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Commercial Aviation from the 1920’s-1930

The start of scheduled passenger services in the United States was not known, according to Roger Bilstein an aviation historian.  Passengers were transported by Silas Christofferson via hydroplane from San Francisco to Oakland harbors in 1913.  A Benoist flying boat successfully flew passengers from Tampa to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1914.

Lawson C-2 was the first multiengine airplane designed for commercial air travel.  Alfred W. Lawson built it in 1919.  Since there are cheaper military airplanes available the Lawson C-2 did not become successful.  Lawson built another model called L-4; this can carry 34 passengers and about 6,000 pounds of mail.  It crashed on its test flight and discouraged the development of large planes.

Commercial Aviation from the 1920’s-1930 Picture

Inglis Uppercu a Florida entrepreneur began scheduled international passenger flights in 1920, initially from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba.  Soon other routes were added such as, between Miami and the Bahamas, between New York and Havana.  There is also a Midwest, between Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan.  His company was named “Aeromarine airways” it has 15 flying boats and made 2,000+ flights with 10,000 passengers.  A plane crash killing four people made Aeromarine Airways lose business in 1924.

The birth of U.S. commercial air transportation and United Airlines was when Walter T.  Varney began contract airmail services from Pasco, Washington, and Elko, Nevada, through Boise, Idaho.  

Seven years after the first official airmail flight, 1925, U.S. Post Office airplanes sent 14 million letters, packages a year.   Airmail was very popular with bankers and businessmen.

It was in 1926 when Air Commerce Act was implemented, this authorized the Secretary of Commerce to plan air routes, build up air navigation systems, test and license pilots and aircrafts, and investigate accidents.  The carriers were then obliged by law to base pay to the weight of mail.  This all started with the appointment of Dwight Morrow to develop a national aviation policy.  

In the 1920s, Harry Guggenheim a multimillionaire and aviation enthusiast started a foundation, which aims on teaching aeronautical engineers and developing flight instruments.  He gave funding to the Western Air Express to check if airlines can live on passenger fares alone, but the company barely made enough money without airmail.

Investments in aviation stocks significantly rose between 1927 and 1929.  This was brought about by Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo flight to Paris.

Travelers could cross the country faster by train than by air at the end of 1920s.  It was not comfortable to travel by plane because of the un-insulated thin sheets of metal that made noise in the wind.  The cabins were not pressurized.  In spite of this, airline passengers in the U.S. grew in number from 6,000 to 173,000 in the span of 1926 to 1929.  Majority were businessmen.

U.S.  Airlines’ planes have enough capacity for 15 passengers.  Fuselage has a corrugated design and the plane depends on a Ford Trimotor 5-AT. 

In the 1920s, manufacturers transferred near airports.  There were aeronautical schools that taught airplane engineering, design, and operation.  New technologies were being developed that gave potential for commercial aviation expansion.

Harry Guggenheim set up a full flight laboratory, which developed very helpful navigational tools like the barometer, artificial horizon and gyroscope and radio direction beacon for landing.  In September 1929 James Doolittle a U.S. army lieutenant benefited from these tools when he had to land the plane without his vision.

Huge progress as it may seem still did not make passenger travel exclusive airlines profitable up to the 1930’s.

Read also: History of Flight - Man tries to fly like the birds
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