Wedding vows usually include, “…for better, for worse, till death do us part.”
No, this week is not going to be a tale of weddings or marriage. It’ll be about airline travel, the best of it, the worst of it, a field in which I’ve had lots of experience, but one where I don’t claim to have any significant expertise.
There are five main characters in my story: Douglas DC-3; Vickers Viscount; Boeing 747, BAC Concorde and the fifth, yet to be found. The casting search is still on-going. Also in the cast are Orville, Traffic Congestion, Terrorists and Wheels.
The time setting begins with Orville on Dec. 17, 1903, includes today, and continues into an unknown future. If you are old enough to know how much a gallon is, compared to a liter, and can remember when a gallon of automobile fuel cost $0.32, then the narrative of this week’s story will be familiar to you.
Scene one about practical airline travel: it was made possible after the twin-engine DC-3 made its first flight on Dec. 17, 1935. Its 30 or so passengers made their way to the airport along pleasant two-lane country roads. A passenger could easily carry her modest suitcase as she climbed aboard, then walked forward along its sloping floor. (It’s a ‘tail dragger’.) Her friends could wave good-bye from the terminal’s observation deck. The flight speed was six times faster than rural road limits. The cabin was a bit noisy. Flying in hot weather felt like a bumpy road. Altitude was low enough to identify the varieties of crops and identify the breeds of grazing cattle.
Most were first-time fliers and were exhilarated by this new travel experience. Upon landing, they didn’t have to hunt for their luggage, but because all suitcases were plain, care had to be taken before retrieving.
Scene two: enter the turboprop Viscount. Its first flight was July 16, 1953. Thanks to its tricycle undercarriage, the cabin floor was level. Windows were oval and three times the size of the DC-3’s. Its four engines hummed softly (didn’t know the words), but also whistled a bit (still no sheet music). Cruising altitude now required pressurization, but adequate heating and air-conditioning were available. Cruising speed was four times the speed limit on our 400 series highways. In some aspects, the Viscount was at the apogee of regional air travel.
Next week will be about elephantine aircraft and one that flew faster than a speeding bullet. It will be “…the best of times and the worst of times” of airline travel.