May 3, 2013
Odds are that every person reading these words has flown somewhere, at some time, on a Boeing 747. It doesn’t have a snazzy name like Dreamliner or Stratocruiser, as do other Boeing products, current and historic. But, with its characteristic fore-fuselage hump, which exists for delightfully non-aerodynamic reasons, it is probably the most recognizable airliner in the world.
Last week, the National Air and Space Museum recognized the man who led the design of the 747 with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Joe Sutter, who retired in 1986 after more than 40 years at Boeing, helped design six of the company’s 7×7 series of airliners. Sutter took the occasion as an opportunity to urge educators to inspire the youngest students in schools to pursue careers in the areas of engineering, math, and science so that, like him, “they can stand back and see the results of their efforts, and feel a sense of accomplishment.” As the 747 project engineer, Sutter led a team of 4,500, so he knows a thing or two about leadership. During his remarks, he told the audience about a leader who had inspired him: Theodore Roosevelt. Here’s what he had to say:
“I first heard of [Theodore Roosevelt] because he was leading a group of cavalry during the Spanish-American War. He got on his white charger and gave a resounding cheer and told his people to follow him. And his charge up San Juan Hill was so impressive that the opposition dropped their guns and fled. As a young man, I had the impression that he won that war all by himself. Roosevelt’s actions helped me believe I could do something worthwhile as well.”
In his book 747, Sutter reveals the hard-fought conflicts and company politics that his team had to overcome to get the 747 into production. He ended his acceptance speech with this quote from Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat nor victory.”
April 25, 2013
As early as 1919, airlines in Europe hired attendants—all male—to serve passengers during flights. But it wasn’t until 1926 that Stout Air Services in the United States engaged stewards for its service between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Over the next few years, the in-flight attendant job was deemed best suited for female nurses. As Victoria Vantoch writes in her new book The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), the decision was influenced by the family of William Patterson, a vice president at Boeing. Patterson’s wife and children, says Vantoch, always got airsick when traveling: “My mother and I didn’t want young boys holding our hair when we got sick—no customer wanted that—so we told my dad to hire women instead,” recalls Patricia, Patterson’s daughter.
When the DC-3 arrived six years later, Vantoch writes, passenger miles increased 600 percent between 1931 and 1941. With the DC-3, “the airline industry began to focus on passenger service and the stewardess was catapulted to new importance,” and the number of flight attendants rose from below 400 to 1,000.
By the mid-1940s, “stewardess candidates had to be twenty-one to twenty-eight years old,” writes Vantoch, “unmarried, 5’3″ to 5’6″ tall, no more than 125 pounds, with good posture and an ‘attractive appearance,’ and preferably with some college education.” (The nursing requirement had been dropped because nurses were required for the war effort and could not be spared for airline service.) “Stewardess training was also arduous,” notes Vantoch, “with strict rules, fifty subjects (including flight physics, emergency procedures, radio navigation, and meteorology), and a series of intense exams.”
The transformation of the stewardess from all-American girl next door to a sexier image, was largely the work of the Burnett advertising agency, which won the United account in 1965, and Mary Wells, the advertising director of Braniff Airlines. Leo Burnett’s team realized that young consumers were an emerging market—and appropriating aspects of the 1960s counter-culture “could help market United to older Americans who still wanted to feel young and hip.” At the same time that the Burnett agency was struggling with its campaign, Branniff kicked off its “Air Strip” television ad, in which a stewardess slowly removed pieces of her Pucci uniform during the flight. Shortly after, United’s ads promised consumers that stewardesses would “go all out to please you!” The sexual revolution had infiltrated the airlines, and other carriers soon modified their images as well.
April 23, 2013
German photographer Dietmar Eckell is drawn to abandoned objects: neglected railroad tracks, stranded ships, detritus from past Olympic Games. His latest project, titled Happy End, documents aircraft wreckage—but only from accidents where everyone on board survived.
The photograph above, the last image in the series, shows a B-24 that crashed in Papua New Guinea during World War II. “I wanted a warbird in the jungle with a miracle story,” Eckell wrote in an email, “and always loved the stories of the Pacific wrecks, so I started looking in Papua New Guinea.” According to his information, all nine crew members on board survived the crash.
The Douglas C-47 above was the first aircraft Eckell documented during the two-year project. “I’ve been there [Yukon Territory, Canada] twice already, and next time I want to go back in February, as the crash happened in February 1950. The pilot walked all the way to the Alaskan Highway to get help.”
Eckell asks local pilots to help pinpoint exact locations and provide story details, and he searches for information in local archives. “I [was originally] inspired by paintings of shipwrecks in the romantic period,” he writes. “But soon I got hooked on these planes and stories, and it was like a pilgrimage to ‘wonders’ around the world.”
April 1, 2013
Ah, the romance of the airship. With its advent, passengers could finally be transported over great distances in comfort—even luxury. “On a plane you fly, but on the Graf Zeppelin you voyage,” remarked one pampered passenger. (For the Graf Zeppelin‘s first transatlantic flight, besotted crowds of 50,000 or more awaited its arrival at the landing field at Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1928, even though it was delayed a day due to bad weather. Millions more watched as the airship slowly made its way up the East Coast, floating over Washington, D.C., past Baltimore and above New York City.) The airship experience, however, didn’t come cheap. In 1928, a round trip transatlantic ticket went for $3,000, worth about $40,000 in today’s dollars.
But what about the photograph shown here? The New York Times reports that in 1929, “Alfred E. Smith, the leader of a group of investors erecting the Empire State Building,” announced that the height of the building would be increased by 200 feet so that a mooring mast for dirigibles could be installed. Smith noted that passengers would exit the airship down a gangplank, and a mere seven minutes later could be on the street, ready to experience everything Manhattan had to offer.
Dr. Hugo Eckener, the commander of the Graf Zeppelin, reports the New York Times, dismissed the project as impractical, noting that dirigible landings required dozens of ground crew, not to mention plenty of rope. “[T]he notion that passengers would be able to descend an airport-style ramp from a moving airship to the tip of the tallest building in the world, even in excellent conditions, beggars belief,” notes the Times.
In 1930, International News Photos distributed this manipulated photograph. At the time, no airship had docked at the Empire State Building. That didn’t happen until September 1931, when a privately-owned dirigible docked for a mere three minutes, in a 40-mile-per-hour wind. “Traffic was tied up in the streets below for more than a half hour as the pilot, Lieutenant William McCraken jockeyed for position in the half gale about the tower 1,200 feet above the ground,” the Times reported in 1931.
This image—and 200 others—are on display at the National Gallery of Art in the exhibition “Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop.” The exhibition runs through May 5, 2013.
November 21, 2012
Two months ago, on a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne, Australia, a crocodile got loose in the cargo hold of a Qantas aircraft. “The animal was quickly and safely secured when the aircraft arrived in Melbourne,” a Qantas spokesman told The Australian.
It’s not the first time a croc flew. Two years before that, a crocodile—carried on board in a large duffel bag—allegedly escaped on a Filair flight from Kinshasa to Bandundu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Pandemonium ensued,” reported msnbc.com. The Let L-410 Turbolet crashed, killing 20 on board. (The croc escaped, but was killed by ground crew.)
The earliest reference we can find of crocodilians becoming airborne dates to 1929. Yoav Di-Capua writes (in the summer 2008 issue of the Journal of Social History), “[I]n 1929, at the age of thirty, a bored employee at Bank Misr named Muhammad Sidqi decided to replace his wooden office chair with a posh leather seat in an airplane cockpit. Resigning his position, he enrolled in a German aviation school. A few months later…he purchased a modest monoplane with a 45-hp. engine and an overall weight of less than 250kg. With the enthusiastic cooperation of the Egyptian authorities, on December 15th he left from Berlin, and, via Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Venice and Malta, made his way to Libya. With him in the cockpit was a small crocodile that was presented to him in Berlin as a gift for the Cairo Zoological Gardens.”
On January 26, 1930, thousands of people — including the Egyptian Prime Minister — gathered to watch Sidqi land on a Cairo airstrip. The mob swarmed the rickety aircraft as it landed, and triumphantly carried the newly minted pilot through the Cairo streets. The next day the newspapers covered Sidqi’s feat, but “Not a word was written on the fate of the small crocodile that had bravely accompanied Sidqi on his perilous journey back home,” notes Di-Capua.
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