio ranges and barge into mountains or skyscrapers as a result.
Another thing Biggers pointed out is that an aerial block system can be operated with this equipment, to keep airliners from running into each other. “You saw how the ship flew to a radio station and turned to the next one,” said Biggers. “Until it gets a different signal, or hits the cone of silence, a pushbutton ship will circle over a station, holding its altitude. All you have to do is delay the signal until the next ‘block’ is clear.”
Before you can hop into a pushbutton airliner, the “brain” must be given an okay by the CAA – the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which regulates nonmilitary flying. Since CAA testers have piloted the C-54 in almost 300 flights, the green light is expected in time for larger planes now being built. The “brain” and its gadgets weigh only about 150 pounds, and its cost is not high, balanced against a wrecked airliner – not to mention the lives of passengers and crew.
A three-year-old girl could push the “start” button, but there’ll be crews on pushbutton ships to monitor instruments, in case an autopilot ever slips up and heads for the North Pole. Automatic control isn’t a cure-all, as many planes won’t have this equipment. And with traffic getting heavier than Main Street on Saturday night, the chance of smacking into another ship is not to be laughed off, especially with some new planes set to bat along at about 500 feet a second.
In soupy weather at terminals, the risk of hitting buildings, radio masts, hills, and other impediments increases along with the traffic. Here’s where the radar collision-warning unit steps in, the same type that warned tail-gunners when an enemy plane was sneaking up behind, and which helped our night fighters to spot Jap or Nazi bombers. Air Transport Command planes have shown the way, using a set that picks up mountains, towers, coastlines, other planes – even cloud formations.
Recently, an ATC plane, with the pilot’s side of the cockpit hooded, made a radar approach on Washington. The radar operator aboard was able to identify and steer the pilot away from the 19-story Naval Hospital at Bethesda, the Washington Monument, and the Arlington radio towers – also a Piper Cub that popped out of a nearby cloud.
In a similar test at New York, another ATC pilot was guided away from the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Tower, and other tall buildings without once seeing anything but his instruments. If the Army planes that hit New York skyscrapers had had radar, their pilots could have turned or zoomed over them in plenty of time.
Radar of this type is available now for airliners, but it requires an extra crewman. By simple arithmetic, this means one less paying passenger. So manufacturers are building a lighter, less expensive unit which the copilot can watch when he isn’t checking instruments, writing his flight log and so on. Seriously, this should work out, as he would concentrate on the radar screen in thick weather, watching for “pips” of other planes and ground obstacles, especially while the pilot is letting down to land.
The only other obstacles likely to be met along the airways are birds and an occasional weather balloon. The latter, carrying a compact radio transmitter, could make a mess of a windshield. Several airline pilots have had close shaves when weather balloons emerged suddenly from clouds. But at least, as one pilot said, they don’t try to outmaneuver you, like some birds.
About three times a week, by CAA records, some ill-advised bird disputes the right of way with a plane. Not just sparrows, but sizable birds like hawks, big crows, and wild geese. Some have smashed through windshields, causing fatal crashes, and there are enough near-misses to send chills up pilots’ spines.
Collision-warning radar will spot birds, but unfortunately they don’t obey air traffic rules. In the old days of slower speeds, you could usually outmaneuver a bird, though occasionally you’d guess wrong. I remember one day sighting a large crow dead ahead while I was flying a Vought Corsair, a biplane type. I banked to the right. So did the crow. There was a slight thud, a flurry of feathers, and one less crow. My only damage was a loosened load wire.
But with today’s speeds, a crow that size could mean trouble. Over in Burma, an Army transport flier trying to avoid a buzzard ran straight into a second one, which smashed through the windshield, stunning and blinding the pilot. The plane went into a dive and crashed. Other pilots in Burma have had buzzards crash into cockpits without fatal results, but at best it would seem an unpleasant business to have a malodorous buzzard land in your lap, in sections or in toto.
Fortunately, the experts have come up with improved windshields to keep pilots from “getting the bird.” One new type has an outer layer of glass, an enclosed air space in which warm air can be circulated to prevent icing, and a half-inch-thick panel of tough plastic.
New windshields are tried out with a pneumatic bird gun in the CAA laboratory at Indianapolis. This weird contraption fires dead chickens through windshields and into mock-up cockpits at speeds up to 500 miles an hour. Chickens and other poultry from four to twenty pounds are used, first being electrocuted as a polite bow to the S.P.C.A.
It is quite a thing to see one of these electrocuted fowls crash through a standard windshield and smack a wax dummy representing the pilot. During one test, two airline pilots dropped in for a look. On the first try, a modest four-pounder fired at 100 miles an hour went briskly through the “shatterproof” windshield. The pilots looked thoughtfully at the jagged hole.
On the second test, at 200, another four-pound chick crashed through and knocked the dummy off its seat. For the third test, at 300 miles an hour, an eight-pounder was used. This one went through the windshield like a Tiny Tim rocket, flattening the dummy against the rear of the cockpit and leaving a noticeable dent.
At this point, the two pilots departed, a trifle pale around the gills. According to a technician, a twenty-pounder hitting at 400 miles an hour would probably go right on through into the cabin, decapitating the pilot if he chanced to be in the way. The effect of this on the passengers was not mentioned, but it would doubtless be disconcerting.
Now that these basic facts have been established, few airliners will use the plain “shatterproof” glass. One new windshield will fend off a thirteen-pound bird at 200, and those on the Constellations will stop a four-pounder cold at 286. Even if a heavy bird ploughs through, designers hope it will be slowed down enough so the pilot will merely be knocked out temporarily.
Using the bird gun, and assuming a goodly supply of chickens and windshields, a chart can be made up for any plane, showing how big a bird it will take at any given speed – also the point at which the pilot gets it in his lap. Theoretically, a pilot sighting a big one ahead can run his finger quickly down the chart and decide whether to sit tight, kick rudder (spilling passengers on the floor), or duck his head. However, the best solution seems thicker plastics and windshields slanted more sharply, so the birds will ricochet.
Going back to radar in our discussion of air obstacles, there is a new altimeter to keep planes from hitting mountains and rising ground obscured by clouds or darkness. The ordinary altimeter used on 95 per cent of private planes, operates by barometric pressure, showing the height above sea level. You can take off from a coastal airport, fly to mountains 8,000 feet high, and your altimeter will blandly show you a safe 8,000 feet, even with rocks scraping your tires.
This sort of thing can be disturbing, if it happens unexpectedly. Last fall I had a cross-country hop with a friend in his private plane. We left Washington for a flight into Pennsylvania and my friend, Hank, set a course to parallel the Alleghenies, with a 50-mile leeway. Then he climbed above some low clouds and we cruised along at about 3,000 feet.
We had no radio to check our position, so after a while Hank said he would drop down through the overcast to see where we were. This decision is widely and familiarly known among crash investigators under the heading of “famous last words.” Hank nosed down toward a dark spot that looked like a hole. We were 200 feet from it when we were embarrassed to discover it was a wooded mountaintop half-hidden in the clouds. At least Hank was embarrassed; I was just scared, as we practically scraped the trees getting the hell out of there.
A radar altimeter, measuring the time for signals to bounce back from directly below, would have warned us when the ground began to rise. One new type can be set for a desired cruising altitude, and if the ship is holding that height above ground, the instrument shows an amber light.
If the plane climbs, or altitude increases as hills give way to lower ground, a green light comes on. Most important, if you lose altitude, or a mountain tries to sneak up under you, a red light goes on. A circuit can also be arranged to blow a whistle if the pilot is checking his map, or maybe engrossed in a copy of True.
What this altimeter won’t do is tip you off if you’re heading toward a cliff or other vertical obstacle. But the radar collision-warning device already described will take care of that. Between them, these two should cut down those “Plane Hits Mountain In Fog” headlines.
Another new aid to private flying is a stall-warning system. Several private ships are designed as non-stall, or non-spin, or spin-resistant. But plenty of private planes, inherently stable, will stall and also give out with a good imitation of a spin, if a pilot puts his mind on it. Or if his mind is on something else – love, for example.
You’d be surprised (unless you’ve gone through it) how learning to fly brings out the male showoff urge if there is an attractive female watching. The net result, in CAA figures, is two and one-half persons killed per week. If you don’t like fractional corpses, then about ten a month, plus an equal number of lads with burns, contusions, broken arms or legs, and cracked skulls from showing off for the little gal on the ground.
Here is a boiled-down crash report (names altered, naturally) showing the romantic angle:
Mr. Jack G. Smith, age 20, student pilot with 17 hours solo time, took off and was next seen circling the home of his friend, Miss Marilee Johnson, some ten miles south. While Miss Johnson and her family watched him, Smith dived and zoomed the house three times, once missing the chimney by two feet. On the last zoom, he pulled up steeply and the plane stalled, fell off on the left wing, and crashed. Smith was fatally injured.
Now if young Smith had had one of the new stall-warning systems, he might still be buzzing his girl’s house (unless the CAA inspectors heard about it). One of these devices has a movable vane in the leading edge of the wing. When the plane is nosed up too steeply, the changed attitude causes the vane to flash a red light in the cockpit. Also a bell or a buzzer rings before the stall angle is reached. Neat, huh?
Another system uses a tube that opens in the leading edge. As the plane nears stalling speed, the decreased air pressure sets off an electric horn and a red light.
Either of these should be enough to yank a pilot’s attention back from the most beauteous babe in the world. But for the wolf who gets himself lathered into a complete daze, the circuits can easily be multiplied. According to one engineer I queried, you can have a wire recorder operate through a radio dome speaker, with some appropriate remark like: “Nose down, you dumb son of a gun.” (For quickest results, the reminder should come in the voice of the pilot’s former instructor.)
For planes without radio, a picture could pop up on the instrument board showing a coffin, some other jerk marrying your girl, or other timely hint. At the same time, several red lights would flash, with horns, whistles, bells, and buzzers going off simultaneously. (Anyone who can stall through all that deserves to get his neck broken.)
Both the movable-vane and pressure-tube warning systems have been approved by the CAA and will probably save 95% of the showoffs. The other 5% are considered hopeless. To make it still easier for the private flier, one company has come up with a new type of simplified control. A hand wheel between the seats actuates the interlinked flap and elevators, at the same time moving a flight-control indicator on the instrument panel.
To take off, you turn the hand wheel until the indicator reads “Take-Off,” open the throttle, and the ship hoists itself off at the proper speed. You rotate the wheel to “Climb” and up you go, again at proper speed and the right angle. Same for cruise, approach, glide, and landing.
This hand-wheeling procedure, used in addition to normal control, may seem like simplifying in reverse, but I have found that it is really efficient, and practically foolproof. Private pilots as well as airline men will welcome the new VHF (Very High Frequency) radio ranges, except for a few reactionary specimens who like to hear buzzing in their ears.
For years, pilots homing on the old-style beacons flew along listening to the buzz-buzz-buzz of the on-course signal. The only normal variations you heard were an A or an N signal as you flew through different quadrants, or perhaps when a nice burst of static would drown out your signals, making it rather interesting if you were trying to follow a beam down through the soup.
Sometimes a pilot would get a little surprise when he heard an N where there should have been an A, indicating he was working the wrong side of the street. In one such case, an airliner pilot got into the wrong quadrant while letting down near some hills for a landing. At least that’s what the crash sleuths deduced, later. VHF eliminates most of the basic troubles of the old-type beacons.
The VHF ranges are aura-visual – a dignified way of saying you can fly a beam by looking at a dial, as well as by listening to the usual buzz signals. It is a simple instrument with two crossed pointers. The pilot flies so that the vertical needle covers a line of dots. A private flier who doesn’t want to lay out dough for this can still use earphones.
VHF is free from static, except from very close lightning. To check this, I flew in a plane with VHF, which the pilot obligingly demonstrated by flying through the edge of what he called a small thunderstorm. Personally, I regard any thunderstorm with suspicion, after taking a flying boat through what I thought was a “small one” near Guam.
In this VHF test, the pilot prudently skimmed along the edge of the storm clouds. The VHF signals came in without the usual roar of static, except for one brief growl during a nearby flash.
VHF has been so successful on the New York-Chicago airway that all major routes will be equipped with it. A special omnidirectional VHF has also been developed, sending beams to all points of the compass. This O.D. range, planned for nationwide installation, will give a private pilot an “airway” to practically anywhere.
If pilot Joe Beamish wants to fly from Jonesville to Piping-on-the-Wabash, he simply tunes in the O.D. range nearest Jonesville, sets a course-selector pointer on the compass heading that represents the direction of Piping-on-the-Wabash, and watches the crossed-pointer indicator to see that he’s on the right track. If he drifts off, so does the pointer, and he merely rudders right or left to get back on the beam.
The idea of reversing propellers to slow down landings isn’t new, but its use on the giant Douglas Globemaster is the first on a large commercial plane. Many a pilot, rolling down a runway too fast, or seeing a gully or riverbank come at him after an emergency landing, has wished devoutly for something like this to stop him.
A certain aviation writer of my acquaintance can testify to the efficiency of reversible props. An Army Globemaster was making a check flight from a field in Texas where he was getting a story, and he was invited along.
“The inboard props are reversible,” the pilot explained, “so get set when we land.” Despite this kindly advice, my friend neglected to get a tight hold. As the ship landed, the pilot reversed the two special props and opened up the engines. The Globemaster stopped as abruptly as if it had run into deep mud, and the writer did a nosedive along the floor. In airliners, presumably, the process will be moderated. Reversing also makes it easy for pilots to back into a loading area and maneuver on the ground.
Higher airliner speeds are calling for every navigational trick in the bag. With fast planes flying day and night across oceans, shooting the sun and stars via sextant is pretty much passé. One of the war miracles, LORAN (long range navigation) has recently been improved for peacetime use.
LORAN is a position-finding system evolved from various radio aids. Signals are sent out by pairs of stations, each pair consisting of a “master” station and a “slave” station, widely separated. When a master sends its automatic signal, the slave hears it and does likewise. The two radio pulses show up on the glass screen of a plane’s LORAN receiver as two green lines, one above the other, each with a little jog or “pip” on it. A slight difference in position of the two pips represents the almost infinitesimal time difference between receipt of the nearer and farther signals.
From a scale printed on the screen, the navigator reads the interval in millionths of a second. Consulting a scaled LORAN map of the general area (say, the Pacific Coast), he finds a corresponding numbered line that curves out from between the two stations at a constant time-lag relation to each. His plane is somewhere along that line. He then tunes into a second master-slave pair, finds the time lag, and puts his pencil where the two lines cross. That’s his position; and knowing now just where he is, he can direct his fogbound pilot anywhere up and down the coast with complete accuracy.
Relocating wartime LORAN stations to serve peacetime traffic is under way, and about 45 million square miles of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are already covered by these invisible guidelines in the sky.
A mesh of LORAN signals can serve a deadly purpose, as well as being helpful. From many scattered launching sites, hundreds of pilotless flying bombs could be sent aloft at the same time, adjusted to seek out and follow, automatically, a single curving time-lag line. The effect would be tunneling the swarm of bombs into one stream.
Then, at a certain point a crossing line from another LORAN along the line – say, over an enemy city – the master-slave setup would trip mechanisms to dive the bombs. If destroying the city wasn’t enough, the funnel spout could be swung up and down and from side to side over the surrounding region – like playing a garden hose-by slightly altering the timing of the LORAN signals.
But the enemy could do the same thing in revenge. The two-way possibilities of LORAN should discourage war aggressors. At least, we can fervently hope so. After the wonders of LORAN, this next item may seem relatively minor: airliner cabins supercharged for sea-level pressure up to altitudes of 12,000 feet. But this will make safe air travel possible for people with heart disease or other afflictions likely to be aggravated by decreased pressure and lack of oxygen.
The ordinary airliner is not pressured. “Stratoliners” usually seal off at 6,000 feet and maintain that pressure at higher operating altitudes. In the newest type of cabin, pressure will gradually decrease above 12,000 feet, so that at 25,000 feet, you will feel about the same as if you were on a mountain a mile high. Most people can stand this change, especially if it takes place gradually.
Incidentally, the 12,000-foot pressure cabins will be helpful to anyone who has had a few drinks before getting aboard. Just as breathing pure oxygen cures a hangover, so does breathing thin air make it a lot worse, or tend to bring one on. With some of the giant airliners being equipped with bars, this is not a small item. For those who don’t drink, there’s the consolation that the new pressure cabins will reduce the fatigue usually noticed from prolonged high flying.
Radar is a close runner-up to pushbutton control as a means for licking the weather problem. When low ceilings move in over New York, Washington, Chicago, and other large terminals, the usual “instrument approach” requires fifteen minutes per plane. This leaves airliners stacked up like pancakes over radio-marker “holding points,” with tower men, pilots, and sometimes passengers perspiring at the thought of other waiting planes circling above and below them in the soup. There have been some close ones, but fortunately no collisions at this writing.
When ceilings get too low, some flights are canceled, and planes en route have to land at alternate airports. Passengers find themselves stranded, often without a chance at train reservations, and caustic remarks about air travel frequently result. The only answer is a system that will let airliners take off, fly through, and land in zero-zero weather, and also cut the landing interval to about one-tenth the present time.
As already pointed out, many planes won’t have pushbutton controls, but all airliners, and a lot of private planes, have basic blind-flying instruments. Watching these, the pilot needs in the plane only a radio set, with which to call the tower and to hear instructions, in order to take advantage of the radar talk-down system.
Out at the Army All-Weather Flying Center at Wilmington, I saw this method demonstrated. The radar equipment was the same kind that was used to bring in thousands of our pilots at wartime airports when visibility was practically zero.
All aircraft within forty miles showed up on the Wilmington radar search indicator. Operators sat around a map table continually shifting tiny markers corresponding to planes in the air.
For demonstration purposes, each plane taking part had the pilot’s side of the cockpit curtained in, so that he could see nothing outside and had to fly on his instruments. One plane being brought in was a standard C-47 transport. When it was about 35 miles out, a control officer saw the ship on the radarscope. He called the pilot by radio, told him his position, gave him the course to the field, and general instructions for letting down.
When the C-47 got about six miles away, control was transferred to a more precise radar set. Here an officer began to read off final landing instructions to the pilot. The controlling officer had no view of the plane beyond what he saw on his radarscope with its graduated altitude and bearing scales.
I went outside and watched for the ship to come in. There was a loudspeaker hung on a pole, and I could hear the control officer’s directions to the pilot. “You’re three miles from the touchdown point,” said the controller. “Now you’re in the glide path, but you’re nosed down a little. Bring it up thirty feet. Hold that.”
It was uncanny to see the C-47 follow the orders, level off, and land. As the system becomes better known, the landing interval will be cut to two minutes, perhaps to one. Besides guiding planes in, controllers warn pilots if other ships are near them. They also tell them when they will break through clouds in an approach, since cloud masses show on a radar screen. Some local weather forecasting is possible with these sets.
The next best blind-landing system is one that uses a radio glide path and a localizer beam. Through special indicating instruments in the cockpit, the pilot flies his way to the center of the runway, with marker beacons to indicate the distance as he approaches. The CAA plans to install this system at major terminals. A neon landing light, which can be varied in intensity, also makes it easier for a pilot to judge his distance in approaching a runway during darkness or in bad weather.
Radar advocates have urged official adoption of their “talk-down” system. Airline pilots have chimed in, asking that the CAA give them this method that is available now and not wait for super-duper aids, leaving them groping around in the fog in the meantime.
Other blind-landing schemes also have backers. There will be the usual jockeying around before one system becomes standard. But don’t worry about your being a guinea pig for any of these new devices. Cargo planes carrying no passengers will get the first okay from CAA to take off and land in zero-zero weather.
After those lads prove it can be done without 1) breaking their necks, or 2) cracking up expensive planes, airliners will get the official nod.
Published the permission of New Saucerian Press