The Future of Flight

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2019 by hillermuseum

By Jon Welte
Flight Training Devices and Flight Simulation

The training and preparation of new pilots has been an essential function since the dawn of modern aviation. Orville Wright’s triumphant first flight on December 17, 1903 could be attributed in part to his brother Wilbur’s crash in the same aircraft just three days earlier. When Wilbur first took the controls of the Flyer on December 14, he had no flight instructor upon whom to rely. The original 1903 Flyer was unstable in pitch, leading Wilbur to over-rotate and stall the airplane. When Orville’s turn came on December 17 Wilbur shared his experience, making it possible for Orville to succeed.

Pilot training evolved in a haphazard manner during the early years. Nonetheless, with the onset of World War I thousands of new pilots were needed. Inexperienced young men were sent aloft in aircraft perilously flimsy even by the standards of the day. More pilots were killed in accidents than by enemy fire. The French Air Force sought to limit the carnage by having cadets “fly” Bleriot monoplanes with clipped wings that were unable to fly. These “penguins” gave new pilots a workout, forcing them to learn how to operate the systems and controls of their airplanes on the ground. Only when pilots demonstrated sufficient control could they operate flying aircraft. Penguins of various design continued to be used for flight training into the 1930s.

In 1929 Edward Link transformed flight training with the first flight simulation device. Repurposing technology used in his parents’ organ company, Link developed a simulator known as the Link Trainer. The student sat within an enclosed cockpit that was moved by pneumatic bellows similar to those in pipe organs. Within the cockpit the student pilot used electrical and vacuum powered instruments to fly under simulated instrument conditions. An instructor sat at a desktop station and used a separate set of controls to simulate navigational aids, radio communications, and instrument failures. Widely used during World War II, over half a million military pilots trained in Link devices.

Commercial aviation grew tremendously after World War II. Pilot recruitment was not a serious challenge at first as military flight training programs had produced hundreds of thousands of skilled pilots and released them into civilian life. Many were happy to seize an opportunity to continue their piloting careers in peacetime. By the 1990s, however, the nature of pilot training had changed dramatically. Deregulation of the US airline industry caused demand for airline service to triple between 1975 and 2010. Concurrently, the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s significantly reduced the number of pilots being discharged from the military. Airlines increasingly sought to recruit new pilots from civilian flight training programs to fill out their ranks.

The civilian pathway to reach the “front office” of an airliner involves pursuit of a number of different certificates and ratings. Student pilots must secure a series of pilot certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration, most commonly Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, and finally Airline Transport Pilot. Each certificate requires completion of a ground-based course of instruction to learn relevant knowledge, a set number of hours of flight training, and a successful practical test (“checkride”) demonstrating to an examiner that the candidate is able to execute a required set of maneuvers. Potential airline pilots must also master the skills needed to secure additional ratings for instrument flight and operations in high performance and multi-engined airplanes.

Up until reaching Commercial Pilot, the accumulation of flying time is entirely at the student’s expense. Once Commercial Pilot is reached, a pilot may fly for hire in a variety of roles (most commonly as a Certified Flight Instructor) while continuing to accumulate flight hours needed for additional ratings and certificates. The road to ATP is a long and expensive one, which has served to limit the number of student pilots entering the “pipeline” each year.

Since the onset of the 21st century, air travel has begun to blossom worldwide at much the same rate it did in North America a few decades earlier. Between airline growth and pilot retirements, nearly a million new airline pilots are expected to be needed around the world over the next twenty years. Current military and civilian training programs are not on pace to produce this number of trained aviators, leading to a series of efforts to bring new candidates into the fold.

The Hiller Aviation Museum has long been a repository of flight simulation history and expertise. It displays a recreation of a 1930-era Penguin airplane and an authentic pre-war Link Trainer. Since 2008 its Flight SIm Zone has made quality flight simulation available to the public, and a Redbird FMX full motion flight simulator was added in 2015.

The Hiller Aviation Museum likewise seeks to boost awareness of and interest in aviation careers among young people. Over 10,000 students visit the Museum each year on school field trips, and more than 1,500 attend Aviation Camp. In July 2019 the Hiller Aviation Museum hosted its first Girls Aero Team program, a special initiative funded by the JetBlue Foundation focused on providing middle school girls with an exclusive glimpse of the opportunities offered in the world of flight. Featuring a special presentation by JetBlue Technology Ventures CEO and JetBlue Airlines captain Bonny Simi, Girls Aero Team is just one of many forms out outreach underway today to ensure a steady stream of enthusiastic and capable pilot candidates to meet the world’s growing need for aviators now and well into the future.



Marriott’s “Hermes”

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2019 by hillermuseum

By Jen Roger

“The ready genius of inventors…,” reached the height of its sentimentality in the 19th century with a commonly accepted understanding, that if one could think it, dream it, or invent it, one could do it, and perhaps none more than Frederick Marriott. As Mark Twain was noted for writing, it was, “in some genius’ brain [that] sleep[t] the solution of the grand problem of aerial navigation.”

The newspaperman turned eccentric inventor had, by his own admission, discovered and accomplished the triumph of aerial navigation, or did he? Marriott, an English-born immigrant to the California gold fields arrived in the state like so many others, seeking their fortune, but failing to find it in the rough and ready mining camps of the Sierra’s. Marriott’s gold was in his experience as a publisher and printer, and by 1856 he had established himself in just such a profession in San Francisco, with his first of several publications, The San Francisco Newsletter, and later The San Francisco Newsletter and California Advertiser, a satirical paper published between 1856 and 1926. He had experience in both publishing and advertising from his previous endeavors in England and, in particular, with his work with William H. Henson and John Stringfellow, both of whom had sought Marriott’s expertise in publishing and later his financial backing with their own attempts at aerial navigation.

What started as an agreement between a publisher and his clients readily turned into another business venture that Marriott could not resist. He and fellow investor D. E. Columbine, who had acted the part of Hanson and Stringfellow’s attorney and promoter, became backers of Hanson’s Aerial Steam Carriage Company in 1843. Their affiliations did not last long however and with capital for their aerial steam carriage model faltering, Hanson and Stringfellow urged Marriott and Columbine to sell them their shares in order to expedite construction.

Marriott’s business venture with Hanson and Stringfellow may have derailed his plans to involve himself in aerial navigation, but his interest remained and was only rekindled upon his relocating to San Francisco. Marriott had seen what he had supposed was a decided deficiency in the transportation options afforded mid-19th century Americans and between publications sought the construction of his own aerial steam carriage.

Marriott utilized the basement of his Montgomery street printing office to begin his own airship model and in 1866 Marriott filed for a certificate of incorporation in San Francisco as the Aerial Steam Navigation Company with fellow trustees Algernon Smith and James H. Gardner. They had found their investors who, like Marriott, stood at the ready for any new business venture that came their way. Marriott succeeded in finding funding with the notable local citizenry, including financier William C. Ralston. With the influx of capital Marriott and his investors re-branded themselves as the California Aerial Steam Navigation Company and set out to best the railroad at its own game.

Marriott was a firm believer that his Aerial Steam Carriage would be more practical and efficient than a transcontinental rail line, which had suffered at the hands of politicians, labor shortages and geographic obstacles, and a seemingly apropos position for Marriott, who had gained Ralston’s backing, the man who had financed the Comstock Lode rail lines and would be known for racing the train from the Valencia Street Station to his home in Belmont.

With the backing of his investors Marriott successfully relocated The California Aerial Steam Navigation Company to a barn built in San Jose near the San Jose and San Francisco Rail Yards, and Marriott hired a construction crew. The race for transportation dominance had begun and Marriott surely saw himself the winner. Travel to and from the East Coast, along with transportation across the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific was within reach and as the Newsletter reported, “Within four weeks the first aerial steam carriage, capable of conveying six persons, and propelled at a rate exceeding the minimum speed of thirty miles an hour [would be winging its flight over the Sierra Nevada.”

Newspapers across the country printed articles proclaiming Marriott’s lighter-than-air steam carriage the transportation advancement for the future, but Marriott and his investors had lost their gamble. The Northern and Southern Pacific rail lines joined at Promontory Point Utah on May 10, 1869, and edged Marriott out.

Hindered, but not stymied, Marriott continued with the construction of his model, dubbed Hermes and readied it for its first flights at Shell Mound Park along the Burlingame Bayfront. Marriott’s lighter-than-air aerial steam carriage constructed of “Bamboo, iron, steel and shirting muslin, coated with a peculiar varnish… [and appeared as a] hybrid between a fish and a long necked bird,” to those watching the spectacle. Marriott’s Avitor, Hermes, was a success in that the airship, which stood 37 feet long and eight feet wide and which was commonly referred to as being cigar shaped. The airship achieved lift through the aid of an eight-pound steam engine from which a spirit lamp was used to generate the heat in the boiler.

While Marriott’s design was certainly successful, it was far from the revolutionary advancement in transportation he had hoped for. His advancements in stabilization certainly added to the credibility of this steam carriage, but his Avitor faded quickly from public memory thanks in part to the untimely and accidental destruction of Hermes, but more to the point, the exponential growth of the railroads. Marriott tried again in the late 1870s with his plans for a heavier-than-air version of Hermes. However his patent application was denied due to the belief, on the part of the U.S. Patent office, that a heavier-than-air vehicle was impractical and would never fly.

Photo by Sagar Pathak

1. Mark Twain, “How Is Your Avitor,” Alta California, August 1, 1869, 4.
2. Hernandez, Richard A. “A Forty-Niner Banker and Editor Who Took a “Flier’ in Pioneering American Aviation.” Journal of the West No. 1 (July 1962): 403
3. “The San Francisco Aerial Steam Carriage,” Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Sunday, July 11, 1869, 3
4. “Aerial Navigation,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Wednesday, July 24, 1867, 4
5. “The New Aerial Steam Carriage,” Sentinel of Freedom, Tuesday, July 20, 1896, 4


Birth of an Icon

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2019 by hillermuseum Tagged:

50 years of the Boeing 747
By Jon Welte

Immediately following World War II, aeronautical technologies developed for war were applied to civilian use. In the realm of commercial air transport, a series of developments over two decades converged in the creation of the remarkable Boeing 747 – an aircraft that first flew half a century ago this February.

Well into the 1940s, even jet-powered airplanes had straight wings. In 1935, German engineer Adolf Busemann realized that rearward-swept wings would reduce drag at extreme speeds. World War II ended before aircraft such as the Messerschmitt P.1101 could take flight, but its elegant swept-wing shape foreshadowed many aircraft to follow.

Swept wings were useful for bombers as well. In 1945 a team of US engineers in Germany under Dr. Theodore von Karman discovered documents related to swept-wing aircraft. The discovery was quickly incorporated into a new medium bomber proposal under development at Boeing, a project that became the B-47 Stratojet.

Originally conceived as a straight-winged bomber, the B-47 evolved into the archetype for the modern jetliner. The German-style swept wing allowed for exceptional performance; six turbojet engines were placed in pods slung under the wings, to facilitate easy servicing or replacement and to dampen out instability. First flown in 1947, over 2,000 B-47s were built for the United States Air Force to serve in the Cold War.

While Boeing’s B-47 line prospered, by 1950 commercial aviation was dominated by piston-engined airplanes built by Douglas and Lockheed. Boeing sought to use the B-47’s technologies to re-establish itself in airliners. The result was the Model 367-80 prototype. Debuting in 1954, the -80 featured the swept wings and podded, underwing engines seen on the B-47. In 1955 Pan American World Airways ordered 20 of the larger production version, the Boeing 707. The 707 and aircraft like it transformed the face of air transportation, making long distance flights faster, smoother and safer than any air voyages had been before.

The success of the 707 emboldened Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s president, to push Boeing for development of an even larger jetliner. Boeing had participated in an Air Force competition in 1963 to build a large military airlifter. While Boeing lost the competition to Lockheed’s C-5, the effort created the foundation for the new aircraft. Designed under the leadership of Boeing engineer Joe Sutter, the new jetliner was intended to be capable of serving as a cargo carrier as well as an airliner. The wide main deck required two aisles when configured for carrying passengers, a first for a jet-powered airliner. And to facilitate the envisioned cargo mission, the flight deck would be placed on an upper level far above the passengers.

The 747’s upper level was not originally intended for passenger seating. The positioning of the flight deck atop the fuselage created extra drag on the aircraft at high speeds. Elongating the area behind the cockpit into an extended “hump” substantially reduced this drag. The relationship between wing area, fuselage area and drag was first recognized by German scientists during World War II, but was not adapted to postwar aircraft design until American aerodynamicist Richard Whitcomb rediscovered and published the idea as the so-called “area rule” in 1952. Ironically, Whitcomb’s inspiration was a lecture given by Adolf Busemann, father of the swept wing and a post-war immigrant to the United States.

The final key component of the 747 was its engine. Turbojet engines equipped the early 707s, but high fuel consumption made them unsuitable for a gigantic airplane intended to fly long distances. The Air Force competition that resulted in the Lockheed C-5 stimulated development of new high bypass turbofan engines. These engines direct large quantities of air around the engine core, mixing it with the hot exhaust blast. As much of the air entering the engine did not need to pass through the core, efficiency was boosted substantially. Boeing selected Pratt & Whitney to build the JT9 to power its 747.

The 747’s first flight took place at Everett, Washington on February 9, 1969. An extended period of testing followed which uncovered a range of teething issues, particularly with the engine. For a time, 747 production substantially outpaced JT9 engine production and dozens of engineless 747s accumulated on the ramp outside Boeing’s factory. In time, however, problems with the JT9 were resolved. The combination of size and range provided by the 747 gave it capabilities never before available in air transport. Many of the world’s premier airlines ordered it in quantity, as there was simply no substitute for it on many long range international routes.

Over the past half century over 1500 747s have been built in several major versions. The latest iteration is the 747-8, which entered service in 2011. While outwardly similar to the 747 of 1969, the -8 has new engines, improved wingtips, a lengthened fuselage and a host of technological improvements. Despite this, the 747 has been increasingly supplanted by smaller and more efficient twinjet airplanes able to fly comparable distances with more modest passenger loads. While existing 747s will continue to fly passengers for years to come, future production is likely to consist primarily of freighters – finally validating Joe Sutter’s guess from a half century before.

Since 1998 the Hiller Aviation Museum has exhibited the forward section and flight deck of a former British Airways Boeing 747-100. Sporting the livery of exhibit sponsor and Museum support Al Silver’s Flying Tigers cargo airline, the exhibit provides thousands of visitors each year an unparalleled opportunity to explore the flight deck of this remarkable aircraft.


747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet, Joe Sutter and Jay Spenser, 2006

Boeing 747 – Design and Development Since 1969, Guy Norris and Mark Wagner, 1997

The Sporty Game, John Newhouse, 1982


Swords to Plowshares

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2018 by hillermuseum

Pictured here from right to left: the donor Paul Seipp, Museum CEO Jeff Bass, and the FAA ferry pilot Rob Davids and his son.

The Fighting Heritage of the Aero Commander

By Jon Welte

Not long after the deafening roar of the final Schneider Trophy race echoed away, the state of the art in aeronautics was once again being advanced faster and farther. This time, the catalyst was war, not peace – authoritarian governments gained power in Europe and Asia, and across the world nations began to rearm once more. The value of air power had been established indisputably in World War I, and in the ensuing decades advancements made in air racing and also with long range flights such as Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 demonstrated that control of the air would be an essential prerequisite for success in future conflicts.

Despite much isolationist sentiment, the United States sought better aircraft for defense in the late 1930s as well, and thanks in part to the racing era was in a far stronger position to innovate than two decades earlier. In 1937, as the Luftwaffe reinvented aerial warfare in the skies over Spain and the airmen of Japan did their emperor’s bidding high above China, three particularly talented American engineers combined their efforts to conceive an all-new design.

The project, internally named Model 7A, was led by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Conceived by legendary designers Jack Northrop, Ed Heinemann, and Donald Douglas himself, the goal was to build a high speed bomber able to fly in contested airspace. The initial design fixed several key features in place – twin engines, a shoulder-mounted wing, and wing planform with a distinct reverse sweep along the trailing edge. While projected performance was impressive compared to contemporary US bombers such as the Martin B-10, the engines available at the time could not make the aircraft competitive with newly emerging threats such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 then making a devastating debut in combat.

Before long, the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine became available for the aircraft, more than doubling available horsepower. Now led by Ed Heinemann, the Douglas team created an improved Model 7B and submitted it as part of a US Army tender for a new attack plane. The Douglas team lost out to North American Aviation, which went on to build the B-25. However, the competition had been observed with great interest by French representatives. In short order the French Air Force placed an order for the new airplane redesignated DB-7, or Douglas Bomber 7. Production begun just as France entered World War II. Only threescore aircraft had been delivered when the German invasion of France began in earnest in 1940, and while they were among the most sophisticated bombers available to the French, they and the rest of the Armee de l’Air were overwhelmed as the French Army retreated before the German blitzkrieg.

Many DB-7s remained to be delivered when France surrendered to Germany in 1940. Those deliveries were diverted to Great Britain, where they saw service as the Boston I and Boston II. The Royal Air Force had a substantial stable of medium bombers available during the conflict, and employed its Bostons largely in night fighting and ground attack roles. One of the most unique variants was the Turbinlite modification, which essentially turned the aircraft into an enormous flying flashlight for use in illuminating German bombers at night.

Great Britain purchased many additional DB-7s during the war, as did other Allied nations. The United States ultimately adopted the type as well, designating it the A-20 Havoc. Used as a bomber, intruder and night fighter, the A-20 contributed to the war effort on behalf of many nations in theaters all around the globe.

Even as the A-20 went to war, a small group of Douglas engineers conceived of a role for the aircraft in the coming time of peace. Working after hours under the leadership of Douglas engineer Ted Smith, this scratch team designed a smaller airplane sharing many of the A-20’s distinctive design features. The Aero Design and Engineering Company was formed specifically to build the airplane and bring it to market. The prototype flew in 1948, and the first production model – the Aero Commander 520 – was built in 1951.

Originally conceived as a small, 7-passenger airliner for use serving secondary airports, the Aero Commander quickly found favor as a corporate transport. Able to carry up to seven passengers at 200 mph across distances of 1,000 miles per more, the Aero Commander was an ideal vehicle for executives and small business owners seeking to maximize their time while traversing the open spaces of 1950s-era America in pursuit of commerce. The Aero Commander’s military heritage also helped it achieve excellent performance when operating out of short airfields – a quality that led to one of its most remarkable “corporate” assignments. In 1955 the United States Air Force ordered a small force of Aero Commanders (designated U-4B in USAF service) for use as Presidential transports. Ideal for transporting President Eisenhower in and out of a small airstrip near his farm retreat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the Aero Commander was the smallest airplane to serve as Air Force One – though the now-distinctive call sign was not introduced until 1959, shortly before the retirement of both President Eisenhower and the U-4B.

The Aero Commander also gained fame as the favored steed of one of the nation’s most celebrated pilots. From 1979 to 1999, test pilot Bob Hoover piloted an Aero Commander 500U through an airshow routine that would be remarkable for any aircraft, let alone a twin-engined executive transport. Originally conceived as a means of promoting the airplane’s performance capabilities to potential buyers, Hoover’s performances culminated in an exceptional display of airmanship and aircraft energy management. Hoover would shut down both engines in flight and complete a loop, roll, approach and dead stick (unpowered) landing, often rolling back along the runway or ramp to show centerline. The last Aero Commander was produced in 1986, but Hoover continued to fly his performances until 1999.

In October 2018 the Hiller Aviation Museum welcomed a 1968 Aero Commander 500U to its collection. Generously donated by Paul Seipp, this aircraft displays many of the same design features engineered into the original, larger Douglas A-20 in 1937. Opened to the public November 21, the Hiller Aviation Museum’s Aero Commander ably demonstrates the remarkable features of an airframe first conceived more than 80 years ago.

Resources, Downloaded 31 Oct 2018

Forever Flying, Bob Hoover, 1997

Wreaking Havoc: A Year in an A-20, Joseph Rutter, 2003

Air Force One: A History of Presidents and Their Planes, Kenneth Walsh, 2003


Faster and Farther

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2018 by hillermuseum

Jimmy Doolittle and the Curtiss R3C-2

Aeronautical Advancements Between the Wars
by Jon Welte

A century ago this fall – November 11, 1918 – the guns fell silent on the Western Front, bringing an end to the terrors of the Great War. Today remembered as World War I, at the end of 1918 it was known instead as the War to End All Wars – a conflict so horrendous that surely another could never succeed it. The moniker and the rationale behind it proved tragically false, but the mood in 1918 was one of optimism for the future, tinged with sad remembrance of the past.

Though no other continent suffered World War I to the extent that Europe did, the change brought by the conflict spanned the world. Aviation, still in its infancy in 1913, experienced a tremendous burst of innovation and development during the war years. When battle was first joined in 1914, the airplane was an oddity with no clear military role. By the time of the Armistice in 1918, control of the air had become an essential pre-requisite for a successful land campaign. The frail machines flown early in the war were quite similar in performance to the 1905 Wright Flyer, the machine Wilbur and Orville considered to be their first practical flying machine. In contrast, by war’s end a proliferation of advanced designs had developed, filling niches in the ecosystem of military aviation undreamed of just a few years earlier.

Military conflict on a grand scale proved to be a tremendous accelerant to the pace of technological innovation in flight. The United States did not join the conflict until 1917, and when it did its domestically-developed and built aircraft were utterly outclassed by contemporary British, French and German designs. The country that saw the invention of the airplane in 1903 did not send a single aircraft to fly on a combat mission in World War I.

Following the war, air racing quickly took on the role of catalyzing new developments in aviation. The earliest aerial speed competition was not a true race, but instead an organized set of time trials similar to an Olympic alpine skiing event. Sponsored by newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett, the Gordon Bennett Trophy was first awarded to Glenn Curtiss in 1909. Curtiss sprang to fame by besting famed French aviator Louis Bleriot by mere seconds. Racing at Reims, France at a time when French aviation was both technically advanced and a source of intense national pride, the upset victory of the jaunty American was a jolt felt in aviation circles across the continent.

The Bennett Trophy was largely eclipsed by the Schneider Trophy after World War I. Established by Jacques Schneider, the Schneider Trophy was reserved for the world’s fastest seaplanes. Today the concept of a race for seaplanes seems absurd – the floats, pontoons and ship-like fuselages required for an airplane to operate from the water add enormous amounts of drag to an airframe. Until the late 1930s, however, the drag and weight disadvantages faced by seaplanes were modest compared to the challenges faced by landplanes. Absent a global network of paved runways, landplanes usually operated from open fields. Virtually every landplane mission in the first decades of flight would be considered an STOL (short take-off and landing) flight today. Seaplanes, in contrast, had access to much longer takeoff runs in the protected waters of harbors, lakes and bays. Freed from the constraints of making short/soft field take-offs and landings, seaplanes could be optimized for high performance.

The first Schneider Trophy races preceded World War I. The 1914 race was won by one of the first aircraft designed and built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, presaging its legacy of high performance fighter aircraft. Following the war, the race series resumed in earnest in Venice, Italy, giving emergent Italian aircraft designers a chance to shine. Italians won the race in consecutive years in 1920 and 1921. The rules of the Schneider Trophy competition stipulated that a team able to win three consecutive races would keep the trophy in perpetuity, giving the Italians an opportunity for an historic win in 1922. Standing in their way was a biplane flying boat constructed by a little-known aircraft manufacturer: the Supermarine Aviation Works.

Incorporated during World War I, Supermarine struggled to field an effective design and survived the war building components for Sopwith. After the war Supermarine found its niche building small numbers of seaplanes for the Royal Navy. A Supermarine airplane first appeared at a Schneider Trophy race in 1919, but sank ingloriously after striking debris on landing. Its 1922 entry, the Sea Lion II, remained afloat and dashed the hopes of the Italians, winning the competition and returning the trophy to the United Kingdom.

Throughout the 1920s, the Schneider competition inspired pilots, aircraft designers, and entire nations with the thrill of higher and higher speeds in a technology that seemed to have no limit. The United States, consigned as an aeronautical backwater during World War I, returned to prominence with a pair of victories in the 1920s, the second flown by James “Jimmy” Doolittle. The final competition was held in 1931, as a British team won a third consecutive victory to claim the trophy for all time. The aircraft that won each of the three final races were all developed by Supermarine.

Aeronautical technology accelerated at a breakneck pace throughout World War I and the racing era. Glenn Curtiss stunned the French by winning the Gorden Bennett Trophy in Reims at the blistering speed of 47 miles per hour. The Supermarine S6 that won the final Schneider race averaged 340 miles per hour just 22 years later. While seaplanes soon faded from importance, the knowledge gained in their development did not. Supermarine adapted what it had learned to build the exceptional Supermarine Spitfire, hero of the Battle of Britain. Rolls Royce, builder of the engines that powered the S-series racers, went on to design powerplants used in many combat aircraft, including not only the Spitfire but also the later (and most effective) versions of the North American P-51 Mustang.

Today, events such as the Reno International Air Races are largely for sport. Military aviation advances in response to perceived threats around the world, while developments in commercial flight stem from unending efforts by airlines to seek competitive advantages. In the time between the wars, however, it was the quest for racing glory that drove teams around the world to design, build and fly ever faster airplanes, transforming the technology of flight and inspiring a tradition of performance in aviation that continues to this day.

Aircraft of Air Racing’s Golden Age, Robert Hirsh, 2005
The Golden Age of Air Racing, S. H. Schmid, 1991
The Quest for Speed, Mike Roussel, 2016


Building a Dream

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2018 by hillermuseum

Stanley Hiller and the 20th Anniversary of
The Hiller Aviation Museum

by Jon Welte

Hiller Aircraft ceased to exist as an independent company in 1964, when it was purchased by and became a division of Maryland-based Fairchild Aircraft. Stanley Hiller Jr. remained involved with the merged entity for a short time, but ultimately left aerospace altogether and went on to a successful career reorganizing failed and struggling companies in a wide range of industries.

The dream of flight was one that was seldom far from Hiller’s heart, however. While the original Hiller Aircraft factory in Menlo Park was shuttered not long after the merger with Fairchild, Hiller retained many of its most iconic aircraft. As time went on, Hiller acquired a substantial collection of additional historic aircraft and aircraft replicas, many with special significance to the development of aviation in Northern California. The first “Hiller Aviation Museum” was a storage facility located in Redwood City that by the mid-1980s provided limited opportunities for public viewing of the collection. Space was limited, and by the early 1990s Hiller was planning a more appropriate venue for use as a showcase for Northern California’s contributions to aerospace.

By 1994, planning focused on a parcel of land available at San Carlos Airport. Through the first half of the 20th century San Carlos had boasted not one but two airports. Cooley Field operated alongside (and, in rainy weather, often beneath) the sloughs in modern Redwood Shores. The official San Carlos Airport was on higher ground between the Southern Pacific Railroad and Bayshore Highway. In 1950 both fields were replaced by a new San Carlos Airport at the current location, just east of the modern Bayshore Freeway. For Hiller, it seemed to many a perfect location.

Stan Hiller cultivated critical support for the new project while recruiting a team of local community and aviation leaders to help guide the organization through its foundational phase. In 1995 the San Carlos City Council provided unanimous support to the project, and on March 5, 1996, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors – responsible for administration of San Carlos Airport – did the same. Groundbreaking was held in October of that year, although in one of many Museum-related ironies the actual dirt used for the ceremonial first spade at the thoroughly-paved location was trucked in specifically for the event.

Construction was ongoing through most of 1996 and all of 1997. The Museum comprised three discrete structures: a northern building to house Museum offices, the library, and the Restoration Shop, a large, open hangar-type Gallery to house the aircraft themselves, and a central Atrium connecting the two to serve the additional purpose of providing a large space for special events. Operations shifted from the storage facility in Redwood City to a trailer parked behind the still-under-construction buildings. The Briefings newsletter, originally a mimeographed bulletin highlighting stories relating to aircraft on display or under restoration at the “old” museum, boasted the new San Carlos address starting in 1997. During this time the Hiller Aviation Museum acquired a remarkable new tool for dissemination information about the ongoing project: its own website.

As construction progressed, historic aircraft began to transfer to their new home. By nature of its size, the Boeing Condor was one of the first to be installed. Among the largest aircraft hanging suspended in any museum, hoisting the Condor into proper position required removing the topmost section of its vertical stabilizer. Additional aircraft soon arrived as well, ranging from the full-scale replica of the Marriott Avitor to the John Montgomery glider recreations. Interestingly, the first aircraft to go on exhibit at San Carlos Airport was not an airplane or helicopter positioned within the Museum, but rather the Hiller UH-12E-5. This unique helicopter was the only 5-seat variant of the venerable Hiller 360/UH-12 ever built. It was emplaced at its current location at the Burger King restaurant at San Carlos Airport in 1997, a year before the Museum itself opened to the public.

The Hiller Aviation Museum opened on June 5, 1998. Two ribbons were cut to mark the occasion. Stan Hiller used traditional scissors at the front of the Museum to admit the opening day crowd. Later that day a second ribbon was cut in more spectacular fashion by a Stearman biplane flying down the San Carlos Airport runway, starting a tradition of special airborne events that continues at the Hiller Aviation Museum to this day.

Stanley Hiller Jr. passed away in 2006. He saw his vision for a museum dedicated to preserving Northern California’s history of aviation innovation come fully to fruition, and left behind a legacy of creativity in aircraft design and of entrepreneurial perseverance. Since Opening Day in 1998, over one million visitors have found inspiration at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

This June Hiller Aviation Museum celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The Museum will celebrate the occasion with a bold new exterior, newly updated exhibits, special presentations on the life of Stanley Hiller Jr. and spectacular additions to this year’s Biggest Little Airshow on Saturday, June 2. Join the excitement as the Hiller Aviation Museum celebrates the past, honors its visionary founder, and looks forward to the next twenty years.


Briefings newsletter, Winter/Spring 1994 – Fall 1998

Rep, Jerry. Hiller Aviation Institute Museum, 2000


Lighting the Way

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2018 by hillermuseum

SFO Beacon on display

Visual Aids to Aerial Navigation
by Jon Welte

On October 7, 1903, Charles Manly sat at the controls of the Langley Aerodrome. The brainchild of Smithsonian Institution director Samuel Langley, the Aerodrome was the culmination of his research into heavier than air flight. A signal was given and the Aerodrome launched—and immediately plunged into the Potomac. A second attempt in December 1903 met the same watery fate. Manly, unharmed, was rescued each time.

Although the Aerodrome’s two ill-fated “flights” went nowhere, Charles Manly was clearly prepared for success. A pre-flight picture of Manly together with Langley shows him in his flying suit, which included a nautical compass sewn onto its left leg. Manly’s readiness showed that even in the earliest days of flight, navigation was a serious concern.

The potential for airplanes to travel rapidly over long distances was apparent from the start. In 1909, Louis Bleriot successfully flew across the English Channel—but without a compass, he initially navigated by following a destroyer of the French Navy. In the United States, initial efforts to cross wide expanses of countryside were undertaken by aircraft flying US Mail. The first flight, in May 1918, was scheduled from Washington, DC to New York City. The pilot became lost shortly after departure and landed to ask for directions, vividly demonstrating the ongoing shortcomings in aerial navigation.

Air mail served as an impetus to development of a nationwide aerial navigation system. By 1920 air mail service linked San Francisco and New York, yet the service was a hybrid. Mail flew by day and was transferred to trains overnight, taking nearly 3 days to complete the transcontinental journey. Night flight, especially over the vast and sparsely populated spaces of the western United States, was too dangerous to attempt. To solve this problem, a system of airway beacons was constructed.

Built between 1923 and 1933, airway beacons were intended to guide airmail pilots on night flights. Each beacon consisted of a 90’ tall tower topped by a rotating white beacon light, and a small building containing a gasoline-powered generator to power the beacon. The concrete footprint of each beacon formed the shape of a giant arrow, painted bright yellow to indicate the direction of the next beacon. Each individual beacon could be seen from 40 miles away in ideal conditions; a series of beacons about ten miles apart defined an airway, or route, across the country. The completion of the first transcontinental airway in 1923 permitted airmail to be flown coast to coast without the need to transfer to trains overnight, cutting the trip duration in half.

Airway beacons were developed in conjunction with airfields to service aircraft flying the mail. On the transcontinental airway between San Francisco and New York, stops at thirteen intermediate airports were made. These stops allowed for mail transfers, aircraft refueling and pilot changes. Airports received beacons of their own, with different color combinations to indicate airports of different types. Sequential green and white flashes denoted civilian land airports in the United States, a practice that continues today.

Airway beacons proliferated across the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, with over 1,500 installed. These beacons facilitated a form of navigation called pilotage, in which pilots compare landmarks on the ground with their plotted locations on an aeronautical chart. A network of airways soon spanned the United States, totaling more than 18,000 miles.

Even as the last airway beacons were being erected, however, their demise was at hand. Pilotage in general, and airway beacons in particular, required clear weather to provide a safe and sure means of navigation. In poor weather, early pilots relied on a different type of navigation known as dead reckoning—flying a known compass course at a known speed for a carefully measured period of time. Charles Lindbergh used dead reckoning to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, but while the technique sufficed to find a continent at the end of a 33-hour flight, it was insufficiently precise to thread a mountain pass, or find a small airfield. For that, greater precision was required—the precision that radio navigation could provide.

Although invisible to the naked eye, radio waves are able to shine through haze, clouds and darkness. Following a series of experiments undertaken by Jimmy Doolittle in 1929, low-frequency radio range (LFR) equipment was gradually installed along airways across the country. LFR signals required elaborate ground stations, but aircraft needed only a simple AM radio receiver to follow the signal. The station transmitted two signals on the same frequency—the letters A and N in Morse code. The pilot listened to the radio frequency while following the defined airway. If the pilot heard a steady tone in the radio headset, the aircraft was on the course line. If either letter became audible, the pilot would know to turn left or right to regain the course. Following an LFR course for long periods of time was mentally demanding of the pilot, but the equipment requirements were modest and the precision sufficient to allow for instrument approaches to airports in extremely poor visibility. LFR systems were widespread across the United States by the mid-1930s, and were the mainstay of commercial aviation operations until VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) equipment became available following World War II.

Airway beacons remained in use following the adoption of LFR radio ranges, and in fact early LFR stations were often co-located with airway beacons to define the same airways. Following the adoption of VOR navigation, however, the beacons gradually fell into disuse. By the 1970s most had been decommissioned, and today only a handful of beacons located in Montana remain operational. By 2020, just one operational airway beacon—located at MacDonald Pass, Montana—is expected to remain. In contrast, the white-and-green rotating beacons identifying airports are still a welcome and familiar sight to 21st-century aviators.

In 2017 the Hiller Aviation Museum acquired a decommissioned aerodrome beacon from San Francisco International Airport, The beacon was reconditioned by Restoration Shop volunteers and placed on display in February 2018. Retired after many years of service guiding aircraft from around the world to SFO, this new exhibit serves as a reminder of aerial navigation in a bygone era.

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