THE DEVELOPMENT OF AVIATION
WITHIN THE EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY MAJ. GEN. J. H.. McBRIEN,
C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.
14th March, 1929
PRESIDENT EAYRS introduced the speaker, who said
Mr. President and members of the Empire Club, I thank you for your reception and for your invitation and hospitality. I enjoy under ordinary circumstances speaking upon the subject of aviation or transportation, and particularly is it pleasing when it appertains to the British Empire, and today I shall endeavour to outline some of the salient features of this development within the Empire.
We have reached the flying age. The air has not been conquered; for instance, a day like this practically defeats the airman unless he has all the modern appliances to assist and facilitate aerial navigation. There are not many countries in the world where these facilities have been fully developed yet, but we are enjoying a very rapid development in every branch of aviation throughout the whole of the Empire. Acceleration of travel means acceleration of business, and we all know that our economic and political growth and development depend upon transportation more than upon anything else. We have great problems of transportation in our own country with its vast distances, and it is also one of the great problems of the Empire, that is transportation. Communication, whether by land, sea or air, is vital to a far-flung Empire such as ours.
Let me touch upon the development of aviation generally, before treating it particularly, with respect to the Empire. Many people ask, what is commercial aviation, what is a commercial aeroplane? A commercial aeroplane is one which will pay, or can be supported economically or from a business point of view, in the air, that is, one that has a high enough pay load. Then they often ask another question, is a commercial aeroplane of any value from a military point of view? Every commercial aeroplane that is made today has a high potential military value. Every airport that is built, every airway that is organized, has a high military value. Therefore in 1923 and again in 1926 at the two Imperial Conferences in England, the subject of commercial aviation and the extension of imperial routes so as to link up the Empire, was a subject of paramount importance. We are now in the midst of this development, and great plans are being worked out to reduce the distances throughout the Empire. Various types of planes are being developed. There are the single engine planes, and the multiple-engined craft, some being built now with eight, ten, and twelve engines, with passenger accommodation in the wings. I think it is true as a general rule that the number of engines gives safety to travel, so we find that on the main routes of the world, where passengers are being carried, there is a transition from the single engine to the multiple-engined craft. Then we have the question of the air-cooled versus the water-cooled engines; and the internal combustion engine, where the charge is fired electrically, versus the Diesel type. We have a controversy between the biplane and the monoplane type, with the odds in favour of the monoplane for general commercial purposes. The biplane, from a military point of view, I think, probably has the advantage, it being possible to build it more strongly and to manoeuvre at high speed.
In this form of transportation naturally we attain great speed. Some few months ago an English pilot flew at the rate of 341 miles an hour. The official record is 318 miles, made at the Snider Cup race last year. At the Snider Cup race this year you will probably find that the speed will move up to about 400 miles an hour. Some designers say that within twenty-five years, if the present
development holds, which it is likely to, there is no reason why we should not then be travelling at the rate of a thousand miles an hour. If so, you will be able to go around the world in a day, keeping with the sun the whole of the way. That speed of course is not as yet. The average commercial plane at the present time is travelling at the rate of about 125 miles an hour, that is, the cruising speed. The United States, as you know, was crossed by a commercial type of plane a few weeks ago in 18Y2 hours, at a speed of about 175 miles an hour. But that is not usual; the usual speed today of a commercial plane is about 125. But in any form of transportation, the racing speed of today becomes the commercial speed of tomorrow, so we shall soon be travelling in our commercial planes at a very high speed.
The development that I have referred to is partly illustrated by these maps I have here. We find that in the British Isles themselves the distances are so short, and the weather is usually so bad, that it is not favourable to the development of airways, and the railway system is good. Two routes are planned, one from the central part of England, London, up to Scotland, and from Liverpool over to Belfast, and from Southampton a route is now being organized over France to Basle, from Basle by train to a point on the Mediterranean, and from there flying boats will carry the passengers to Cairo in Egypt, and at Cairo or Alexandria they take the aeroplane along the present route that is operated twice weekly from Cairo out across Persia to Bagdad and Basra and on to Karachi in India. That is being organized now across India to Burma and down through the Straits Settlements to Australia. That is all to be an aeroplane and seaplane route. That is under organization and within two weeks you will be able to leave England and fly to India in about 4Y2 to 5 days, instead of at present seventeen days by boat. As you know, Hinckley flew from England over this route last year in 15 Y2 days. The average mail ship takes six weeks from Australia to England; so that heavier than air craft, the aeroplane and seaplane will bring Australia within about eleven to twelve days on the regular route from England.
Along with the development of the heavier than air craft route to Australia there is another important spur under organization by the Cobham Blackburn Co., of which Sir Alan Cobham is the organizer, a route which has been flown several times now, by ladies as well as by other aviators, which is to connect United South Africa with the Motherland. You remember Cecil Rhodes hoped to unite the Cape to Cairo by railway. They will be united by air routes before the railway eventuates; in fact it is doubtful whether they will ever be connected by rail. The object behind this air development is chiefly to bring the gold from the Rand, from Johannesburg, to Europe in from three to four days instead of seventeen days as the mail boat takes now from the Cape. This route is under organization and the announcement was made a few days ago that the route would be taken over by the Imperial Airways.
In England the airways are developed by one single company which has a monopoly and has a rather heavy government subsidy, and the routes that you see marked in red on this map (showing) are being developed by the Imperial Airways under subsidy of the British Government.
Besides the route to the Cape they have great schemes afoot for the heavier-than-air craft. This year we shall see out in Canada one of the lighter-than-air craft, the Dirigible Rl00 or 8101. It has been announced that it will be out this year and these lines (showing) are the routes to be followed. They come by the southern route to avoid the prevailing winds as much as possible, and they return by the northern route to take advantage of the wind. It is calculated that it will take two days to come out and 36 hours to go back to England. A mooring mast is built now ready for the airship at St. Hubert, south of Montreal. They plan also to connect South Africa, and there is a mooring mast being built at Ismailia, near Cairo, and another in South Africa, another at Karachi in India, and another in Australia. The airship is better suited for these long flights over water than the heavier than-air craft, the aeroplane or seaplane; therefore they plan a second series or system of routes joining the Empire together with the airships that are being built. They are of tremendous size, over 700 feet long, and 150 feet high, and carry a hundred passengers, in addition to about ten tons of mail. Australia will be eleven days from England by airship, India five, South Africa about four or five, and Canada two. So the Empire is getting smaller through the development of air transportation.
Running out to Paris and other points in other countries on the Continent, The Imperial Airways runs about 1,500 miles of airway daily, and with great regularity and practically no loss of life, because the routes are becoming organized, and that is where safety in flying comes in. In flying over organized routes, casualties are practically non-existent; in flying over unorganized country, casualties occur more frequently.
This development that might be called Imperial, or British, is being pushed forward very rapidly, chiefly for economic reasons, but behind it is the military reason, for we all know that routes would be very valuable should trouble ever occur again. The airship particularly is valuable for transporting squadrons of aeroplanes to any part of the Empire within a few days, should such assistance be needed.
The actual mileage of British routes fully organized compares unfavourably at the present time with many other countries. We might take two countries for comparison. First take Germany. Germany has had a remarkable development in commercial aviation. The Kaiser used to say that the future of Germany was upon the sea; now the German people believe the future of Germany is in the air, and I think perhaps they are right. Under the Versailles Treaty, Germany was prevented from developing military aircraft, and even for a time, she was prevented from building commercial aircraft; but from 1922 she has concentrated her whole scientific and aeronautical knowledge on commercial aircraft, with the result that she is leading the countries of Europe in commercial aviation. This may (showing) give you an idea of the routes that were organized and being operated in Germany about a year ago, and there has been a great increase since that time. Their planes fly about 40,000 miles a day over those routes, and the use of aircraft for the carrying of mails and passengers is very common. Wonderful airports are established, and accidents are most infrequent. Germany led the world in aviation, as to the number of miles, until just recently. She has about 16,000 miles of organized airways under operation, and she is assisting the Russians to develop the airways in that country; that is, her experts are working in Russia and they are developing the route right out to the Pacific. It is possible now to leave England and fly to Moscow, and south to the Caspian Sea, and into Persia right down to Teheran. Other routes have lately been connected and it is possible to fly right to the borders of Afghanistan. Very shortly the full route will be in operation across Asiatic Russia to the Pacific.
These lines (showing) show the development in Central Europe, and the lines running across the Mediterranean to the French and Italian possessions in North Africa. These lines as a rule belong to the French or Italian governments. All the countries of the world are pushing forward this development for both economic and military reasons. There is a great awakening in Spain, where they are appropriating large sums of money, when they are not busy with rebellions, to build airports and air harbors. They see that the routes to South America, particularly, all go over Spain. Several French companies and some of the German companies are planning routes that will cross Spain and on out to South America. Those developments are taking place very rapidly.
The other country I want to refer to is the United States. Their actual mileage has now gone up so fast that they are leading Germany. The last time I spoke to you, Germany was leading the world, but today the United States has 21,000 miles of airway under operation. Nearly half of those are lighted for night flying, and they are equipping them with the latest accessories for aerial navigation, that is, wireless telegraphy and telephony and radio beams. In no branch of aviation have such strides been made just recently as in aerial navigation and it is only by such development that we can defeat such weather as we have today. Many of you know the system used by wireless in the war to detect the position of guns and the bursting of shells. That same system is being used now to give the pilots their position in the air. A better and more reliable system that is being developed is that of actually flying a plane on to the sound sent out by a radio beam. For instance if we had proper communication at the St. Hubert Airport today, and had our planes properly equipped, a pilot could take off from Toronto, go up into this fog, and fly his plane on to the sound, that is, on to the radio beacon that is sending out a constant call. Then, you say, how is he going to know when he is over St. Hubert? They are using successfully at Croyden and at places in the United States the magnetized cable, for distances running out in some places twenty-one miles, so that when the plane comes over the cable the electric magnetism lights up an instrument in the plane, and the pilot can tell how high he is from the airdrome. They put a complete circuit of this magnetized cable around the airport, it is of considerable circumference, so that the pilot will then know when he comes to the circle that the airport is down below. I was yesterday in conversation with one of Mr. Ford's engineers regarding that development in the United States. It is in this realm of aerial navigation to defeat fog and to defeat sleet and rain that we may expect the greatest advances in the near future.
On the 21,000 miles of airway in the United States, 17,000 are devoted chiefly to the carrying of mail, and in the last two months the volume of mail carried has gone up 400 per cent. Why has it bounded in that way? Well, there was a reduction of rates to five cents a letter to any part of the United States. The second reason is that the different systems have been connected up so that the whole country is really a network of airways now, and eighty per cent. of the population, anyway, have the benefit of this quick service, and they have the distances to make it worth while to send mail by air. It is not a fair test of what can be done in time saving to judge mail carrying by air over a distance of say three hundred miles. Such a route should be stretched out to several thousand miles to make a saving worth while, and it should be part of a system so that the whole country, particularly in populous parts of it, can benefit by this quick means of transportation of mail. As soon as one country becomes possessed of a quicker means of transportation of the elements of business, that is, men, money and materials, then their business men have an advantage over those of another country. Until such time as we get our system properly developed, the United States will enjoy a commercial and economic advantage over us. So let us work together in Canada to develop our airways, so that our business men will have an even chance with those to the south.
They have in the United States six hundred firms operating aircraft; they have a hundred firms manufacturing aircraft, and they have hundreds of thousands employed in the various professions and trades connected with the building and the operation of aircraft. There are fifty different professions and trades which are affected in some way or other, some of them created new, through the development of aviation. Aviation in the United States today ranks fifth as an investment industry. Several mergers and several amalgamations recently are capitalized, two of them at 150 million dollars each; so when you get into aviation you really get into big business. It is not a business for a small company with limited capital. It looks now very much as if throughout the whole world, and particularly in the United States, aviation would develop into the hands of about six large companies, or perhaps twelve at the most. England, as I pointed out, has given a monopoly to the Imperial Airways. Germany has given a monopoly to the Luft Hansa. France has two or three large companies and a few smaller ones. The capital needed the experience needed, and the resources of every sort needed, seem to be bringing about the same sort of development as occurred in the motor transportation business.
In Canada we have fifty-two operating companies today, some of them small, very small, others growing and operating fleets of about thirty-I think Western Canada Airways has about 32 planes, and the company I have been connected with has a fleet of 42 planes today in the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario. There are 330 planes said to be operating in Canada today, 246 of them commercial, and 87 government planes. To give you an idea of the increase that is taking place in our country, I may say that in 1920, 400,000 miles were flown by aircraft in Canada, while in 1928 the last report from the Defence Department places the figures at three million miles, which is a pretty healthy growth. (Applause.) We have under consideration in Canada, but not wholly completed yet, 44 airports, and it looks as if most of them would be situated in and around the city of Toronto. (Laughter.) We have sixteen Flying Clubs supported by the government, with 2,400 members, doing excellent work; and we have ten Flying Clubs under organization. A few years ago we had only 72 licensed pilots in Canada; today we have 189, and a great many more under training. Our air routes are not organized, it is true, but many of them in use are indicated by these lines. (Showing.) The only permanent route operated daily at present is that between Montreal and Toronto. In the summer time that is extended down to Father Point at Rimouski, and the incoming ships are met there and the mail transported to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Other services in the winter are from Moncton to the Magdalen Islands, from Quebec down the river to Seven Islands, and other points on the St. Lawrence. In the west mails have been flown experimentally from Winnipeg to Calgary, and it is possible with a commercial plane travelling 125 miles an hour to get off a train at Winnipeg one morning, take the plane, and catch the preceding day's train at Calgary, or to spend a day in Winnipeg and then catch the same train you got off, at Edmonton or Calgary, saving a whole day in crossing the prairie. That, no doubt, will be put into regular operation across the prairies this year. In two or three years, no doubt, we shall have our own transcontinental route right across Canada by air all the way, and we shall have services into the various mining areas as they are being operated at the present time in northern Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba. It is in this field that part of our development in aviation is under way and is in a very satisfactory and healthy condition. Air routes are being opened, passengers are beginning to travel in quite large numbers; but there are two other fields of aviation in which I think Canada has done as well as any other country in the world. One is in the aerial survey. Last year the Dominion Government, and the Ontario Government, combined, together with the commercial companies, surveyed 53,000 square miles, and during the last three years about 150,000 square miles have been surveyed. Many districts such as the Red Lake district and Rouyn and the Patricia country, and Flin Flon and Sherritt-Gordon--the opening up of these mining areas has been materially expedited through the use of aircraft. There are several exploration companies now operating planes up to James Bay and Hudson Bay and up as far as Chesterfield Inlet prospecting, and that country will be developed from fifty to a hundred years earlier than would otherwise be possible, through the use of air transportation, because it takes in prospectors and miners and others into a country which they could not otherwise reach in a reasonable time. So we can look perhaps for the greatest good from aviation in Canada in the assistance it gives to the development of the northern country. It will give us greater depth from north to south, which we need.
On the manufacturing side, there are three manufacturing companies in Canada, compared to the hundred in the United States. No doubt the manufacturing end of it will grow with the demand of the operators. I think every thinking man will agree that commercial air transportation has a brilliant future in this country. We have these wonderful distances where we can make a great saving of time, and we have just about as fine a climate as there is in the world to fly in when you take the whole year round. I think you will agree too that this development of aviation is a vital factor in Canada as in other parts of the Empire. It is purely a business enterprise, but behind it there is this knowledge that it is an imperial asset for our aviation in Canada to be owned and operated by Canadians with Canadian capital. Because they are an asset from a military point of view surely we ought to be able to control our own airways and airports and manufacture our own planes. (Hear, hear.) Of course we have a wonderful neighbour to the south of us. In their wonderfully generous way they will do it for us. Mr. Keys, a very well known leader in aviation in the United States, in making a speech the other day before a railway gathering in his own country, said that he had cabled an offer to Great Britain to supply eight million dollars capital that was needed to help extend their airway that I described from England on out to different parts of the Empire, and he said that naturally the offer was refused because the British Government recognized that it was necessary for them to control their own airways. (Applause.)
I have not said much about the safety of air travel, but it really depends on one or two factors, how safe it is. A negro was asked if he would not like to become an aviator; he did not think so; they said, but, Sam, if you saw a headline across the paper, Courageous Sam, the Daredevil of the Air? No, he said, that does not sound good to me; I would much prefer to see Cautious Sam the Groundhog. (Laughter.) There are several factors that make for safety in passenger traffic, and those are: organized airways, good airports, emergency landing grounds, wireless communication, telegraphic and telephonic communication. It costs about $250 a mile to organize an air route and about $150 per mile per annum to keep it up. But think of that low cost compared with the cost of building a motor road or a railway line, and think of the flexibility of an airway; you can shift the equipment and the organization, all except the airports and the emergency landing fields, to another route without great expense. Then think of the time saved and the comfort of travel. But you must have the organized airway, you must have the best organization it is possible to have, and if you are going to carry passengers, I am in favour of the trimotors, or something above the trees. And then you must have the best personnel you can get, both your ground organization and your air personnel; and you must have a good meterological service. If you have not got this, you have not got organized airways, and I would not advise you to travel very much by air unless most of what I have mentioned are present. In the United States that development has advanced so far that they are now making arrangements to carry passengers all over the country, and the latest organization is the air-rail combination where the aviation companies have linked up with the railways. Two of these transcontinental routes are actually under organization, the Transcontinental Air Transport that Lindberg is connected with, and there is a second east-and-west, and there are two companies organized north-and-south in conjunction with the railways, not in opposition to them. You travel by day by air and travel by night on the train, crossing the United States in 48 hours. The mail planes mostly are single-engined, high speed craft, that cross that part of the continent in 31 hours, and that 95 percent regularly. Last month between Montreal and Toronto, over an unorganized route, the speed of 109 miles an hour was averaged, with 100 percent regularity. (Applause.) But on days like this, owing to the lack of organization, the planes have as a rule to sit on the ground, although they have gone through in very bad weather.
So let us work together to assist this organization throughout the whole of the Empire, whether it be by lighter-than-air craft or by heavier-than-air craft; we do not know yet which is the better. Mr. Ford made an announcement a couple of months ago that he has something in his mind or his workshops, and he says the country is going to be surprised soon with a combination of the lighter and the heavier than air craft. All I can think of is that he will have certain compartments in the wings filled with gas lighter than air under pressure, or in parts of the fuselage, so as to have less. weight for the engine to carry, and that will perhaps give a higher pay load and greater speed. So we may have a combination of the two before long.
Then there will be great developments in the power, in types of engines, to give more power per pound weight. All these developments are under way and Canada must work hard to keep to the fore in this development, and I think that she will, for great interest is being evinced. (Applause.)
The thanks of the club to the speaker were tendered by General Bell .