Wilbur, Come Here; I Want You…Over…
When was the first radio used aboard an airplane?
Answer: We don’t normally give much thought to the connection between radio signals and our flying safety (until the radios stop working). The significance of 1901 is that on December 12 of that year, Guglielmo Marconi successfully transmitted a radio message (not much of a message though, being just the letter “S” in Morse code) across the Atlantic Ocean. Just two years later, another great accomplishment occurred, that of the Wright Brothers’ flight. In the years shortly after these accomplishments, an innovator with the (now) amusing name of Elmo Pickerill imagined being able to combine the two discoveries. Pickerill was a wireless operator for the Associated Press, United Press, and the Hearst Newspapers. After the turn of the century, he worked with Dr. Lee de Forest and Guglielmo Marconi to establish wireless stations throughout the country. In 1909, he asked Orville Wright about renting an airplane and pilot to fly him and his equipment, but when Wright told him that there wasn’t an airplane that could lift that much, Pickerill said that he would learn to fly, and then carry his device (rather than a pilot), performing his tests as both pilot and wireless operator. Two months after he began taking flying lessons, he was a qualified pilot. On August 4, 1910, he made a historic flight from Mineola to Brooklyn. Flying at a thousand feet and using his “push-button” telegraph key, he made contact with three wireless stations aboard ships, two coastal stations, a portable station at Manhattan Beach, New York, and with a station in New York City. On that day, air-to-ground wireless communication became a reality. (Also given credit for an early air-to-ground communication on August 27 of that year were J.A.D. McCurdy and “Casey” Baldwin, from a Curtiss biplane over Sheepshead Bay, NY.) The term “wireless” was officially changed to “radio” by the U.S. Navy in 1912, but the term stuck until about 1920, when the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America went out of business and a new organization, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) began operating. Radio direction finding as well as communication equipment was used by Zeppelins even before World War I, in fact, as early as 1912. The best answer is choice C.
A New Era In Commuting
The first person to use an airplane for transportation on a regular basis (in connection with a non-aviation related occupation) was:
- William Frederick (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody
- Samuel Franklin Cody
- Harry Houdini
- Elmer Sperry
Answer: Yes, there really were two “Wild West” showmen with the same last name (and with the same basic image, down to the mustache, goatee, and ten-gallon hat. Actually, the truth is that Sam Cody was born with the surname Cowdery, but changed it in order to emulate (and let’s be realistic, also possibly profit from) his hero, Buffalo Bill. Although Sam Cody did develop an interest in man-lifting kites (and later, dirigibles) for purposes of aerial observation during times of war, neither one did any commuting, per se. (Incidentally, he was also born in the town of Birdville, Texas.) Harry Houdini (born Erich Weisz) however, did use the airplane for the very utilitarian purpose of getting from one place to another.. In 1910 he bought a Voisin biplane and learned to fly it. He used it to fly himself from town to town and keep his entertainment commitments. He was also the first person to fly an airplane in Australia.
Smoke Signals: Advertising Takes To the Air
The first use of airplanes to write messages in the sky was in
Answer: That magical combination of smoke and aerobatics to write words on the wind which came to be known as skywriting was first added to the realm of advertising in the early years of aviation. It was much earlier than 1941, or even 1927. Trade names and sales slogans were first written in the sky and vividly in memory in 1913, although some references give the year as being 1922. In skywriting, very large letters (typically on the order of a mile in “height” and width, with the actual smoke trail being about 75 feet wide) are “written” (horizontally, and, of course, backwards) by orchestrated movements of specially built airplanes equipped with a smoke-emitting apparatus. Engine heat was usually used to turn specially treated paraffin oil into white smoke, discharged under pressure. Typically performed at altitudes between 10,000 to 17,000 feet, it is most practical in cloudless skies and when there are no more than light winds aloft. (Of course as we know, eventually the wind has its way with those letters, and that 75-foot width becomes smeared out into much wider and then ultimately quite illegible letters.) The usual arrangement is for skywriting to be done over a designated place, and a specified date and time. (Skytyping, the more modern form of skywriting, involves several airplanes, flying parallel and equidistant tracks. The desired message is arranged via a master control panel, and as the planes fly abreast of each other, electronic signals command properly timed emissions of smoke.) But back to the early days…
Some believe that it began in England in 1922 when Major Jack. C. Savage (the cousin of Douglas Savage, a WWI British war ace), originated such early aerial messages. After the First World War, surplus military aircraft were sold at very low prices, and one SE5a was bought by Major Savage, who converted it for skywriting purposes and developed the technique as a form of advertising. Among his first jobs was advertising a newspaper’s name, the Daily Mail, over England in May 1922. His first business target in the US was George Washington Hill, the head of the American Tobacco Co. He persuaded Hill to view a rehearsal, and his pilot, Captain Cyril Turner of the Royal Air Force, flew over Times Square, spelling out the words: “HELLO USA” while gawking and spellbound crowds stared up. But Hill was not impressed. “Interesting,” he commented, “but it won’t sell cigarettes.” Yankee ingenuity came to the rescue. The plane went up again, and this time, he wrote “HELLO USA. Call Vanderbilt 7200” (the telephone number of the Vanderbilt Hotel, to which Savage had invited Hill). For three hours the Vanderbilt’s switchboard was swamped with 47,000 phone calls. That did the trick. Hill was immediately enthused and signed with the Skywriting Corporation of America for a million dollars worth of skywriting. Note: Some references attribute this stroke of marketing insight to Captain Allen J. Cameron, an American pilot. But regardless, neither of them were the first. On July 19, 1913, in the skies over Seattle, Washington, Milton J. Bryant began a new form of advertising: skywriting. The right answer is A.