Published Date

December 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 17: How Free Are the Skyways? (1945)

Almost alone among the allies, the United States continued to construct transport planes during the war. Therein lies this country’s prime advantage in any peacetime race for routes and traffic.

To indicate to the rest of the world that we do not intend to exploit this advantage unfairly, the United States government announced to the Chicago conference that when the war ended America would supply other countries with planes from its military surplus.

During the war the United States—and to a lesser degree, Britain—developed planes not only for wartime but for postwar needs.

The planes designed for international transport after the war will be far superior to those used before the war. Most of them are on view and many made history with their daily runs on ATC and NATS routes.

Most of these planes have four motors, and each motor has 2,000 or 2,200 horsepower—the De Haviland plane that inaugurated international transport in 1919, between London and Paris, had one motor of 345 horsepower.

Whereas the Pan American Clipper of prewar days traveled 165 miles an hour crossing the ocean, these modern planes are far more speedy. In the spring of 1944 a Lockheed Constellation—whose wing span of 123 feet is greater than the distance the Wright brothers flew in their first flight in a plane—flew from Burbank, California, to Washington, D. C., 2,400 miles, in 6 hours, 57 minutes, and 51 seconds, an average of 330 miles an hour.

A few months later another new sky giant, the Boeing Stratocruiser, transport brother of the B-29 bomber, flew from Seattle to Washington in slightly less time—6 hours, 3 minutes, and 50 seconds, averaging 383 miles an hour. The best fighter plane America had on Pearl Harbor Day wasn’t that fast.


We are betting on these

The United States has developed both land planes and flying boats. Before the war the flying boat was the usual craft used for crossing the ocean. But today land planes regularly make long over-water hops.

The outstanding flying boat developed in the United States during the war is the Martin Mars, a flying warehouse that weighs 70 tons. It has a range of 7,500 miles—enough to cross the Pacific in one hop.

But it is the land plane to which the United States has devoted most attention. Before the war, the standard transport plane within the United States and in many countries abroad was the two-engined DC-3 made by Douglas Aircraft Company.

During the war this plane’s big brother went into service—the DC-4, or the C-54 as the Army knows it. It can carry 44 passengers. The manufacturer is improving the model that the Army has been using so that it will be more efficient. A still bigger brother is the 50-passenger DC-6.

The Constellation is a 60-passenger plane with a lower operating cost than the DC-6. Another four-motored transport the Army has been usin2- is the C-87, a noncombat twin of the Liberator bomber. But its operating cost is so high that it will probably not be flown commercially now that the war is over.

The Mars, the DC-6, the Constellation, and the Stratocruiser are the “big four” planes with which the United States faces the future.

Britain’s contenders

Britain announced the design of seven new transports during the war, but constructed only one of the seven.

British energies in plane construction were primarily devoted to combat needs, to the mighty bombers like the Lancaster and such fierce fighters as the Spitfire, Hurricane, and Typhoon.

Outstanding among the British commercial designs for the future are these:

The Brabazon—100 tons, 250 miles an hour, capacity for 50 passengers and two tons of mail.

The Tudor—32 tons, 220 miles an hour, capacity for 12 passengers, pressurized cabin, for transatlantic service.

The Avro York—four-engined (1,260 horsepower each), 230 miles an hour, 50 passengers, 3,000-mile range. This brother of the Lancaster bomber is in production and is flying the North Atlantic.

Are there too many planes on hand now?

An important question whose answer throws some light on the future of air transport is how many planes all the world’s lines will need for peacetime operation.

They got along on relatively few before the war. United States domestic airlines were using only 371 transports when war came and our international lines, 82. But in 1944 one U. S. line, United, ordered 50 four-motored planes (15 DC-4’s and 35 DC-6’s) for later delivery and another line, Eastern, ordered 14 Constellations.

Sales of surplus American military transports to foreign buyers began late in 1944. A subcommittee of the Military Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives has estimated that there will be a world demand for a good deal of the military surplus—for 100 C-54’s and for from 280 to 1,975 of the Army’s two-engined transports, the C-47, C-53, C-46 (Curtiss-Wright Commando), and C-93 (Budd cargo plane).

Lord Beaverbrook, formerly in charge of coordinating British postwar civil air transport policy, passed on an estimate that the world would be using some 15,000 planes after the war.

The war has brought the use of jet-propulsion in combat planes, and this revolutionary principle, adding to speed, will be applied to civil planes. So will rocket starting, which enables planes to get into the air after a relatively short run on the ground and with far heavier loads than planes could lift without rockets.

How many paying passengers?

Interesting as the modern planes are, they will be common sights in the skies over the Atlantic and Pacific, above the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Asia only if there is enough business to keep them running.

Planes are natural carriers into regions which neither ships on the sea nor trains nor automotive transport can reach from the outside world. This explains the success of airways in Latin America, interior Africa, and northern Siberia, where farmers who never saw a train are quite used to the giants of the sky.

They are naturals, too, for those passengers who have to make a long journey swiftly, say from New York to Rio de Janeiro, New York to London, or San Francisco to the Far East, and who can hang the cost. And they are naturals for transporting cargoes of great value which take small space, like diamonds, or which are perishable, like expensive tropical flowers.

Planes have become common carriers of the mail. Between parts of the British Empire, all mail was carried by plane before the war wherever a route existed that made it possible.

Will airplanes attract enough passengers and enough freight to make intercontinental plane travel as common as steamship travel? Some students of the problem think that, in time, they might attract more travelers than the steamships. Certainly they will make future travelers of many present stay-at-homes.

How much must they pay?

So far as passengers are concerned, the matter of fares will have a good deal to do with their desire to travel by plane. Several years ago the United States Maritime Commission expressed the view that transatlantic planes would supersede the great luxury liners. But first-class tickets on those liners were in a price class with prewar tickets on transoceanic planes.

During the war ATC carried priority civilian passengers on important missions for twelve cents a mile. That is about $360 from New York to Eire. Train fares average around three cents a mile. Late in 1945 Part American World Airways dropped its New York-Eire fare from $525 to $275, but then had to raise it again to $375. The original fare charged on this flight in 1939 was $337, and Pan American has forecast a fare of $137 if it gets projected equipment and Civil Aeronautics Board approval of all pending applications.

A number of airlines have announced low peacetime fares they hope to be able to charge if costs, traffic, and other considerations permit. Pan American hopes to cut its New York-Rio fare from $419 to a future $175. TWA looks forward to a possible charge of $193.50 between New York and London. Pennsylvania-Central hopes, to carry passengers from New York to Paris for $186 and New York to Calcutta for $490.

How much freight?

The factor of cargo also governs air economics. The Army’s C-82 cargo transport can carry a light tank. Will cargo planes attract freight this heavy in the years of peace?

Many heavy cargoes are not in a hurry to get from one place to another, and steamships have been making money for years because they can haul at low rates.

The total weight of air express carried by United States domestic lines in the twelve months of 1939 came to 2,700,000 ton-miles. ATC hauled 15,000,000 ton-miles a month.

Are the prospects good or bad?

We cannot predict the future. But we can make estimates about it, and a number of students have looked closely into the prospects for peacetime passenger travel and cargo hauling intercontinentally. This is what they foresee on the conservative assumption that rates remain high:

Two hundred and fifty passengers a day may fly in each direction over the Atlantic between Europe and North America, or slightly more than enough to fill four Constellations. A third as many passengers may be traveling between North America and South America, and a fourth as many may travel across the Pacific. Planes filled to 65 percent of passenger capacity can operate efficiently.

Freight tonnage by air from the United States to northern Europe may average 10,000 tons a year; to the Mediterranean, 5,000 tons; to Australia, 1,500 tons; to the Far East, 4,000 tons; to South America, 3,000 tons; and to the Caribbean area, 6,000 tons.

Those cargo figures represent an increase of ten times the prewar carriage of cargo between the United States and foreign destinations.

More optimistic commentators foresee a greater traffic, both passenger and cargo. Assuming that fares can be reduced to the neighborhood of three cents per mile, they estimate that as many as 4 million Americans may travel abroad by air every year.

Other observers, pessimistically inclined, envision a lesser traffic than even the first figures above.

Next section: What Are the “Five Freedoms” of Air Transport?