Taking the Risk Out of Aviation
Organized airways, directional radio and constant vigilance in the inspection of men and machines are the outstanding contributions of the Civil Aviation Branch to the safety of flying in Canada
WHEN you go up in an airplane, what protection have you against death?
You are in a plane, see the wings and struts, feel the fuselage which forms the cabin in which you are seated. In front looms the engine, and beyond is the propeller, whirling through air—your only support in an alien element.
There is the protection of the machinery, the protection of the skilled pilot. There is the protection of airdromes; and, if the plane is a hydroplane, of lakes and rivers. The latter, however, are but facilities for the pilot. If his skill is unequal to the task, if he misjudges distance or speed, your life may be forfeit, notwithstanding the fact that all the aids to flying, mechanical and physical, are perfect.
In 1929 no less than 124,751 persons travelled as passengers by air in Canada.
In 1930 the number may exceed 200,000.
Air travel has suddenly become a great transportation industry. Canadians have become air-minded. Business men, holidayers, geologists, prospectors, timber cruisers—all choose to be carried from one point to another by airplane, the newest and fastest means of travel.
How many of them know there are any assurances of safety, other than those enumerated? How many pause before stepping off the ground and wonder if the pilot is trustworthy, the plane in sound condition?
The answer would be interesting but unimportant. The real question is: how many will dismiss all fear of air travel when they know the facts?
The writer, at the request of the editor of
MacLean's, has been looking into this business of flying; trying to discover the secret of its marvellous growth in the last four years.
'T'HE statistics are eloquent. In 1929, 124,000 passen-*• gers flew in Canada. Of these, only sixteen were killed and eleven injured. In other words, the chances of death while flying were only .0129 per thousand. Deaths per thousand of railway passengers are .0009. Deaths in automobile accidents are more than 1,200 a year. That is to say, the risk of flying is less than the risk of motoring, and not enormously greater than the risk of rail travel.
The reason for this is not simply that Canadian pilots are skilled and careful and the machines dependable. The real explanation, not commonly known, is that there is a department of government at Ottawa whose
business it is to make flying safe. The Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of National Defense has taken the risk out of commercial aviation. Don’t forget that fact when you next step into a commercial machine. Your protection against death or injury is infinitely more real than you suppose.
The Civil Aviation Branch is one of those government departments that has worked quietly and efficiently. Probably one half the population of Ottawa does not know of its existence. Excepting those in the business of flying, not five per cent of the citizens of the Dominion at large ever heard of it.
The Civil Aviation Branch is directly responsible for the control and administration of all civil, as dütinguished from military, aviation in Canada. In numerous ways this made great contributions to the advancement of flying and particularly to the safety of flying.
How has this been achieved?
By the enactment and enforcement of strict regulations.
Every commercial pilot and machine is licensed. Every pilot must pass a written examination before his license is granted. He must have done fifty hours solo flying without accident. Moreover he must submit himself twice each year for a complete and thorough examination.
The public therefore is assured that every commercial pilot is physically fit and knows his business.
Making Assurance Doubly Sure
HTHE Ottawa department created and licensed a second class of airmen—air engineers. These men are expert mechanics, and in order to obtain a license must pass a difficult written examination.
Every commercial machine is inspected once yearly by experts of the Aviation Branch; but, in addition, every machine must be inspected daily and passed as fit for flying by a licensed air engineer.
The air traveller is thus assured that the machine in which he is to fly has been gone over on that very day by an expert and pronounced to be in perfect condition. Moreover, flight navigators are licensed and they too must pass written examinations, so that if the proposed trip is off the beaten path and the plane is to be directed by a navigator, the passenger may have every confidence in his ability to reach the destination.
These safeguards are made more real and efficient by reason of the fact that the Aviation Branch conducts an enquiry into every airplane accident which occurs in Canada. The cause is determined, and where there has been negligence the license of the pilot, navigator or engineer is cancelled. The result of inefficiency, therefore, is loss of vocation. If a pilot is involved in an accident, even though no one is killed, and is proved to have been negligent, his license is cancelled and he is through with the flying business. the lí the machine was unfit for the air, then the
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air engineer who passed it is out of luck— and a job.
Moreover, the Aviation Branch has formulated regulations governing flying, prohibiting dangerous practices such as low flying over cities, stunting and the like. Here again the penalty of an infraction is suspension of license.
The aviation dice in Canada are heavily loaded—in the interests of the general public. True, the public is but dimly aware of the precautions taken in its behalf, but the widespread confidence now evident in the safety of air travel is the direct result of government control and inspection.
A Growing Industry
A FEW years ago flying was regarded as a foolhardy adventure. Today transcontinental air passenger service is rapidly taking form. The writer prophesies that five years hence it will be commonplace to travel from Montreal to Winnipeg or Vancouver by air.
To appreciate the growth of commercial aviation, one need only look at the following summary:
1926 1927 1928 1929
Flights 4,755 16,748 75,285 144,143
Passengers 6,436 18,932 74,669 124,751
1 reighc lbs. 724,721 1,098,348 2,404,682 3,903,908
Mail lbs. 3,960 14,684 316,631 430,636
And 1930 assuredly will see a great increase all along the line.
Stimulated by this rapid expansion, there is growing up a great aviation industry in Canada. There are eleven companies engaged in the manufacture of airplanes. Most of them were established in the past eighteen months. All are prosperous; all are expanding.
But the licensing of pilots, engineers, the inspection of planes, the investigation of accidents, are only part of the activities of the Civil Aviation Branch at Ottawa.
This department co-operates with airplane manufacturers. New models are tested before they are sold for commercial operation. Research work is carried on continuously with the object of overcoming climatic and other difficulties confronting aviation in Canada. For example, there are two seasons of the year—spring and fall—when flying is difficult. Flights from south to north, or vice versa, are not practicable. An aviator taking off, say, at Toronto and flying to Cochrane, would have to use wheels at Toronto—the snow having melted—but would require skis to land at Cochrane where the snow would still be crisp and firm.
For the first time it can be announced that, under the aegis of the Aviation Branch, a mechanical contrivance has been invented whereby planes may be equipped with a combination of skis and wheels. This difficulty will cease to exist.
Building a Permanent Airway
'T'HERE is, however, another and still L more important service rendered by the Civil Aviation Branch—the construction and maintenance of airways. The part played by governments in the development of seaways is well known.
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The Port of Montreal exists today because of scores of millions spent to improve the St. Lawrence River. This is true also of the Great Lakes navigation, the Port of Vancouver, and the water routes of the Maritimes. It is doubly true of the Hudson Bay route, soon to be opened.
Air routes are very similar to water routes. The average person may doubt this. Air, after all, is the same the world over and except in storm or fog presents no difficulty to aviators. But it is often easier to go up safely than to come down. There are difficulties in keeping on the true course. After all, if air travel is to win its rightful place in the commercial economy of Canada, the service must be continuous and reliable. Storms must be conquered; fog and snow must be overcome.
And so, beginning last year, the Civil Aviation Branch carried through to brilliant success the first major permanent airway in Canada across the prairie provinces. This work, undertaken under exceptional circumstances and planned without aid of precedent, stands as a real triumph to the personnel of the branch.
The genesis of the project lay in the decision of the Post Office department to inaugurate an air mail across the prairies. The decision was taken in the spring of 1929. Of necessity, in order to fit into the rail service from Eastern Canada and the Pacific Coast, the air mail had to operate at night. Pilots might find their way across the prairies in daylight and land safely in case of accident, but night flying called for a lighted airway with emergency landing fields and suitable airports.
The Civil Aviation Branch was authorized to build this airway on July 15, 1929. A general plan was decided upon at once. There had to be sufficient airports at the principal cities, and emergency landing fields had to be placed at thirty-mile intervals along the entire route. Moreover, there had to be a pathway of light along which pilots could wing their way, and each emergency field had to be etched out of darkness by strings of lights around its boundaries. Finally, radio-direction beacons and up-to-theminute weather service had to be provided.
The route was surveyed, emergency landing fields were leased, agreements made with the owners that no crops other than hay be grown and no stock be allowed to pasture on them. Three officials of the Civil Aviation Branch were placed in charge: Squadron Major J. H. Tudhope, Superintendent of Airways; A. D. MacLean, District Inspector of Western Canada; and George Wakeham of head office, Ottawa.
By freeze up, all emergency fields had been made level. The job of digging trenches around each field—the average size is one quarter section—-in order to lay the cables to feed the boundary lights was begun in sub-zero weather. Last winter the West experienced one of the coldest seasons on record. While the mercury plunged to thirty and forty below zero, MacLean and his men worked on the emergency field lights. Wire cables, made brittle by frost, snapped while being uncoiled, preparatory to being buried in the trenches. The work was to be complete by mid-January, but delays due to cold weather and storms held up progress and it was not until March 15 that the route was officially opened.
Aids to Flying
A BRIEF description will show the ex•**-tent of the accomplishment. The large municipal airports had been built by the municipalities, but the Aviation Branch provided each with powerful 3,000,000
candle-power beacon lights, and paid one-half the cost of flood lights and obstacle and boundary lights. Beginning at Winnipeg, the first twelve emergency fields, spaced thirty miles apart, were lighted by electricity. Cn each field a fifty-foot steel tower was erected, and on top of it a 2,500,000 candle-power beacon light installed.
The beacons at municipal ports are visible from sixty to seventy-five miles. The beacons on each emergency field are visible for fifty to sixty miles. A pilot leaving Winnipeg immediately picks up the first beacon located on an emergency landing field thirty miles to the west. Before he has flown five minutes he picks up the second beacon, and so on. His flight is along a thin ribbon of light, with emergency fields always within gliding distance and each field clearly defined by boundary lights.
At the thirteenth field west of Winnipeg, a different sort of beacon was installed. Electricity was not available, so gas was used. The gas beacons are of 7,000-candle power and visible for twenty or twenty-five miles. But beacons were installed at ten-mile intervals, each third light marking an emergency landing field. The pilot now will see two beacons ahead and sometimes three. This continues through to Calgary. Each major city, however, has a 3,000,000 candle-power beacon so that no pilot could fail to pick it up.
But even these permanent aids to night flying were not deemed sufficient protection to pilot, passengers and mail. To begin with, some time this autumn the western end of the route will be changed. The present airway will continue from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge instead of direct to Calgary, will turn north at Lethbridge and pass through Calgary and proceed to Edmonton. The route from Saskatoon to Edmonton will be abandoned, and a branch service from Moose Jaw to Saskatoon maintained.
The lights now installed between Medicine Hat and Calgary will be removed and used to fill in from Moose Jaw to Medicine Hat, where, hereafter, the beacons will be onl„ five miles apart. Along the new route from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge and north to Edmonton, full power electric beacons will be installed.
But, someone may ask, suppose there is a dense fog or a snowstorm, will these lights be visible from a distance? The answer is that the range of the lights would be curtailed, although their power to penetrate fog and snow is remarkable.
The Invisible Guide
I ' j 'HE Aviation Branch, however, has not overlooked this danger. The
officials know their job is to make the airway fool proof, and they have the answer to fog and snow. Five radio direction beacons are now being installed at Forest, Manitoba, just north of Brandon; Regina, Maple Creek, Lethbridge and Red Deer. These beacons throw a radio signal in a straight line. A pilot might pick it up with ear phones or with signal vibrating reeds on his instrument board. The
beacons can transmit signals or voice. Pilots could be told of weather conditions, sudden storms, etc.
In the main, however, the reed vibrating system will be adopted. This system is simple in operation. There are two reeds on the pilot’s instrument board. When he flies direct into the signal—straight for the beacon—both reeds vibrate. If he is blown or drifts off his course to the right, the reed to the left gradually will cease to vibrate. If to the left, vice versa. A pilot simply cannot lose his way. He flies into the signal until he reaches the municipal port where, regardless of weather conditions, the flood lights will remove all danger to landing.
The building of this permanent airway cost $750,000. The upkeep, while not yet finally ascertained, will be about
$50,000 per annum. Not much to pay for a trans-prairie transportation route.
And this is but the beginning. While the Aviation Branch is not talking about the future, the fact is that routes from Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton to Vancouver have been surveyed. No decision as to the best route of the three has been made, but the data are complete and action is only a matter of months. Moreover, the route from Winnipeg to the East is now being surveyed. This is a difficult region in which to maintain a regular day and night service, but these difficulties will be surmounted within two years at most.
At the eastern extremity, the Aviation Branch is now considering a permanent airway from Montreal to the Atlantic seaboard at St. John. There are difficult decisions to be made. There is the question of passing over United States territory, of building beacons on foreign soil.
These difficulties will be overcome.
A transcontinental airway, with complete facilities for day and night flying and well-lighted emergency landing fields, will be in existence in Canada in the immediate future—five years at most.
Achievements of the past year have been due to the ability, courage and perseverance of a handful of men at Ottawa, of one man above all others.
The Father of Commercial Flying
T—TE IS J. A. Wilson, controller of Civil Aviation. One day he will be known as the father of commercial flying in Canada. He is a Scotsman, looks to be a young man of forty-five, but actually is in his early fifties. Graduated from St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, as an engineer, Wilson has travelled widely. He went to India in 1900, worked as an engineer at Calcutta. Following an illness he was advised to come to Canada; which he did in 1905. He spent several years in Western Canada doing construction work; came to Ottawa and put in a year at similar jobs. He joined the Canadian Naval Service in 1910 as director of stores and supervisor of contracts; became Assistant Deputy Minister of Naval Service in 1918. In 1919 he was appointed a member of the first Air Board. No one, not even Mr. Wilson, foresaw the future development of aeronautics in Canada. But his heart was in flying and in 1920 he voluntarily resigned his post as Assistant Deputy Minister to become Secretary of the Air Board.
It was a new department of Government. Commercial aviation in Canada, what there was of it, was running wild. Wilson saw the need of laying a solid foundation of supervision and regulation. He wrote the Air Board Act, under which all commercial aviation operates. After creating an efficient licensing and regulatory service, he applied himself to development of airways, the encouraging of flying, and to the all-important task of adapting airplanes to the service of forestry, mapping, prospecting—in a word, to the opening of the Northland. His success in the last mentioned phase of aerial activity is an article in itself. The airplane, in fact, has “cracked open” the North. Ninety-two million acres of forests have been patrolled and protected from fire; 300,000 square miles of wilderness have been photographed and accurately mapped.
Flying has been encouraged by the creation of flying clubs in various cities. Last year the members of these clubs flew 1,300,000 miles. Ninety-seven members learned to fly and obtained licenses as pilots. But it is in the construction of airways that Mr. Wilson and his branch are now making a valuable and permanent contribution to aviation in Canada. Airways are being constructed and surveyed which will provide a safe, sure day or night air route across the Continent. And the story of the building of those airways some day will rank with the great transportation achievements of this country.