Civil Aviation in North Korea

In 1950, in cooperation with the Soviet Union, a civil airline, named SOKAO, was established. SOKAO was the Korean acronym for Soviet-North Korean Airline. Initially, SOKAO established regular routes to the Russian city of Vladivostok, and later to the Chinese capitol Peking (Beijing) and the Russian city of Chita, the latter being a hub for both rail and air transport in Siberia. Chita was reached through intermediary stops in Mukden, Harbin, Tsitsiar and Hailar. Only a few domestic routes were flown, including Chongjin, which, incidentally, was an intermediary stop en route to Vladivostok. The initial equipment of SOKAO was the venerable Lisunov Li-2 Cab.

Operations soon ended due to the start of hostilities between North and South Korea in July 1950. In 1953, operations resumed, concentrating on the Chita-Moscow route. The Soviet airline Aeroflot provided technical training and assistance to SOKAO. By 1954, however, SOKAO was renamed UKAMPS. This meant the end of the joint venture, with the Korean Ministry of Communications becoming the sole owner of the airline. Some twenty years later, during the 1970s UKAMPS was yet again renamed as Civil Aviation Administration of Korea (CAAK). In Korean, CAAK was called Choson Minhang. In 1993, Choson Minhang became Air Koryo (i.e. Air Korea). It would appear that most, if not all of the aircraft operated by Air Koryo is shared with the air force. Government and VIP flights abroad are performed using Air Koryo aircraft.

Initially, all civilian aircraft received a three-digit registration, for instance, two of the Lisunov Li-2s were registered as 501 and 504 respectively. In 1978, the letter P was added as a registration prefix. The most modern aircraft to enter service with Air Koryo are two Tupolev Tu-204-300. No civilian flying clubs or privately owned aircraft exist in North Korea, all flying operations being controlled by the State.

Puerto Rican airports struggling with charter flights

By Raul Colon

Puerto Rico is one of the business air destinations in the Caribbean as its serves more than 200 daily passenger flights out of one international and two regional airports.
For local officials, that number should easily be doubled if more charter flights use the regional facilities as staging centers.

But despite massive investments in infrastructure and marketing promotions, the facilities have yet to receive a single charter flight. The problem is puzzling at one of the newest facilities in Puerto Rico.

The potential of the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla, located in the northwestern part of the island, has not been fully exploited even after the Puerto Rican government invested millions of dollars in making it an attractive destination.
The main problem with the regional facility is the lack of charter flights, which have been absent from the airport despite a 2008 law which provide a 50 percent discount on air operations to any company that implement that type of service.

“It’s a puzzling the situation. The government has invested resources in promoting this type of flight operation in order to stimulate the Portal del Sol Tourism District and we need to see the results of this investment, especially in this tough economic time,” said Sofia Estevez, the Tourism Company’s Sub-director.

According to the executive, the responsibility of promoting this kind of industry rest on the shoulders of the Corporation for the Economic Development of the Western Region (IDEO by its Spanish acronym), because it’s the only organization with the authority to promote and develop charter flights to the airport.

“IDEO have not presented many promotional packages to investors. That’s the truth. But recently the corporation signed a deal that would provide the airport with its first charter flight by March of 2011,” she said.

Estevez also mentioned that the deal, which IDEO has already committee $1.4 million of its own resources in price reduction and promotion cost, involves a Spanish company and could serve as the gateway for future business.

“If this IDEO program is successful, we can see a booming industry flourishing at the Aguadilla airport. That would produce more jobs to the region and stimulate the island’s overall profile,” Estevez added.

Since 2003, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority has invested millions of dollars in renovating and upgrading the almost 60 year old airport, including the improvement to the 12,000 feet long runway.

According to the Airports General Manager, Arnaldo Deleo, when the government enacted Law 67, known as the Law for the Incentive Programs to Charter Flights at the Rafael Hernandez Airport, in May 2008, it was with idea of producing a constant flow of fights to the area, but despite the incentives presented by the law, no passenger charter have landed at the facility.
“We have invested heavily in the airport to upgrade its facilities. With have a 60 sq/ft terminal waiting for people to use and we hope that once the charter industry take off, we will need to add space,” Deleo said.

Among the incentives granted by Law 67 was a 50 percent reduction in take-off and landing operations as well as matching fund program when a company provides a regular scheduled flight program.

The Aguadilla Airport is currently use by discount airliners such as Jet Blue, Continental Air and Spirit, which provides the customers with six combine daily flights, most of them to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and New York.

In 2009 the facility moved 500,000 passengers.

Heating Up

Today, more than ever, concerns about the realities of global warming had spotlighted the need of change inside the United States’ already struggling civil aviation industry.

As the new Obama administration tries to muscle the US aviation industry to take harder steps in an attempt to steam the runaway effects of climate changes, look for state and regional officials to push hard for a deep examination of the role played by aviation plays in the overall environmental situation.

While cars, factories and power generating plants are the indisputable leaders in the pollution race, it now appears that aviation is moving up the ladder.

In California, where a Republican governor has bolted the party’s line on climate changes, civil aviation officials are currently compiling data on how much pollution airports and aircraft generate.

Early last year, the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California at Davis, showed an aerial image of what one early victim of rising San Francisco Bay water might look. It was of a submerge Oakland International airport. A frightening image still resonating in the minds of those who saw it.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is a public health organization that oversees air quality in nine counties surrounding the Bay, including four large airports: the San Francisco International, the mentioned Oakland facility, the San Jose International and the US Air Force’s Travis Air Force base. The agency reported last fall that aircraft’s share of the pollution index is increasing in comparison to more traditional platforms such as cars, factories and power plants.

The main concern about aviation air pollution comes in the form of unburned hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. New issues, primarily the degradation of Earth’s radiance balance, are now joining the ever increasing list of environmental concerns.
For more than two decades, concerns about the loss of Earth’s protective stratospheric ozone layer have been driving regulatory provisions. Now particulate matter is gaining more attention because of the general public’s concerns about greenhouse gases.
Estimates of how much aviation contributes to global pollution vary depending of its definition. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) placed aircraft related pollution at around 3.4% of the total radiation ‘forcing’, a figure of climate change, excluding its effects on cirrus clouds. ICAO expects that figure to increase twofold over the next twenty years.

In an interview with Michael Mecham back in 2007, atmospheric scientist, Donald Wuebbles said that “the climate change impact is potentially the most serious long-term problem facing the aviation industry”.
Five years ago, most regulatory constraints were focus on NOx emissions, now carbon is getting a much visible profile because of the greenhouse effect.

The equalizer? Fuel prices! The continuing high price of aviation fuel has placed a greater emphasis in developing fuel-saving engines. That alone will reduce aviation’s carbon footprint.

The US military is also getting into the act. The Pentagon wants cleaner burning fuels, but its experiments with Fischer-Tropsch type of synthetic fuel mixtures has been prompted because of the country’s overly dependency on foreign sources rather than innovating push.

The Defense Department overall fuel consumption is almost the same of what the largest US carriers burn. As with the civilian industry, the Air Force has a targeted goal of cutting back emissions. If the Pentagon can arrive at their propose standard of producing 100 million gallons of a 50/50 synthetic-petroleum mix by early 2010, it can cut up to 15 million pounds of carbon particles and 1.2 billion pounds of CO2.

While such industry and military initiatives proceed, the biggest issue for the government is how to accurately measure aviation pollution. For this, the Transportation Department has been working since the early 2000s in developing a computer program that can model emissions dispersals in the vicinity of airports. Its set to become operational in the summer of 2010.

– Raul Colon

Cierva’s Autogyros

When the famous Spanish inventor, Juan de la Cierva, was only fifteen he designed and built his first glider. Three years later, in the summer of 1918, he was able to develop a three-engined aircraft. The goal of his experiments was to achieve the creation of an air platform that could sustain lift and land safely after an engine failure. With the development of helicopters still a thing more of the imagination rather than a practical concept, Cierva turned his attention to the idea of an airplane that utilized an unpowered rotor system for lift and a conventional propeller mechanism for propulsion. Does the concept sound familiar?

The term ‘autogyro’ was conceived by Cierva to describe his new aircraft idea, which featured a freewheeling main rotor providing lift for vertical flight. His idea would revolutionize the air industry thus paving the way for the full development of the helicopter. The main operational system of the autogyro was the articulated rotor hub. Its drag and flapping hinges allowed the individual rotor blades to rise and fall, and so even-out the plane’s lift. After a two year development program, Cierva’s first autogyro took to the air on a cool January morning in 1923. Called the C.4, the first unit flew a distance of 3 miles. By September 1928, Cierva’s C.81 design, powered by a 149kw (200hp) Lynx engine and based on an Avro 504 airframe, performed the always dangerous 25 mile crossing of the English Channel, bound for Paris.

Avro-built Cierva C.30P G-ACIN. (photo, via author)
Avro-built Cierva C.30P G-ACIN. (photo, via author)

After experimenting with a few ideas and systems, Cierva refined his autogyro concept into what would become the technology setter platform of C design and development: version number 19. Version 19 introduced a dedicated fuselage to the series. Prior Cierva models utilized existing aircraft fuselages. After the 19, all other versions were purpose-built. Sixty six 19s were licensed built by AV Roe and Co. Ltd. with headquarters in Manchester, England. France also got into the act. The famous Liore-et-Oliver produced twenty five units designated LeO C130. Even the German Focke-Wulf Corporation managed to built 19s (40 units are believed to have been produced by the venerable aviation company).

If version 19 was a leap forward in rotary wing development, then version 30 was the pinnacle of it. The C.30 was a two seat airplane that featured the pilot occupying the rear, open cockpit. The pilot was able to unlock and tilt the main rotor mechanism using the control column attached to the rotary head. The 30’s airframe structure was of Duralumin tubing with a fabric skin cover. The next evolution of the series, the C.40, was designed around a wooden skin cover over a metal internal frame. A seven cylinder, Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major I-a radial (139hp) engine gave power to the 40. The other main feature introduced in the 30 was folding rotor blades for easier hangar handling. It also possessed a reverse aerofoil section on the port tailplane in order to counter the anticipated rotor torque.

At the beginning, autogyro flying was deemed too dangerous for combat operations, thus not many air forces in the world were interested in Cierva’s revolutionary work. Early flying tests were plagued by accidents. In fact, the first three C designs failed to become airborne. It is worth remembering that the initial C.1, utilized a French Deperdussin fuselage that did not provide the aircraft with enough lifting area which impeded its ability to takeoff. It was number four in the series, C.4, which eventually broke that barrier and got airborne. Following the experiments of the C.1, Cierva went on to produce several other unreliable machines, including the C.4, until he designed the unit 6. With subsidies from the Spanish government, the ingenious Cierva developed the C.6 series utilizing an Avro 504K airframe. The new fuselage would give the series and its inventor a big boost with its lift-drag ratio and overall airframe performance. All other versions of the Autogyros will incorporate the same, basic layout of the 504K airframe.

By the mid 1930s, Cierva and his team were able to stabilize vertical takeoff to the point that air forces felt comfortable enough to invest heavily in the concept. Unfortunately, Juan de la Cierva died in an airline crash at Croydon in December 1936. By that time his ideas were more than accepted, it was becoming the ‘law of the land’ in rotary flying. At the time of his death, Cierva had formed his own aircraft company based in Great Britain. His design was being manufactured in England, France and Germany. The C.30 saw service in the Second World War, most of them with the British Royal Air Force (RAF). There were a commercial version of the C.30, chief among them the de Havilland’s C.24 developed in 1931, but the unit did not meet with much success. Nevertheless, the original Cierva concept would go on to become today’s helicopters platforms. Quiet the achievement for this distinguished Spanish inventor.

Specification for Cierva C.40
Powerplant: One 104kw (140hp) Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major I-A radial engine
Maximum Weight: 816kg
Main Rotor Diameter: 11.28m
Length: 6.01m
Height: 3.38m
Total Rotor Area: 99.89 m square
Top Speed: 117km/h
Operational Range: 459km
Service Ceiling: 5800m

– Raul Colon


More information:
The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, Editor Paul Eden, Amber Books 2007
The men, machines and ideas that revolutionized war, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Books 2004
Concept Machines, Carl Thomas, Ispring Group 1972

The New Suvarnabhumi Airport

With one of the tallest Air Traffic Control (ATC) towers in the world and an impressive array of next generation, automated ATC Systems, augmented by the latest development in air safety equipment, the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand is well positioned to be the next “big thing” in airport design and architecture. Its massive capacity will served well when handling an expected boom in air travel during the next twenty years. Although the airport development had ran into trouble the past three to four years, its overall construction cost of nearly $ 3.9 billion was hotly contested by various political institutions at the time, and some factions still resent the price tag for the facility; and the airports’ runways had shown a propensity for “cracking” on a semi-regular bases, the airport still retains the potential to become the massive air hub its designers envisioned. Filled with green recreational areas and room to grow structurally, the Suvarnabhumi airport seem destined to achieve that goal.

As with most of China’s and Australian’s major airports, the French company Thales was selected to be the port’s chief soft-hardware structural integrated designer. The Company’s renowned TECOS fight data accessing and processing system is directly linked to the Suvarnabhumi ATC tower’s Advance Surface Movement Guidance and Control System or STREAMS giving the airport a coordinated stream line data display at all times. These two systems are integrated to the tower’s EUROCAT system located in the approach control room. This integration marks the first time the French company has been able to fully automated these three separated systems. With this level of integration, the airport’s AT Controllers are able to coordinate all incoming-outgoing traffic handoff to the facility tower without utilizing either the telephone set or radio transmissions.

As the aircraft commenced to depart its assigned gate area, information is instantly transmitted to several controller positions, all at the same time. On the ATC’s STREAMS monitors, which displays all the airport’s surface information, from runway activity, taxing maneuvers to gate departures and entries; controllers can easy see the aircraft’s surface profile without moving an inch. This does not mean that controllers can not talk to each other via telephone or radio. The TECOS system is able to eliminate the dreaded use of set paper strips mounted on display consoles because all ATCs can devise the data on a single or multiple display array. The Integration of all three systems is major step forward for Thales which, with 260 EUROCAT systems sold worldwide, was looking for an integration test-bed, data gathering type of facility, the Suvarnabhumi airport was just that. Beside these three main operational systems, Suvarnabhumi boost an advance Thales-supplied STAR 2000 S-Band Radar with a 60 to 90 nautical mile range, augmented by a RSM 970S monopulse secondary radar array with a 250 nautical mile operational range. Also installed at Suvarnabhumi is a TERMA Radar System Company’s surface detection array, known as multilateration use to monitor aircraft’s taxi operations.

Multilateration is an integrated system that relies on a transponder signature of interrogation for the aircraft’s positional tracking. The data collected from the transponders are received from the airport’s regular antenna configuration. The system works by measuring separates arrival times differences which, after processing, will give the aircraft’s precise position (five meter margin of error) on any of the airport’s ground facilities. Constants updates (about two per 1.2 seconds) maintains the information current. The advent of multilateration has made possible for airports to increase their overall safety level adjusting more smoothly to the ever increasing rate of air traveling. Multilateration is just the first giant step in the evolution of air traffic controlling. Next in line is the more robust and sensitive ATC system ever devised, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast System which still in its developing phase.

The airport posses two sixty meter wide paved runways, one 4000 meter long and the other 3700 with parallel taxiways (2000 meters of separation between them) entrance to accommodate simultaneous takeoff and landing aircraft. As of today, Bangkok’s airport is able to proses up to 75 flight operations an hour. Plans are in the works to add two additional main runways with its supplemented taxiways alignment which will boots the amount of flight processed by the ATC to above one hundred per hour. Today, the airport is capable of handling up to forty five million passengers annually. Most of them on a massive 563000 sq. meter terminal fitted with fifty one gates. This figure is expected to increase with the new renovations planned for 2012 which will make the facility capable of accommodate above one hundred passengers a year. Overall square area for the Suvarnabhumi airport is 32.4 miles. As for the structural decoration, The airport entrance and command facilities are liter with examples of Thai culture (paintings and sculptures).

Despite of all of these advance systems, the airport’s main attraction is still its imposing ATC tower. The main control room sits at a 132.2 meters elevation, just 0.3 meters short of the world record holder, the Kuala Lampur International Airport tower. If considered all of the world’s traffic control towers, both are surpassed only by the massive NAV Canada ACT Sea Plane tower in Vancouver which sits at 141 meters above the ground. The Suvarnabhumi’s tower had an impressive 360 degree panoramic view. The view angle and the tower’s altitude, gives the controller a maximum overview of the airport’s ground facilities. All of these systems and facilities will most likely made the Suvarnabhumi airport the main air hub to the south of Asia by the late 2010s.

– Raul Colon


More information:
wikipedia: Suvarnabhumi Airport Link
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand

Vickers’ Amazing R.100

Blessed with the ability to operate at long range and coupled with its massive payload capacity, the vaunted airship was able to rule the skies of Europe since the early days of aviation. There were many worth mentioned airship designs in those days but one in particular raised above others: the incredible Vickers’ R.100. The R.100 had its origins in Great Britain’s need for rapid communication between the Home Islands and its vast overseas empire and colonies. It was this need that propelled the Royal Airship Works to develop two competing airship blue prints; the R.100 and its sister ship, the R.101. The 100 was the brainchild of Barnes Neville Wallis, who would later become famous for the invention of the innovating “bouncing dam bomb” of World War II fame.

Work commenced on what would become the R.100 in the summer of 1928. Wallis implemented some unusual construction techniques on this impressive airship. Some of the innovating systems implemented on the 100 included the world’s first wire mesh netting mechanism intended to keep the ship’s gas (helium) envelops from being damaged by structural friction during flight. Anchors points were placed on the very tip of the ship’s nose for the attaching of the airship to its huge mooring mast. This mooring platform made it for the loading and unloading of passengers and cargo. The massive ship possessed a three deck area. The areas were large enough that up to a hundred passengers could be easy accommodated on them. A roomy dining salon, able to sit 56 people, was added on the second deck. The airship’s canvas covered steel fuselage measured 708’6″ in length with a beam cross section of 135′. The R.100 could carry an impressive 5,199,954 cubic feet of gas. The ship was powered by six massive 670 hp Rolls Royce Condor piston aero engines. This configuration allowed the 100 to operate at a top speed of 81 miles per hours. Operational endurance was around 80 airborne hours.

The R-100 approaching a mooring mast. (image, via author)
The R-100 approaching a mooring mast. (image, via author)

After a thirteen months design and construction period, on the morning of December 16th, 1929, the best and last major British-made gas-filled airship took to the air on its maiden flight. After a relative short trial period, the R.100 made its first operational flight on July 29th of that year. Setting up for a cross Atlantic trip, Canada being its ultimate destination, the 100 arrived at Montreal on August 1st, making a reality the first successful transatlantic voyaged by an airship. It took the ship just under 80 hours, 78 to be specific; to reach its destination. The return trip took only 58 hours. The successful trip did little to stop the wave of passengers moving for rigid airship to the new commercial airliners. The situation was asseverated when the R.100 sister ship, the 101; crashed in France two months later with heavy loss of life. As a direct result of this disaster, the 100 was removed from active service.

The R-100 passenger's dining room. (photo, via author)
The R-100 passenger's dining room. (photo, via author)

The R.100’s design proved to be so successful that its geodetic construction method was implemented in Great Britain’s main medium bomber platform; the venerable Wellington bomber.

– Raul Colon


More information:
wikipedia: R100
The R100

Canada’s Only Jetliner: The C-102

Tested for the first time in the morning hours of August 10th, 1949; just a few weeks after de Havilland’s successful test of its Comet Jetliner; the C-102 was the first and last major attempt by a Canadian company, in this case the AV Roe Canada Limited, to built a commercial jetliner. Although some airlines, especially in the United States, showed some interest, the advent of the Korean War and the urgent need to provide the Canadian Royal Air Force with CF-100 fighters, terminated the program in 1951. The C-102 was a futuristic aircraft design, one very similar to the Comet. The C-102 original program called for the construction of two prototype planes. These aircraft were designed to gather information about the handling characteristics of the 102 and its engine performance at high speed. In the end, only one operational 102 was ever manufactured. The other sample was almost completed when the program was terminated.

The only 102 produced had a fuselage of 80′-9″ in length with a height of 26′-5″. The wing span was 98′-0″ with total wing area being 1,156sq ft. Full pressurization was one of the main features of the 102. With the advantage of pressurization, the 102 could accommodate thirty to fifty passengers plus an operation crew of three. The main cabin was fitted with noise reduction materials and mechanisms in order to reduce the noise signature of the four Rolls-Royce Derwent 5/17 (3,600lb) turbojets mounted on the wing structure near the main fuselage. There were talks between Avro and the Canadian government of changing the engine configuration in favor of the newest Rolls-Royce’s AJ-65 turbojet engine, but the British government did not permitted Rolls-Royce to realize the engine system to use in a civilian aircraft. Its tail was, like many of its contemporaries, upswept. The 102’s flight deck was conventional in layout fitted with dual control systems for the pilot and co-pilot. The plane undercarriage consisted of a tricycle configuration with its main dual wheels retracting into the rear of the engine area, while the front wheel would do the same under the plane’s nose cone. The Rolls-Royce engines installed on the 102 gave the aircraft top speed of 430mph. It also provided the C-102 with the ability to climb at an impressive 1,840ft per minute. Operational service ceiling was a pleasant 37,300′. With all fuel tanks filled, the C-102 was able to operate at a range of 1,250 miles.

After a grueling series of taxi testing, the 102 was airborne for the first time in August 10th. With its maiden test, the 102 defeated Boeing’s efforts to be the first company to fly a commercial jetliner over the skies of North American, by almost three full years. The 102 possessed another claim to fame. After the cancellation, the lone operational C-102 sample was send to the U.S. for further testing before the prototype was send back to Avro for data collection on the CF-100 program. The other prototype was destroyed within a year after termination. Today only the nose cone of the 102 survives. It is in display in Canada’s National Aeronautical Collection Center. A lone remainder of an era long past.

– Raul Colon


More information:
Avroland Website
wikipedia: Avro Canada Jetliner
The Avro Canada C-102 Jetliner Page
Avro Jetliner

The World at Her Feet: Amy Johnson Takes on Australia

In 1930 the world took notice of a different type of flyer. Amy Johnson was a newcomer to the world of long distance flying, but in May of that year she took the aviation world by surprise when she flew her single engine Gipsy Moth biplane, named Jason; from London to Darwin. Although her nineteen days, eleven countries journey did not break any aviation records, it represented a breakthrough for women all around the globe. Many aviation enthusiasts, as well as much of the public in Europe and America, were amazed at the incredible feat accomplished by this unpretentious young woman from Yorkshire, Great Britain. They were even more impressed at the fact that before her ground breaking feat, Johnson had only eighty five hours of actual flying experience! Amy Johnson was born on July 1st, 1903, just months before the Wright Brothers introduced the world to aviation, in Hull. Her father was a fisherman and raised young Amy to be a strong and independent woman. A preaching she took to the heart. Since her early teens, young Amy was keen to find her place in the world, even if it means entering into fields usually associated with man. In the 1920s she attended Sheffield University for a brief period before discovering that academic life was not suited for her and her ambitions. After dropping college, Johnson went on to work with her father; from there she took a clerical position with an up and coming advertising agency in downtown London. Although those jobs offered her the ability to pay the bills, Amy wanted more out of life. She wanted to live an adventure, to live on the edge. She found that edge in flying.

She joined the prestigious London Aeroplane Club in the summer of 1928 and quickly fell in love with aviation. As she had done during all her life, Amy applied herself to this new task. She earned her pilot’s license and a second one in ground engineering. With those two licenses under her belt, Johnson went in to the aviation community with a new sense of purpose, a new attitude. She was a shrewd self promoter in a male-dominated environment. She tried to attract patrons and donors in order to finance her dream of making a difference in the world. She always came up with interesting ideas on how to promote her efforts. Once she told a local newspaper reporter that she was aiming to beak Bert Hinkler’s record of flying from England to Australia. He did it in fifteen and a half days during the spring of 1928. Flying from the U.K. to Australia in those early pioneers days must had offered any man, let alone a woman, one of the most demanding challenges in human endeavor. The first men to try such an endeavor were two Australian Lieutenants, Ray Parer and John McIntosh. After the Great War ended, Parer and McIntosh commenced preparations to fly to Australia from their base in England. In 1920 they embarked on their challenge. Utilizing a World War I vintage DH.9 biplane they began their trek. Unfortunately for them, flying from the south of the U.K. to Darwin, was a more demanding journey that the two young Australian Lieutenants hoped. Their DH.9 suffered innumerable mechanical problems. It took them forty days just to reach Cairo, Egypt. They crashed near Baghdad and had the misfortune to spend six weeks in the jungle, before finally arriving at Darwin with a chopped aircraft and a pint of fuel. During her research into the planned trip, Johnson took more care in detail planning that did the two Australians ten years before. The first step for Amy was to secure the necessary financial backing for the proposed enterprise. Financial support was necessary for her endeavor to succeed. Her father offered a base credit line which enabled young Amy to quit her clerical job and to purchase an aircraft. After securing her own plane, Johnson courted prominent London personalities in an effort to gather the necessary logistical backing needed for the planned adventure. One of those courted, Lord Wakefield, the Castrol Oil Company magnate, played a key role in securing fuel storages along the propose flight path to the country down under. The aircraft bought with her father’s assistance was a de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane. She named it Jason. Jason was a small, two-seated aircraft with an open cockpit design. The Jason was equipped with added fuel tanks for long distance flights. The DH.60G was powered by a single, four cylinder, air-cooled engine capable of generating 100 hp. The engine gave the 60G a top cruising speed of only eighty five miles per hours. But what the small aircraft lacked in speed, it made it for in sturdiness and operational range. The most important factor when operating over vast ocean distances. With the necessary tools on hand, all that it was left for Johnson to do was to actually attempt to fly to Australia, and fly she did

Amy Johnson (photo, via author)
Amy Johnson (photo, via author)

Amy Johnson took to the air for her historic flight in the early hours of May 5th, 1930 A small crowd, mainly family and friends, was gathered at Croydon Airport to see Amy off. The first phase of her trip called for crossing the English Channel and then heading up to Asperne airport in Vienna, Austria. The complete trip covered eight hundred miles, a distance she covered on the very first day of her endeavor without any weather or mechanical problems. Next for Johnson, was the route from Vienna to Istanbul, another eight hundred miles to cover. Again she covered the distance without a problem, only fatigue bothered her. On May 7th, she flew her 60G airplane over the rugged Taurus Mountains of Turkey, with peaks as high as 12,000 feet. She aimed to land some five hundred and fifty miles away, at Aleppo airfield in Syria. It was on this flight leg that Amy encountered her first real test. While flying through turbulence at 8,000 feet, Johnson encountered dense cloud cover that forced her to fly over a long stretch of mountainous terrain with minimal visibility. The mountain passes were difficult to maneuver in with unlimited visibility to begin with, and now, without the assistance of a full spectrum of visibility, Johnson was able to manage the narrow passes with pin-point precision. At some instances, her aircraft came within a few feet of hitting the rocky edges of the mountains. After passing the mountains ranges, Johnson elected to follow a railway line all the way into Aleppo. The fourth day of flight brought up massive storms along the Aleppo to Baghdad route. This weather presented a problem for Amy. Up to this point she was ahead of Hinkler’s record pace. With an almost complete disregard for the weather conditions, Amy took off from Aleppo en route to Baghdad, a four hundred and thirty mile trek. During the first few hours of the flight, Johnson did not encounter any major complications, weather or mechanical related, but the trend did not last. Unexpectedly, a strong wind gale forced her to dive relentlessly from her altitude of around 7,000 feet to almost hitting the ground; it was at this point that she decided to suspend the rest of the flight and land immediately in the desert. There was nothing Johnson could do now but wait out the storm. As suddenly as the storm front appeared, it went way and Amy was able to resume her flight within two hours of landing in the desert. Once in the air, Amy promptly located the Tigris River and followed all the way to Baghdad where she landed at a British-run airport on May 8th. The following day, Johnson was airborne again, this time en route to Bandar Abbas, eight hundred and forty miles to the southeastern part of the Persian Gulf. She covered the distance without a glitch. May 10th saw her flying off to Karachi, seven hundred and thirty miles away. When she landed in this British held city, she was received by the residents as a folk hero. Her solo flight from London to Karachi in just eight days was a record and most importantly for Amy, it put her two full days ahead of Hinkler’s pace. Johnson did not have time to enjoy the spoils of her new record if she was to beat Hinkler’s time. On May 11th Amy took off from Karachi to Allahabad, a city in British-controlled India. In mid-flight Amy discovered that the 60G’s fuel tanks were not filled to capacity thus forcing her land nearly two hundred miles away from her destination. While landing, her 60G suffered wing damage after hitting a post. She quickly repaired the wing damage and after refueling her aircraft, thanks to a nearby local British garrison, she was once again underway. After she reached Allahabad, she continued on to the Dumdum airfield in Calcutta, reaching it during the late evening hours of May 12th.

Percival Gull Six G-ADZO (photo, via author)
Percival Gull Six G-ADZO (photo, via author)

She was still on pace to break the record, but now fatigue, not the weather or mechanical difficulties, started to play a major role on her quest. Flying ten to twelve hours a day were beginning to take their toll on the young woman from Hull. The next phase of the journey called for a flight from Calcutta to Rangoon in Burma, a journey of nearly six hundred and fifty miles. On May 13th she departed Calcutta at 7:00 am; she encountered a weather front near the Yomas range that forced her to deviate from the original flight plan. She commenced tracking the Burmese coastline until she reached Rangoon. Her target landing area was an abandoned race track, but due to the poor visibility she landed on a soccer field. As was the case with her emergency landing in the desert a few days ago, this forced landing damaged her airplane’s wing structure and the propeller. Fortunately, Johnson was a prepared woman and brought along with her a new propeller. The wing was repaired by friendly strangers that appeared a few minutes after she landed. But the necessary repairs took three precious days. She needed to get into the air soon and in the early morning hours of May 17th she took off from Rangoon en route to Bangkok, three hundred and forty miles away. The weather again played a key role in Amy’s quest. Constant rain drops and poor visibility posed a major problem for Johnson, but she decided to press on to Bangkok, and again as it was the case a few days before, Amy found a railroad line and followed all the way to her destination. The days of May 17th and 18th saw Amy and her aircraft cruising over the Malaya Peninsula to Singapore. This flight was uneventful and Johnson landed safely in Singapore. The next phase of the journey called for a one thousand mile trek covering the vast majority of the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia). The original plan called for a trip to Surabaya in the island of Java, but mechanical problems altered that path and Amy was forced to land at Tjomal in the central section of Java. After repairing her aircraft, Amy took off from Surabaya on the morning of May 22nd with the aim of reaching Atambua, nine hundred miles away. The flight was without weather or mechanical problems, but poor navigation by young Amy deviated her from the original landing site. She landed at Haliluk, a remote tropical area, twelve miles away. By the afternoon of the 23rd, Amy finally reached Atambua, the launching point for the final phase of her amazing quest, Port Darwin, Australia. The last leg of the trip was probably the most danger one. The path called for Johnson to cruise in her DH.60 airplane over the Sea of Timor en route to Darwin, a distance of five hundred miles. The ticky part of the trip was that if any major situation arose and Amy needed to crash land, the most likely place she would be able to do it was the vast and isolated open waters of the Sea of Timor, the ditching would probably mean death since the area was seldom used by commercial or military vessels at the time.

Amy Johnson departed on May 24th, Empire Day, almost three weeks since the day she took off from Croydon Airport. The almost eleven thousand mile journey that saw her pass over the deserts of the Middle East, the jungles of the Indian subcontinent and the tropical islands of the Dutch East Indies; was almost over. Since her departure from Atumbua the weather was friendly to Amy, she was even spotted by a Shell Oil Company tanker, the Phorus, during her crossing of the Great Barrier Reef. The tanker radioed in the news of Miss Johnson’s aircraft approaching Darwin, prompting several pilots to take off and try to meet her in mid air. A task they failed to achieve. But Amy did arrive in Australia at 3:30 in the afternoon. When she landed, the young woman from Hull received the acclaim she so desperately craved. The local and international press hailed the young, and most remarkable, inexperience flyer from England. The Prime Minister of Britain, Ramsey MacDonald, prominent dignitaries, even the Queen and King of England called on young Amy to congratulate her. Amy Johnson was at the top of the world. Becoming the first woman to attempt and complete such a dangerous journey propelled Johnson to celebrity status. The next decade saw Amy establish two more world records, flying from London to Cape Town, South Africa. When World War II arrived, Johnson enlisted in the Air Transport Auxiliary service, ferrying aircraft from British factories to Royal Air Force bases. On one of those ferry mission in January 5th, 1941, she crashed into the Thames estuary and drowned in somewhat mysterious circumstances, ending the life of one of the most important figures in aviation history.

– Raul Colon



History of the Pioneers, Alicia Witts & John Eaton, Penguin Books 2000

Great Aviators and Epic Flights, Von Hardesty, Published Group West 2005

The Second World War: An Illustrated History, Vol I, III, IV; Editor Sir John Hammerton, Trident Press International 2000

Four Aircraft that Changed
the way Mail was Delivered

Once upon a time, the world moved at a slower pace than it does today. No mass media, no 24-7 news channels, and no next-day mail delivery service were available. But with the advent of the aircraft as a functional operational machine, the world changed completely in an instant. In the past, mail was delivered on horses, trains, boats and even primitive automobiles and/or four-wheeled trucks, these methods of delivery took days, weeks or even months in some instances; but with the invention and development of the airplane, mail delivery reached a new dimension. Thus the airplane had a direct effect on how people could communicate throughout great expanses of territory. They shortened, not the distance between sender and receiver, but the time the mail took from getting from the originating party to the end user. In the course of the early aircraft-supplied mail delivery system, four very distinct aircraft stood out from the pack. These four represented the epitome of air cargo delivery in an age of constant development and improvements.

In the spring of 1911, an early sample of the Wiseman-Cooke airplane was the first flying machine to deliver mail in the United States, when pilot and aviation pioneer Fred Wiseman carried a pack of letters from Petaluma to Santa Rosa in California. The complete eighteen-and-a-half mile trip was covered by Wiseman in two full days. Many mechanical difficulties, common on those early flying machines, delayed his trip. When he was airborne, the Wiseman-Cooke plane could only muster speeds just short of seventy mile per hour. Slightly built and very similar in airframe construction to the famous Wright Brother’s Flyer, the Cooke was powered by a Hall-Scott V8 engine modified to give the 670 lbs airframe enough speed to clear the ground. The next generation of mail delivery airplanes instituted a big move forward with the inception of the Curtiss JN-4, also called the Jenny. The Jenny was an advanced version of an early Curtiss JN model used mainly as a training aircraft during the Great War by the British Royal Flying Corps. Introduced in mid 1915, the JN-4 had a fuselage of 27′-4″ in length with a height of 9′-10.5″. Total wing area for the Jenny was 352 sq ft. A Curtiss designed OX5 in-line piston engine, capable of generating nearly seventy miles per hour, powered the JN-4. After the War ended in August 1918, the United States Postal Office adopted the Jenny as it’s first official air mail carrier plane. But the Jenny’s relatively small operational range, (it could operate only about one hundred and seventy five miles without refueling and maintenance); made it ill-suited for long-range mail delivery. It also did not help that the Jenny’s payload capacity was only three hundred pounds. Soon after its incorporation into the US Mail System, the Jenny was retired from front line service in less than a year.

When the US Postal Service bought the JN-4s, they also acquired a small group of de Havilland DH-4 airplanes from the US Army Signal Corp supply depot. The Airco, (or de Havilland), DH-4 was a two-seater daylight medium bomber produced in Great Britain. The DH-4 had an airframe 30′-8″ in length and a height of 10′-5″. When in combat, the DH-4 was armed with a single 7.7 mm Vickers machine gun mounted on the front of the cockpit, and another Vickers gun placed in the back of the fuselage for defensive cover – features removed for civilian operations. The DH-4 could carry up to 460 lbs of bombs internally, making the cargo payload a more manageable one. The plane was powered by one Roll-Royce Eagle VIII Vee piston engine capable of providing the aircraft with top speeds of just under 143 mph. The de Havilland’s operational range was an improvement over the other aircraft examples utilized by the Postal Service; it could operate at a range of 435 miles without any stops. As soon as they arrived, and after re-fitting, the DH-4 entered front-line service with the Postal Office. This plane was exactly what the mail service was looking for. It could carry a relatively large payload for long distances. But, as with all of the aircraft of the time, it fell victim to the newer, improved and less expensive aircraft coming along.

These two above mentioned aircraft represented a leap forward in aviation design. They were basically a tubular frame covered by sheets of canvas. The first departure from this design concept adopted by the Service was an impressive, albeit, dangerous one. The first US Postal Service all-metal aircraft was Germany’s Junkers JL-6 plane. First developed for military use in March 1917; the aircraft never saw significant combat in the Great War. A civilian version was introduced in the spring of 1919. It were to be the world’s first all metal monoplane use to ferry civilian passengers, doing so from the mid 1920 onward. But the JL-6 was a flawed design. Its electrical wire system was not properly insulated causing the plane to catch fire on mid-air. Many attempts were made to correct the problem, and all were unsuccessful, this fact lead the Postal Service to retire the JL-6 from front line service in the summer of 1921.

Today, the United States Postal Service utilized the latest commercial aircraft available and the best that technology can offer, this with the sole purpose of providing the customer with the best delivery capability the Service can offer. But in pioneer days of aviation, the Service needed to adapt promptly to new technology, new operational system, and by trial and error; they did. These four distinct planes, each of one served the Service in its own capability, proved that the aircraft was indeed, a practical and affordable mean of mail transportation, and on those days, this was a leap forward.

– Raul Colon


More information:
Fad to Fundamewntal: Airmail in America

A Brief Look at the United States Airport Runway-Taxing Approach Information Guidelines for 2007

The United State Department of Transportation, via the Federal Aviation Administration, has set-up a series of guidelines for the regulation of the approach by aircraft to a complex airport environment. The FAA describes a complex airport environment as an airport facility of medium to high traffic volume; such as is the case with regional hubs or international airports. The FAA stressed on its 2007 Instrument Procedures Handbook the importance of pilots performing a detailed examination of the landing airport and it’s runway environment prior to the aircraft’s approach procedure. A detailed review of the runway distance, the turn-off taxiway, and the route of taxi to the selected parking area, are all important safety topics that need extensive briefing prior to landing. In addition to the current condition of the assigned runway, conditions such as the wetness of the pavement, the crossing wind patterns, and the possible contamination of the runway are all additional factors that the FAA recommends the pilot investigate prior to his or her approach.

The National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO) has supplied pilots with detailed airport charts from 2000 to the present that include a runway sketch on each approach chart, to provide the pilot with vital airport information. In addition, the FAA has mandated that a full-page airport diagram be published on yearly basis. The diagram needs to include the latitude and longitude information required for the initial programming of the Flight Management Computer (FMC) on-board the aircraft. The included latitude/longitude grid will show the pilot the specific location of each parking area on the airport area for use in initializing the FMS system.

(photo, via author)
(photo, via author)

Pilots making approaches at complex airports, need to familiarize thewmselves with the complete airport environment – specifically its runway-taxiway configuration, prior to commencing an instrument approach. The possible combination of high taxi volume, poor weather patterns and the ground controller workload could make the pilot’s performance on the taxi-runway environment every bit as critical as his or her performance once airborne. These rules are designed for the safety of the pilot and the nearby ground personnel. The FAA guidelines clearly take this situation very seriously and so should the pilot.

– Raul Colon


More information:
National Aeronautical Charting Office