Published Date

August 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 37: Will There Be a Plane in Every Garage? (1945)

The personal plane of the postwar era will not be a super-duper Buck Rogerish aerial jalopy, capable of flying in any direction. What you can expect is a sound, simple, and safe airplane, built along the lines of the “grasshoppers” and “flying jeeps” now being used by the British and American armies for liaison work and artillery spotting. It will be like the Taylorcraft, Aeronca, Stinson, Fairchild, and Piper Cub planes which were popular before the war, but will carry the latest improvements that have been learned from wartime experience.

These aircraft will combine as high performance as is consistent with reasonable safety, comfort, and cost. They will be practically foolproof, but not darn-fool proof.

The typical postwar plane for private use will not be much harder to fly than an automobile is to drive—although the differences probably will always be considerable. Most private planes will probably be about 20 feet long and stand 6 to 10 feet high. They will have single air-cooled engines averaging about 65 to 75 horsepower for two-place and 125 to 250 horsepower for four- or five-place planes. They will be capable of climbing about 1,000 feet in 60 seconds, yet may be landed at safe, slow speeds. Most of the postwar family planes will have four seats, since the public seems to favor that number of accommodations.


All plastic or none?

Many of these planes will have features that are new to the light-plane field. For instance, they may have retractable landing gear that increases the speed of the plane as much as 20 to 30 miles an hour, permitting the use of lower horse-power engines; sound-insulation in the cabin to reduce the noise from the motor and permit conversation without shouting; controlled cabin heating; plastic domes and larger side windows, giving the pilot and passengers an unrestricted view; streamlined fuselages to conform with easy airflow; and perhaps tricycle landing gear.

Postwar private airplanes will be made of plastic-bonded veneer, plywood, aluminum, or fabric. Molded plastics and other types of plastics developed in the war may possibly find their way into a number of private plane models. The widespread use of plastics in these light planes will depend, however, upon the size of the market, since plastic dies and molds are expensive. Unless the production is high, it will be cheaper to use some other material. Some think that plastics will reduce the cost of airplanes; others doubt this.

The familiar solid wood propeller is cheap and lightweight. It will be standard equipment on most of the private airplanes. However, variable pitch, automatically controlled, metal propellers will be available to those who can afford them.

The familiar types

Private planes will probably be of three general types, each designed for a particular group of private flyers and built to meet their requirements.

First, there will be airplanes of conventional design but with greatly improved reliability and performance. These private aircraft will carry from two to eight passengers, and travel at speeds of from 90 to 200 miles an hour, with a cruising range of 400 to 600 miles. Some of them will have twin engines, but the majority will be single-engine planes. In price, they may range from $1,500 to $20,000. These planes will be ideal for the live-wire aviation enthusiasts who use their planes for sport, recreation, or business.

Next, there will be medium-priced, medium-performance “armchair” planes. They will be slower and less maneuver-able, but simpler and safer to fly. This type of plane was developed before the war, and is designed for the average amateur aviator, who is less interested in the finer points of flying than in getting about for a Sunday spin or a short cross-country trip. These planes do not stall or spin. They get their spinproof characteristics through “two control” operation, instead of three. This means that the ailerons and rudder controls are synchronized and rudder pedals eliminated. Equipped with tricycle landing gear, they are easy to get off the ground and to land. Aircraft of this type will carry two or more passengers at speeds of from 90 to 140 miles an hour. They will probably cost from $1,500 to $10,000—with the great majority of the planes at the lower price levels.

Pusher planes

A modern version of the airplane which Orville and Wilbur Wright flew at Kittyhawk may be offered on the postwar private plane market. This is the pusher plane, on which the propeller faces to the rear, behind the pilot and passenger cabin. There are no engines or propellers out front to hinder the view when flying, and the danger of someone getting tangled up in the whirling propeller blades when the plane is on the ground is greatly reduced. In other respects—performance, construction, and cost—the pusher plane is quite similar to the conventional planes just mentioned.

Water birds

If you are nautically minded, you’ll probably have your eye on a flying boat or an amphibian plane. Amphibians have the advantage of being at home on land or water. This gives the owner a wider choice than a land plane does of home, base and places to visit.

Although they are more costly than land planes of corresponding power or capacity, all-metal amphibians may prove popular with men who use their planes for business trips. The higher cost may be justified by the plane’s utility value.

Most amphibians will have two motors, cruise at around 140 miles an hour, and fly as high as 15,500 feet. The cabin of one of these planes will be the miniature of a big airliner cabin, accommodating a pilot and several passengers. There will be ample space for baggage, salesman’s sample cases, or what you will. In fact, it would be possible for one man to set up housekeeping in the cabin.

Landplanes, like those mentioned above, can readily be converted into seaplanes by taking off the landing gear and substituting pontoons or floats. Although floats are not cheap, a converted landplane is less expensive than an amphibian.

The unfamiliar types

Finally there will be the more revolutionary types of aircraft. These include helicopters, jet-propelled planes, rocket ships, and cars that fly or roadable airplanes with folding or detachable wings which are at home either in the air or on the ground. Engineering problems still remain to be solved before these new types can be offered to private airplane buyers. It is probable that at least five or ten years will pass before any of this group finds widespread use.

For many years aeronautical engineers and designers have been toying with ideas for an automobile that can fly or a plane that can be driven along highways. Eventually this very desirable hybrid may be born. To date, however, the results have been contraptions that were neither very good automobiles nor very good planes. In roadability, comfort, and safety they did not meet automotive standards. The extra weight of four wheels, power transmission, and other parts needed for ground travel seriously handicapped their performance in the air.

One of the most practical ideas advanced in this field has been an automobile, which looks more like a plane fuselage on wheels than a present-day car, fitted with detachable wings, which can be stored at the airport, leaving the car free to be driven home.

Sunday supplement airplanes

If private airplanes could take advantage of all the technological advancements coming out of the war, the result would probably be a craft driven by a stream of gas at speeds as high as 550 miles an hour. It might recall fantastic Sunday supplement pictures of future planes.

It would be a jet-propelled plane, looking something like a cross between the P-38 Lightning and the P-40 Warhawk. It would be equipped with electronic anticollision devices and television screens that would make possible a perfect three-point landing in dense fog. It would have a push-button radio for instrument flying. The plane would accommodate four persons in comfortable chairs, whose positions could be adjusted to suit the passengers’ whims.

Such a plane, with possibly an engine instead of a jet-propelled unit, seems to be what the American public dreams of in peacetime private planes. Its cost, however, would place it well beyond the reach of all except the most wealthy enthusiasts.

What’s the truth about helicopters?

Right about here someone usually asks, “What about helicopters?”

The helicopter has a future, there’s no doubt about that. Its basic principle has been demonstrated to be feasible. Recognized authorities agree, however, that certain engineering problems remain to be solved before a practical helicopter can be put on the market for family purchase. This will require perhaps ten years of research and development, perhaps less. At any rate, don’t expect to go down and pick out your helicopter on V-Day—engineers have a lot more work to do on it before it’s ready for merchandising.

The helicopter can be either a useful everyday convenience or a luxury—depending on where you live. If your home is in a suburban or rural district, the helicopter can take you to and from work daily in comfort and with speed. You won’t get tied up in a traffic jam or have to stop for red lights or wait for a ferryboat. You will not need an elaborate landing field. Any level plot of ground 50 feet in diameter will suffice. This plot need not be adjacent to your helicopter garage. It can be several blocks away, for it is thought that helicopters will be built so that they can be driven along streets for short distances. Naturally, if you live in a city or congested area you will not find everyday use for the helicopter. You might use it for pleasure trips over the week end or holidays. In this case your helicopter will be a luxury.

Will helicopters replace small planes?

From the standpoint of operating economy, the helicopter has every advantage over conventional airplanes of like size. The owner must be willing, however, to forego speed for low operation cost. While the helicopter can be used for cross-country travel, it moves through the air at comparatively slow speeds-the top being about 150 miles an hour. The conventional private plane will get you over long hops faster. Today, the best engineering brains and powerful financial interests are pushing the development of the helicopter. It is impossible to predict what the outcome may be.

Luxurious cabin furnishings, upholstered seats, roll-down windows, and most of the conveniences found in the better automobiles will probably be incorporated in the helicopter. Four-passenger helicopters, completely furnished, and equipped with 300- to 400-horsepower engines, will sell for around $10,000. The nominal price tag on the two-passenger utility helicopter has been estimated to be about $5,000. If there is a big demand for the “flying windmill” the price may go even lower.

In addition to small, private-model helicopters, larger ones capable of carrying 40 persons, powered by 2,500-horsepower engines, and with rotors (the windmill-like propellers overhead) that cut 70-foot arcs, are in the realm of possibility.

The biggest technical problems that hold back the development of the helicopter are: vibrations of the rotors and of the smaller propeller on the tail; the automatic stability of the craft; and the speed and load in relation to the horse-power required. It is also said to have poor performance at high altitudes.

Is it easy to fly a helicopter?

The experts disagree on whether helicopters are or will be easy for ordinary persons to learn to fly. On the one hand are the manufacturers, one of whom has announced postwar production of a helicopter sedan that he says will be easier to operate than many automobiles. Another, while he doesn’t think helicopters will be any easier to fly than standard planes, believes that any good motorist can learn how to do it.

This second manufacturer points out that the beginner need lift the machine only a few inches off the ground at first in order to move around slowly and cautiously. In this way he can gain skill and confidence gradually and without risk.

On the other side of the argument are such men as Grover Loening, chairman of the helicopter committee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. According to Mr. Loening, the helicopter is an even more professional apparatus than the airplane. He believes that for the next few years it will be limited to use by professional pilots and aviation companies. “It is not at all a vehicle to be placed in the hands of the public,” Mr. Loening contends, and he states that helicopters are hard to learn to fly.

Helicopters, he predicts, will be bought by companies who will hire pilots to fly them for exploration work and to carry personnel and goods to inaccessible places. The United States Coast Guard is almost certain to have over 90 percent of its future air fleet in the form of helicopters.

Will the helicopter replace the automobile?

The helicopter will do many things that it is impossible for a car to do, and it will do many things that the car can do, only much better. It can land almost anywhere, even on swampy marsh land or on water (with rubber bag floats). Where it can’t land, as in thick forests or on rough, rocky terrain, it can hover in mid-air a few feet over the spot and lower a rope ladder by means of which you can reach the ground.

On the other hand, it would not be practical for you to jump into a helicopter and flit down to a newsstand a few blocks away to pick up a Sunday paper. You’d be better off using an automobile on such a trip through city streets. The auto and the helicopter supplement each other very well. You can use your car in crowded congested urban areas and your helicopter for all other travel.

For Discussion

Disregarding cost, which would you rather have, a conventional airplane, a helicopter, or a flying boat? Why? Should the helicopter be limited to usage by professional pilots? Do you think that the helicopter will replace the automobile? Private plane? If you knew that you would have to wait five years before you could buy a helicopter, would you invest in a conventional airplane in the meantime or wait until the helicopter is ready?

Next section: Is Buying a Plane Just Like Buying a Car?