Where Do We Land ?

In which a plea is entered for constructive effort in scientific development of the Dominion's airports

ARNOLD H. SANDWELL October 1 1929

Where Do We Land ?

In which a plea is entered for constructive effort in scientific development of the Dominion's airports

ARNOLD H. SANDWELL October 1 1929

Where Do We Land ?

In which a plea is entered for constructive effort in scientific development of the Dominion's airports


TO THE average person, endowed with what he fondly imagines to be an open mind and proud of the scientific achievements of this century, nothing is more amusing than the “sales-resistance” of bygone generations to the ideas of thinkers and inventors. The names of Westinghouse and Alexander Graham Bell are often mentioned in citing typical examples of the struggles of the pioneers against the inertia of a few

decades ago. The dead set against iron ships provides an excellent and frequently used peg upon which to hang derisive and superior judgments on the conservatism of our ancestors. In this latter case, it seems to us well-nigh incredible that noted engineers and scientists, as well as business men and practical shipbuilders, should have been capable of arguing that such vessels were impracticable. Nothing like that could happen today, we proudly boast; scientific knowledge is too complete.

Really? Are you quite satisfied that there is not just such another opportunity hammering at your door, and to which you are turning an equally deaf ear? An opportunity so unique that as yet only a handful of Canadians realize that it is any of their business; an “idea,” of such potential import that our hard-headed neighbor to the south is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its development; an enterprise so promising that Great Britain, tax-ridden and burdened with unemployment as she is, finds it worthy of encouragement by subsidy. In a word: the establishment of airports.

An airplane arriving at a good many Canadian towns these days is apt to find itself in the position of a Swedish miner I knew in the Sullivan Mine out in British Columbia. The twenty-foot ladder on the top of which he was standing to operate his machine drill slipped away down the muck-pile, leaving him clinging to his machine close under the roof of the stope. As he narrated it to the shift boss subsequently, “There I ban, an’ no place to stood !”

Imagine for a moment the Hawke family of Kalamazoo bent on week-ending north of the border. Already their machine is over Canadian territory. Mr. Hawke, the aggressive mortician, is at the stick. Beside him sits Miss Sparrow Hawke. Behind them, the two boys, Gos and Fish, and the even more aggressive Ma Hawke back-seat-driving as usual.

“Gee, Paw, I’d like a soda,” announces Miss Hawke.

“What do you say, Kestrel, shall we land here?” enquires Ma Hawke for form’s sake, having already decided to.

“Yes, my dear,” replies the pilot, closing the throttle. “See where the airport is, will you!”

A little silence, and then a choking gasp is heard over the hum of the wind and the gentle whirring of the throttled engine. A weak voice whispers:

“Why, Kes, there is no airport here!”

More in sorrow than in anger Mr. Hawke opens up his engine, and swings around in a graceful bank on to a southward course.

“Extraordinary people!” he mutters to himself, “Backward, deplorably backward! Bad as Mexico! Liquor—personal freedom—and no airports! And we have to live next door to them !”

And though conditions are gradually improving here, Mr. Hawke would have some reason for his comment. It cannot be denied that the United States is taking this matter of airports very much to heart. There were well over one thousand licensed ports in the Republic early this year, and their numbers are growing so fast that an accurate check is almost impossible. Many—far too many—of these fields are airports in name only, of the hot-dog stand variety, unlit, undrained and unlevelled, but their very presence indicates the airmindedness of the population as a whole, and the improvements will come in due course as surely as that man is no longer earthbound.

What the United States is Doing

AS EXAMPLES of what is being done, take a look at Columbus, Ohio, where the Pennsylvania Railroad is establishing an airport alongside their tracks as the first of the transfer points for their rail-air service, and has set aside $850,000 for the job. Glance at Dearborn, the Ford airport ten miles from the City Hall of Detroit, one of the show places of the industry.

Lest it seem that my airy reference to hundreds of millions of dollars is a bit overdrawn, compare and analyze some of the figures ! The real estate alone of the Boston airport cost $1,075,000, with an additional $76,000 for lighting and equipment. At Buffalo, the land cost only a paltry $650,000, but equipment adds $205,000. Chicago spent $1,850,000 on real estate, and $115,500 on plant and improvements. St. Louis’ real estate cost a cool two million; Oakland’s a million and a half ; Cleveland’s $1,220,000; San Francisco’s a million; and St. Paul’s $550,000.

An airport that will doubtless become a famous example of progressive design is Boeing Field at Seattle, Washington, municipally owned, but named in honor of William E. Boeing, whose airplane factory and its associated air-mail and passenger lines have done so much to make the city a western centre of flying. Exclusive of the purchase of the real estate, the development of this site is estimated to cost $1,500,000 Here, at Boeing Field, passengers will be under cover from the moment they leave their cars at the entrance until they enter their air transport. They will not be at liberty to dash about the field, endangering themselves and others. They will enter a huge edifice containing United States customs and post-offices, a great waiting hall with a fine view of the landing field, a restaurant, news and cigar stands, a barber shop and other stores, the total area of which will be 55,000 square feet. The centre span of the roof will cover a great space like a railway terminal, into which the machines will taxi to take up and set down passengers. On the other side of this “bay” are the executive offices, connected to the waiting hall by elevated corridors, and containing the weather bureau, a central control for lighting, and a radio system for communicating with machines in flight, for vocally controlling the movements of ground personnel and machine.

"pUROPE got a big start over North L-t America in the days immediately following the war, partly through the paternal help of the various governments, and partly due to the fact that airports were less numerous, but individually more highly developed than the average of ports in the United States and Canada as yet. Only in Germany are airports really common in point of numbers, and this results from the earnest subsidization of commercial flying in the Fatherland, and the numerous internal airways that were established regardless of their economic prospects. These internal services helped to make Germany airminded, and provided a spectacle of aerial activity that was excellent propaganda for German aircraft and personnel in foreign countries, and may possibly have much more than justified the amount spent on subsidies.

Britain’s one model airport is; the London Terminal Aerodrome at Croydon. Here are the bases of five great airlines: Imperial Airways, Limited; the French Air Union; K.L.M., representing Holland; Deutsche Luft Hansa A.G., Germany’s pride and joy; and the Belgian Sabena. Here also land and take off almost all privately-owned machines coming from or destined for foreign countries.

Croydon, as it is usually called, builds up a terrific traffic in the summer months when Europe is full of rich tourists, and it would not be fair to pick out a banner week in late summer as an example of the business regularly done at this airport.





T roight, long to..s.



1. London— Egypt—

2. London—


3. London— Ostend— Brussels— Cologne.

London & return.

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, London & return.

Brussels, London & return


Luft Hansa

Amsterdam, London & return


But the figures for a week in March and a week in May, this year, ought to give an idea of the activity outside the “season.”

In the week ending March 23, the total arrivals and departures of British machines numbered sixty-two, with a passenger list of 371, and freight weighing eighteen long tons. Foreign lines accounted for eighty machines, with 231 passengers and twenty-one tons of freight, making a total of 142 trips, 602 passengers and thirty-nine tons of goods.

By the week ending June 1, business had about doubled. Several of the lines had new and improved machines at work, and the London-Egypt-India service was in operation. The tabulation below graphically shows the details.

Add to these figures fourteen miscellaneous British machines carrying eleven passengers, and four foreign machines which happened in, and we get a grand total of 242 machines and 1,276 passengers for the week. To save you getting out the old slide rule, the regulat air liners averaged exactly sixteen arrivals and sixteen departures per diem. With flight tests of new and reconditioned machines added to the activity, it is no wonder that the dust menace is reported to have reached serious proportions.

Such an airport needs the best of equipment. Croydon has it. It includes wireless installation, a hotel and restaurant, customs and immigration offices, and in addition to the staffs of the five lines regularly using the port, representatives of Swedish, Russ an and Danish lines are ready to help travellers with through bookings.

The control nerve centre is a glass box on top of a forty-foot tower. Here the Civil Aviation Traffic Officer is king. It is he who gives the signal to start, and it is he who keeps tab on all the machines spreading out from and centring on Croydon, by means of little flags on a great map spread out before him. Knowing the cruising speed of each machine, and the velocity and direction of the wind, he knows where each ought to be at any given moment. More than that, he knows where it actually is, because the pilot is in verbal communication with him by radio at all times. Down in the waiting hall, up-to-the-minute weather reports are posted on a huge chart. They originate from all points of arrival and departure and many intermediate spots. Anyone can see them; there is absolutely no deception.

Freight services between Berlin and London and occasionally from Paris are run at night, and the experience thus gained will be of inestimable value both to the air and ground staffs, if and when the demand arises for night passenger accommodation.

Le Bourget

THIS equally famous French airport was started as a military aerodrome during the war, and gradually replaced the historic old field at Issy-les-Moulineaux, at which so many pioneer flights were made. There are still some military hangars and planes at this great level port of 325 acres within twelve kilometres of the Paris Opera House, but nearly all school and experimental flying is carried on at another aerodrome at Orly. Sixteen gigantic hangars, eleven of steel and five of concrete, placed along the eastern side bordering the Route de Flandres—the quickest thoroughfare into Paris—house the machines of Imperial Airways; Luft Hansa; K.L.M., Air Union; Compagnie Aerienne Française; Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aerienne, (CIDNA); Société Générale de Transport Aerienne, (S.G.T.A.); and big as the hangars are, the new Junkers machines cannot get into them.

The Administration Building contains customs and post-offices,radio and weather forecasting bureaux; and a medical station at which the semi-annual physical examination of pilots takes place, and which is equipped with first-aid apparatus for any form of accident.

From the illuminated identification letter “N” to the 100-foot lighthouse with its projector and eight Neon fog-piercing lights, Le Bourget is fully equipped for night flying. The concrete apron, bordering the administration building and the hangars, is protected at night by a system of red and green lights which inform pilots whether or not it is already occupied by other machines. The runways at Le Bourget are about 4,500 feet north and south and 3,000 feet east and west.

Twenty miles to the west of the airport, on top of Mount Valerien and at a height of 400 feet, is a great airway beacon, and other aids to night flying already installed include eighteen Neon lights on the Calais-Marseiiles route, seven between Paris and Strasbourg, and two between Paris and Brussels.

An increasingly important French airport is at Marseilles, from which the machines of Air Union and its subsidiary Compagnie Aéronavale depart on their African routes. Here also Luft Hansa makes connection with the Iberia Line for Spain.

Canadian Development

IN THE early years of post-war flying, Canadian towns and cities showed no anxiety to dig up money for the establishment of airports. They had become much more cautious than in the palmy days when the little town of Port Hope, Ontario, with a population of only three thousand souls, raised a loan of $740,000 to aid in the construction of the Great Western Railway, which was to put it on the map. It was an awful lot of money, but Port Hope is on the map, as well as on the C.N.R. and the C.P.R. And we do not hear them complaining.

Aircraft-operating companies did what their funds permitted, which wasn’t much; the Department of National Defense offered its help and advice, and individuals urged airports on their municipalities; but progress was slow, and many are still to be converted. Right at the start, the stand-patter takes the ground away from under your feet by agreeing whole-heartedly as to the value of airports—somewhere else.

“Sure!” he will say. “This flying’s getting to be quite a game. I see where there’s somebody going to try to stay up for twenty-one days!” But when you suggest that that somebody will need an aerodrome at least at the start and the finish of his three weeks, he vaguely agrees. “But we don’t need an airport yet. Why, there isn’t an airplane within fifty miles of us.” He thinks an airport is any old field in which a good pilot with a bit of luck can set down a “Jenny” without standing it on its nose, and ignores the fact that even a section of land does not become an airport overnight by the mere act of fencing it in and naming it after Colonel Bishop or Lindbergh.

Near the end of last year, Canada had what looked like an imposing array of air harbors and seaplane stations totalling fifty-four in all. Investigation shows, however, that of this number more than half were licensed only under the designation “Commercial,” and were the operating bases of commercial firms or government air services, with neither desire nor intention of functioning for outsiders, save—let me hasten to add—as a courtesy. Of the remaining twenty-five, fifteen were designated “Public.” At these, corporations, municipalities or individuals offered service to any aerial traveller who came along. The remaining ten were “Customs Air Harbors” where machines and goods originating outside Canada could be appraised and passed by Dominion Customs Inspectors. Of this last class, four were owned by municipalities and one by the Dominion Government. Of the “Public” airports without customs facilities, six were operated by commercial firms, seven by municipalities, and two by flying clubs.

It was the flying club that started the real development of airmindedness among the general public. After various unsuccessful efforts to arouse interest in aviation throughout the Dominion, the Department of National Defense devised the State-aided flying club idea; then the 2,400 members of the clubs started their missionary work, and things began to move. It is significant that in the first year of operation, of the fifteen centres at which clubs were actually functioning, six had municipally owned airports—London, Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton—while Vancouver was all set with a club and two machines, but failed to get going until this year of grace, owing to the lack of a municipal airport during 1928. Three ports were owned by the flying clubs themselves— Ottawa, Walkerville and Winnipeg—and there was in addition the Federallyowned and operated Customs Airport and Airship Station at St. Hubert, Montreal, which bids fair in good time to be one of. the show places of North American aviation.

This year progress continues, with several more municipal fields existing or projected, notably, the combined landmachine and seaplane base at Toronto, which is estimated to cost, ultimately, two million dollars.

An obvious outcome of the flying club is the ownership by private pilots of individual machines. Agencies are taken up by other graduates of the club’s instructional course who intend to follow aviation as a trade or profession. Additional schools are started; repair and erection shops follow; manufacturers of the thousand and one gadgets incidental to flying establish local stores; and the first ;hing you know, a new and intensely virile indu try is in full blast locally. More money is earned and spent in the district; more visitors arrive, and everybody benefits.

But the whole thing obviously hinges on the provision of an airport. In the words of the Controller of Civil Aviation: “The formation of a club in every city means a flying field. This in turn helps the establishment of airways. An airway is only a chain of developed aerodromes. This is aviation’s greatest need today.”

The term “Airport” which I have used throughout this article is of international significance, and means the same as the term “Air Harbor” hitherto used in Canada, embracing both aerodromes and seaplane stations. When used as applying to a water base, it is usual to prefix the word “Seaplane.” Let us enquire into some of the aspects that have to be examined in the case of a projected airport.

Choosing an Airport

THE item that ought to come last— but almost invariably comes first—is cost. Cost, not only of the real estate involved, but of clearing, grading and draining it, and of seeding or otherwise preparing the landing space, which may need to be entirely resurfaced. And right here is as good a time as any to say that if there is one place on God’s green earth where graft is not only wasteful and irrational, but actually sinful, it is in the flying game. The land owner or realestate agent who palms off an unsuitable site, or makes an unreasonable profit on ground destined to become an airport, thereby depleting the treasury of funds that are bound to be needed for improvements, is lower than a snake’s undercarriage.

Drainage is one of the most expensive as well as one of the most important operations, and deserves very earnest study. The effective landing area — or, more properly the getting-off area—is governed largely by the condition of the surface, other factors being adjacent high land or buildings, chimneys and power lines.

Meteorological data are important. The direction of the “prevailing wind” and the prevalence of rain, fog and ground mists must be charted and compared for the various sites available. It is an annoying corollary that ground mists and fogs are usually most common in the neighborhood of water. This puts a severe crimp in the establishment of that most desirable form of airport, the combined land and water base.

Next on the list are accessibility to the business and other sections of the community, and the degree of ease with which light, power, water, gas, setoer, telephone and telegraph connections can be made.

In planning an airport, it is extremely desirable to think in terms of tomorrow and the day after. It will probably become a part of what is destined to be one of the world’s great transportation systems, and it should be organized from the beginning with the end in view of attaining and preserving an attractive and utilitarian layout, dignified and permanent. Space for various concessions, such as hotels, restaurants and parking areas will be required later, if not at once; so they might just as well be included in the original plans.

Planes leaving and approaching the airport along what will most likely be the normal direction of the flow of traffic should not have to do so over the most densely populated parts. Means for dealing with sudden and heavy snowfalls are a necessity practically everywhere in Canada, and an airport, once open and listed, is under an obligation to provide, regardless of weather conditions, whatever service it undertakes to give. The same thing applies to an airport listed as being for night and day use; it must be lighted according to the specifications of the Civil Aviation Department. Conventional marks are ordained which help pilots in locating the airport from “upstairs,” and also designate what kind of service is obtainable.

Summed up, the ideal airport is very close to the heart of the city, and is yet surrounded by open fields. It is entirely unobstructed by poles and wirés, and is yet connected with every species of power, light and communication service available. It is protected from drifting snow and the worst furies of storm, and located on high ground that can easily be drained. -

Broadly speaking,«“there ain’t no sich animile.” As with an airplane, the best attainable compromise iá gil we can hope for. The Director ofCivilAviation is there to help in every^way, and there are some excellent samples to study, not so very far away—as the airplane flies.