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Part 23

Part 23 of Wonders of World Aviation was published on Tuesday 9th August 1938, price 7d.

This part included a colour plate showing a Swissair Douglas DC-2 airliner. This had previously appeared as the cover to

Part 8. It illustrated the article on Over the Alps.

The Cover

Our cover picture this week shows the engines of one of the latest French Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow) aeroplanes built by Couzinet. It is a low-wing monoplane with three Gnome-Rhone engines. The wing span is nearly 100 feet and the aeroplane is able to carry 2,420 gallons of petrol.

The engines of one of the latest French Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow) aeroplanes built by Couzinet

Contents of Part 23

Advance of the Empire Air Mail (part 2)

Evolution of the Fighter

Over the Alps

Swissair Douglas DC-2 (colour plate)

Cobham’s Pioneer Empire Flights - 2

Kite Balloons (Part 1)

Evolution of the Fighter

Fighting in the air began before the end of 1914. Its beginnings were crude. Lieutenant G. W. Mapplebeck, the first British pilot to be wounded in the air, was hit on September 22, 1914, by a rifle bullet fired from a German Albatross aeroplane flying below him. British observers used rifles to shoot at German aeroplanes. Soon they began to contrive ways to mount a Lewis gun to fire from the rear seat of Avros and B.E.s. The first attempt at really aggressive air fighting was made by the French in 1915. This chapter, contributed by Captain Norman Macmillan, describes the development of the fighter. Derived from the Scout, the fighting machine quickly developed into a formidable weapon of offence.

This is the second article in the series on Aeroplanes of the Great War.

(Pages 617-622)

Cobham’s Pioneer Empire Flights - 2

The many letters of appreciation which followed the publication, in Part 10, of the story of Sir Alan Cobham’s early flights have emphasized the keen interest which attaches to those great achievements of pioneer Empire flying. In this chapter, by P. R. Bird, the story of these exploratory air journeys is continued with details of a particularly impressive feat. This was the virtual encirclement of Africa in the Singapore I, an all-metal biplane flying boat. She was built at the Short Brothers’ works on the Medway, and powered by two Rolls-Royce engines of the Condor type.

Her flight round Africa was planned more ambitiously than its predecessors. Instead of taking only one or two companions, Sir Alan Cobham was accompanied by Lady Cobham, an assistant pilot, an engineer and assistant engineer, and a cinematographer - a complement of six.

The total length of the flight was about twenty thousand miles. Great stretches of the route had never been flown over before, and scarcely any of it by a flying boat. In those twenty thousand miles every kind of obstacle was met, and the story of this flight is essentially the story of how indomitable determination can overcome difficulties and ill fortune.

The success of this great venture inaugurated an important new era of transportation in Africa. Today the great African air routes are well equipped with modern aids to flying. In 1927 Sir Alan Cobham faced a route which had never before been covered from the air, and he faced it when aids to landing were primitive or non-existent. Such a task as his called for superlative skill and organizing ability and entailed many dangers that will never recur in these days of improved equipment. The unprecedented flight of the Singapore I over uncharted areas will always rank as one of the most notable examples of aerial survey.

(Pages 629-635)

British Kite Balloons

THE BRITISH KITE BALLOON SERVICE came into being after a report by Wing Commander (later Air Commodore) E. M. Maitland, who had inspected a Belgian kite balloon at work near Dunkirk, France, in January 1915. The first kite balloons were spherical in shape, but they were replaced, first by sausage-shaped and then by streamlined types. In the photograph a cable is being attached to a kite balloon at Larkhill, Wiltshire.

(Page 636)

At Kisumu, Kenya

AT KISUMU, KENYA, on the England-South Africa route, before the introduction of the Empire flying boats. Passengers are being transferred from the Horsa (right) to the Andromeda (left). The Horsa is one of the Hannibal class of Handley Page 42 four-engined biplanes. The Andromeda belongs to the Atalanta class. The Atalanta Armstrong Whitworth four-engined monoplanes have a cruising speed of 125 miles an hour. They were specially designed to meet the geographic and climatic conditions on the African route.

(Page 615)

Advance of the Empire Air Mail (Part 2)

Nigel Tangye describes the development of the Empire air mail routes to South Africa, India and Australia. The article is concluded from part 22.

(Pages 613-616)

Douglas DC-2 Airliner of Swissair

FIVE RADIO AERIALS ARE USED on this Douglas DC-2 air liner of Swissair. The loop aerial, the top part of which is visible above the pilot’s cabin, is used for direction finding and homing radio. A fixed aerial runs backwards from the mast next to the loop aerial. This fixed aerial is used for communication when the air liner is on the ground or near the ground. During normal flight a trailing aerial is lowered through the tube underneath the fuselage. The weight on the end of the aerial is visible at the bottom of the tube. The remaining two aerials are used for the Lorenz system of radio-assisted blind approach. One consists of the two short horizontal tubes placed below the fuselage near the trailing aerial tube; the other is a short vertical rod arranged up the side of the mast which supports the fixed aerial.


(Facing page 624)

This plate previously appeared as the cover to Part 8.

Sir Alan Cobham’s Flight

A THE AFRICAN COAST was virtually encircled in Sir Alan Cobham’s flight. The continent was reached at Benghazi, in the Italian colony of Libya, and was finally left at a point in Morocco opposite Gibraltar. Subsidiary to the main flight was a special test flight from lake Victoria, East Africa, to Khartoum and back. This test flight, undertaken at the instance of the Colonial Office, added 2,700 miles to the journey. On the homeward route, Cobham left the inhospitable Sahara coast and flew by way of the Canary Isles to Casablanca.

(Page 630)

Kite Balloons (Part 1)

In these days of intensive re-armament many well-established theories about defence tactics are obsolete, or are held to be obsolete. There is a school of experts which believes that the Bren automatic gun must now be the primary weapon of the infantryman. There are those who would dispense with the rifle, and there is yet another school of opinion which would dispense with all infantry troops. Then there are the experts who would scrap capital ships because they are alleged to be useless against aircraft attack.

With the rights and wrongs of these controversies we need not concern ourselves here, but it is curious how often yesterday’s favourites continue to keep their place alongside more advanced things. There are, for example, the kite balloons, which form the balloon barrage for the defence of London and other large cities. One might assume from some of the descriptions and reports of the balloon barrage and of kite balloons that these were among the latest defensive improvements or innovations.

On the contrary, the first kite balloon to be used on active service was at the battle of Fleurus, in Belgium, during the French Revolutionary Wars, in 1794. The idea was first seriously considered by the authorities in Great Britain in 1845, but it was not adopted until the early part of the twentieth century.

During those intervening years, however, Germany had produced the first “sausage-shaped” kite balloon, as we know it to-day. This was called the Drachen type; its capacity was 28,300 cubic feet, and it was still being used by Germany at the outbreak of the war in


During the war of 1914-18 the kite balloon made considerable advance, and today, in improved forms, such balloons are a vital part of schemes of air defence.

In this chapter, Captain J. A. Sinclair writes of the development of the kite balloon from its experimental days until now. The article is concluded in part 24.

(Page 636)

Singapore I

THE DEPARTURE. The flying-boat Singapore I took off from the River Medway on November 17, 1927. In this photograph Lady Cobham is waving good-bye and Sir Alan Cobham is at the controls. The complement of six was completed by four men - Worrall (assistant pilot), Green (Rolls-Royce engineer), Conway (assistant engineer), and Bonnett (cinematographer).

(Page 629)

The Vickers “Gun-Bus”

KNOWN POPULARLY AS THE VICKERS “GUN-BUS”, the Vickers F.B.9 (1915-16) was a pusher-type two-seater, with a 100 horse-power nine-cylinder rotary engine driving a propeller turning between the four tail booms. The speed was 79 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 75 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. A Lewis gun was mounted as shown in front of the forward cockpit.

(Page 617)

Over the Alps

One of the most mountainous countries in Europe is scarcely the region to look for up-to-date air services. Yet Switzerland, despite the natural difficulties of the country, has in Swissair - the Swiss Air Traffic Co, Ltd, of Zurich - one of the most progressive of European air line companies. A visitor to Croydon Airport cannot fail to be impressed by the high standard of efficiency presented by the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 machines flying to and from Zurich.

It is a far cry from the luxury of present-day air transport to the hardships of the pioneering days. The Swiss pioneers had to learn to fly in foreign machines outside their own country. Many of them went to France. The first exhibition of flying in Switzerland was given at Geneva, in August 1910, when various Swiss aviators distinguished themselves. In 1911 Faillonbaz, one of the pilots at the Geneva Meeting, made what was then a noteworthy cross-country flight in western Switzerland of 15 miles in 15 minutes. Another important air meeting was held in 1911 at Berne, the Swiss capital. In 1919 Major Isler, then in charge of Swiss military aviation, landed his machine on the glacier of the Jungfraujoch. Other aviators practised in the Alps and learned much about local eddies and air disturbances in their efforts to master Alpine flying.

An outstanding figure of Swiss civil aviation was Walter Mittelholzer, who, with Alfred Comte, founded the first Swiss aviation company at Zurich, in May 1919. Then the Ad Astra Company was formed to operate inside Switzerland. In 1926 the Basle Air Traffic Company (Balair) was founded to operate international routes. In 1931 both companies were amalgamated and Swissair was formed to develop civil aviation. The centre of Swiss aviation is Dubendorf Airport, Zurich. The services include those from Zurich and Basle to London, to Paris, to Munich and to Berlin, and from Geneva to Paris.

One of the features of civil aviation in Switzerland is the organization of Alpine flights from Zurich. The passenger in one of the Swissair machines enjoys a few hours’ mountaineering without any of mountaineering’s hardships. Swiss air enterprise is the subject of this chapter, by Sidney Howard, which describes how Swiss pilots have conquered the high mountains which were once a bar to flying in Switzerland.

(Pages 623-628)

St Moritz Aerodrome

SWISSAIR MACHINES on the aerodrome at St Moritz. The aircraft in the foreground is a De Havilland Dragon Rapide and the one in the background is a Douglas DC-2. The Swissair Company was formed in 1931 by the amalgamation of the two companies Balair and Ad Astra. The Swissair Company was one of the first in Europe to use fast American air liners.

(Page 623)

Swiss International Air Routes

THE INTERNATIONAL AIR ROUTES TO AND FROM SWITZERLAND are operated by Swissair in collaboration with the countries touched by each route. The internal routes are operated by the Alpar Company, whose headquarters are at Berne. Because of the mountainous nature of the country there are not many aerodromes in Switzerland. Dubendorf Airport, near Zurich, is the most important.

(Page 624)

AT KISUMU, KENYA, on the England-South Africa routeThe Vickers “Gun-Bus”THE INTERNATIONAL AIR ROUTES TO AND FROM SWITZERLANDA Douglas DC-2 air liner of SwissairThe flying-boat Singapore I took off from the River Medway on November 17, 1927A cable being attached to a British kite balloon at Larkhill, Wiltshire.