To Europe via Cochrane

Destiny has marked the Cochrane-Reykjavik route as one of the great air lanes of the future

EARL HANSON September 1 1929

To Europe via Cochrane

Destiny has marked the Cochrane-Reykjavik route as one of the great air lanes of the future

EARL HANSON September 1 1929

To Europe via Cochrane

Destiny has marked the Cochrane-Reykjavik route as one of the great air lanes of the future


THE fever for suicidal transatlantic flights seems luckily to be subsiding. Public opinion as well as governmental pressure on both sides of the ocean are putting a stop to these courageous attempts “in the interests of science”—and, perhaps, in the interests of the pilots and the newspapers as well.

If we take stock of the results of these flights, we find them meagre enough as compared with the enormous expenditures involved in money and lives. Some pilots, some planes, and a few aircraft engines have won fame and publicity. That indefinable thing called “science” has discovered that a dirigible can make the flight between Europe and America with a certain amount of payload, and an airplane can make it with no payload at all—given a skilful pilot and perhaps a bit of luck. Any good aeronautical engineer could have pointed out these things without leaving his office.

But perhaps the science of psychology can also learn a lesson from these spectacular attempts. Why was it that nearly all the pilots chose a route that was by far the most dangerous, over the fog-blanketed Newfoundland waters? Was it conservatism, inability to see beyond the fact that steamers are continually taking that route? If so, it is a paradoxical display of conservatism that leads a man to choose the most dangerous methods.

In the past we have had a habit of linking airplane routes with those of our steamships and railroads. This is silly—until such a time as the cruising radius and speed of commercial aircraft are double or treble what they are today. Canadian flyers, with the remarkable work they are doing in the wilds of the north, are demonstrating that the airplane today is essentially a trail-blazer, that its greatest usefulness lies outside the territories served by the railroad, the motor truck, and the steamboat.

In competition with these, the plane has only one advantage to offer—an increase in speed that is not yet great enough to escape being at least partially balanced by a nonescapable increase in cost. In competition with dog-teams, canoes, knapsack and horseback transportation, the airplane offers a far greater increase in speed, and, more often than not, also a decrease in costs.

This has been pointed out before. Only a year or so ago, Stefanson said in MacLean’s that Canadians will not be truly air-minded until they think of aircraft as tools with a sphere of their own, outside the lanes being travelled by steamers and railroads.

The Greenland-Iceland Route


ITH a decrease in the number of attempted transatlantic flights comes a saner view of the possibilities of air service between Europe and America. A few months ago, the Armstrong Seadrome Company announced its intention of placing a number of huge floating platforms in the Atlantic to serve as bases for flyers.

The Armstrong Seadrome is an invention remarkable for the boldness of its conception as well as for its apparent technical excellence. It will probably solve some of the problems of trans-oceanic flight; but in the opinion of the present writer it is entirely out of place on the transatlantic route.

For the solutions it offers are purely technical, not at all economic. It gives the pilot a great amount of security, but it gives him nothing in the line of payload, no commercial cargo, no passengers, no mail.

In competition, Nature has placed in the Atlantic a number of platforms that are not only far safer and much’ easier to find than anything man can build, but have advantages of their own to offer in the line of payload as well.

When Hassell and Cramer last year set out to fly from Rockford, Illinois, to Sweden, by way of Cochrane, Greenland, and Iceland, their plans were greeted with a scepticism that was based mainly on ignorance. We knew that they could probably make the flight as far as Cape Chidley, for Canadian pilots have flown over the same or similar territory time and again. We were afraid of the rest of the route, simply because we knew almost nothing of either Greenland or Iceland, or the intervening waters. I wonder how many people realized, as Hassell did, that the flight from Cochrane, over Cape Chidley, to the Greenland coast, was by far the most dangerous of the entire venture.

At the present time, Hassell is preparing for a second attempt, even saner and more carefully planned than the first. After leaving Cochrane he will make at least one refuelling stop at Cape Chidley before hopping off for Greenland.

This year has already seen still another trial flight, that of the Chicago Tribune plane, the ’Untin’ Bowler, which foundered off the coast of Cape Chidley while at anchdt. Sceptics have not been slow about coming forward with their “I told you so’s,” but the failure of the ’Untin’ Bowler had no bearing on the feasibility of the Cochrane-Greenland-Iceland route as a fully developed commercial air route. It simply demonstrated a self-evident fact—the necessity of adequately protected and developed landing bases.

And now comes the startling but well authenticated rumor that a Chicago company is planning weekly airplane service to Europe by way of Greenland and Iceland.

The rumor is more startling in America than in Europe, because here the idea is newer. When the Europe, because here the idea is newer. When the German Lufthansa last year established commercial flying in Iceland, it was well known that this was probably the first step toward transatlantic service, for it was an open secret that the Lufthansa had for years been making a study of the Greenland-Iceland route.

If we study a globe of the world, and trace a line from Chicago to London, by way of the points mentioned, we find that the route not only escaped entirely the terrible fog-belts off Newfoundland, but need not involve a single hop greater than 400 miles. Technical developments assure the safety of such flights. Aircraft design, engine design, given good equipment and careful supervision in operation, leave little to chance in the performance of planes on flights of that length. Radio beacons have been developed to guide the pilots in northern areas where the magnetic compass is unreliable. And the science of meteorology is far enough advanced to take care of the needs of such hops.

The Weather Question

NO MAN, embarking on a two thousand mile flight, can tell beforehand what weather he will have on the way. For a flight of four hundred miles, his weather forecast can be made fairly reliable, given only a few observatories at the needed points.

On the northern route, then, the flyer has the advantage of being able to land every once in so often to refuel, and, if necessary, to wait for good weather. Just how small that necessity may be, can be seen from the achievements of the United States airmail, which practically disregards weather, and has for years had a record of efficiency of well over ninety per cent accomplished flights as compared to scheduled. And on the whole, the weather all along the northern route to Europe is far better than that on the Newfoundland route, although not so good as that on the southern route via the Azores.

An appreciable part of the distance over the Greenland route is also cut down by the presence of that much desired thing a pilot so rarely finds, a tail-wind. Professor Hobbs has pointed out in his book on The Glacial Anticyclone, that in Greenland, at the level of the ice-cap, the wind always, except in times of storm, blows from the centre of the cap toward the edges, and in the upper air strata from the edges toward the centre. The aviator flying over Greenland, from west to east, need only fly at a fairly high altitude until he is over the centre, and then drop to a lower level, to have a steady tail-wind, and can reverse the procedure when flying westward.

On the Greenland ice-cap he has the greatest natural landing-field in the world.

The edges of the cap are rough and badly serrated; the centre—as reported by all who have crossed it, Peary, Rasmussen, Nansen, De Quervay—is as level, and generally as hard as a billiard table. Stefanson puts it “over ten thousand square miles where you can’t stub your toe.”

This levelness of course has its corresponding disadvantage in the lack of landmarks to guide the flyers—in a northerly region where the compass is apt to be of very little use.

But it should not be very many years before a permanent meteorological station will be established on the ice-cap anyway. Professor Hobbs has already given some graphic demonstrations of the enormous benefit such a station can be, as a long range weather predicter, to the Atlantic shipping routes. It is logical to believe that the station will also serve as a refueling base for airplanes, and that its radio equipment will include a beacon to guide the flyers, much as beacons are being planned today on Hudson Strait to guide steamer traffic.

That the weather in Greenland is not always calm is not to be denied. The records of the old Norse settlers who lived and travelled there for something like five hundred years, hold good today. The island’s storms are often of extreme violence, but are generally of short duration and followed by long periods of clear, calm weather. Moreover, they occur mainly in wintertime, which is not yet considered a good flying season for that route. And fog, the greatest menace to flying, is entirely lacking except to a certain extent over the surrounding waters.

Beyond Greenland, navigation is extremely simple. Because of the short hop involved, it is mainly visual in clear weather, and easily controlled by radiobeacons in cloudy or foggy weather.

It has been pointed out that in 1927 Commander Byrd failed to find Paris in the fog in spite of his excellent radio equipment. The example is unfair. Any train can be wrecked if the man in the cab knows nothing of the safety signals he sees along the way. Of the four men in Byrd’s plane, not one knew anything about radio beyond being able to send and receive messages. Radio experts have assured me that Byrd’s failure to find Paris was due purely to a blunder in organization. With the importance of radio to aviation becoming more apparent every day, there is a growing tendency to train men who are radio experts as well as pilots.

Immediately after leaving Greenland, in clear weather the transatlantic pilot will see the mountain tops of Iceland. The same navigational advantage holds good for the rest of the route. The Faroe Islands will loom into view almost before Iceland drops out; the Orkneys very soon after the Faroes have disappeared below the horizon. And all of these points even now have radio and weather stations, all but the one in Greenland placed exactly right for the needs of the AmericaEurope route.

A Route with Commercial Possibilities

"DUT no matter what the technical advantages, plans for the commercial operation of a line are futile unless economic conditions are such that it can be made to pay. A few of us are willing

to invest our money purely for the sake of the glory it may bring. Most of us demand financial returns.

Even in this respect, a glance at the map can indicate enormous possibilities. That Chicago, and the territory for which it is a centre, Milwaukee, Gary, Detroit, have a great deal of fast mail, express,and a number of passengers for a European airline, goes without saying. The mania for speed in modern business is a truism that need not be repeated here.

What Cochrane has to offer in the line of payload is perhaps not so evident. But it is enormously evident that Canada is pushing northward with an energy and speed that are unparalleled in the history of the world. Hudson Bay bids fair to become the Baltic Sea of America. The building of the Hudson Bay Railroad, will undoubtedly hasten the completion of the T. & N.O. line to James Bay, and nobody can foretell what the future of Cochrane will be when that line is completed. The strategic location of the town cannot be questioned. It lies on the shortest, great-circle route between Chicago and Iceland, and it enjoys a central location, as a gathering point for mail and express from Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg.

Indeed, Cochrane is the logical American terminus of an airline from Europe. From there, the continental distribution need not necessarily be made by plane. The town is situated at the junction of two railroads and offers an ideal trying-in point between rail and air service, with the prospect of the future addition of steamer service. Northwest of Cochrane there is as yet no commercial competition for aircraft, and it is here that planes will be in their real element.

Tracing the route farther, we come to Point Burwell on Cape Chidley, which was used as a base on last year’s Hudson Strait Expedition. Here again an interesting possibility looms.

Last year the government began a contract airmail service in the “settled” regions of Canada. During the season of navigation on the St. Lawrence River, planes now fly on regular schedule between Rimouski and Montreal, connecting at the former point with incoming and outgoing boats. The saving of time for mail from Europe is between twentyfour and ninety-six hours.

There is still some scepticism about the suitability of Hudson Strait for commercial navigation, in spite of the fact that technical developments, radio-beacons, aircraft patrols, ice-breaking methods, are progressing faster than the engineers and technicians themselves can follow, and that Russia has for years put Arctic ports to commercial use that had ice conditions far worse than the Strait.

If Hudson Strait proves at all suitable for a steamer route to Europe, there is no doubt that Point Burwell will play a rôle parallel to that of Rimouski today in tying together steamship and plane service. The advantage of Point Burwell is even greater; it allows a connection with plane transportation both ways, with savings in time that are estimated in days rather than hours.

And even if the Strait were frozen over the year around, Point Burwell would still be an important station. There is no doubt whatever that Hudson Bay, which never freezes over entirely, is destined to become an inland sea as important commercially as the Great Lakes and the Baltic. There is no doubt that Hammel’s vision in staking out the iron deposits on Belcher Islands is justified by the mere fact that the building of the Hudson Bay Railroad makes it possible to bring this iron to a point within reach of Alberta coal and Nelson River water power. That means industry. Innumerable other visions of industry are looming today. No one can tell what the future holds as the result of the work being done by the N.A.M.E., The Western Canada Airways, The Dominion Explorers, and others. All we know is that by far the biggest obstacle to the rapid settlement and utilization of Canada’s North has already disappeared to a very large extent—the psychological obstacle with its shudders about the “bleak” and “frozen” North, that heretofore kept all but the heroes comfortably at home.

Iceland the Logical Focal Point

TF HUDSON STRAIT, then, were frozen

over the year round, and the Bay were nothing but an ice-locked inland sea, there would be all the more need for rapid airplane communication with Europe. The only difference is that at Cape Chidley the planes would connect with other planes carrying mail, passengers, and express, instead of with steamers.

Commercially, as far as payload is concerned, Greenland is the weakest point of that entire route. This is due to the attitude of the Danish government rather than to any lack of natural resources. Greenland has coal and cryolite, an area of 150,000 square miles suitable for raising reindeer and crops, and some of the best fishing waters in the world in her immediate vicinity. Denmark, however, does not allow commercial exploitation there, except to a very limited extent and under the supervision of the crown. Greenland is an Eskimo reservation kept closed for the benefit of its inhabitants.

But the Boers discovered some years ago, and the Icelanders are discovering today, that the demands of commerce are ruthless and allow no closed territories to stand in the way of economic expansion. And the Danes have already had to modify their Greenland policy. Norway has won the right to establish a fishing station on the east coast of the island. Iceland is clamoring for the same right.

And Denmark is establishing local industries, agriculture and canning factories. The Danish attitude is that Greenland is only temporarily closed, until such a time when the Eskimos can play their part in commercial developments, or until the demands of commerce make its opening imperative.

Greenland is no more permanently nonproductive, and permanently unable to furnish any appreciable amount of payload, than is Arctic Canada.

And beyond Greenland, in Iceland we have one of the busiest commercial nations in the world. The foreign trade of Iceland today, per inhabitant, is probably larger than that of any other country, amounting to over $300 per year. Ships are busy the year around, ferrying passengers, mail and freight, between Reykjavik and such points as Edinburgh, Hull, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Bergen. And this is only the beginning. Iceland’s history, its position with regard to natural resources, its present road-building pro-1 gramme and economic trend, all indicate that the foreign trade of the nation must grow. In the past twenty years this trade has been multiplied twenty times; in the next ten years it should be trebled. There is no other way for a healthily growing country that has no timber, no coal, no mineral resources, and few agricultural products of its own, and is forced to trade the wealth of its fisheries and the potential wealth of its water power for nearly everything needed in modern civilized life.

Where trade is booming, the airplane finds payload. And in Iceland, where the fine ciimate, the weirdly beautiful scenery, and the friendly rural life are only now beginning to be appreciated by foreigners, the airplane can find an ever increasing amount of payload in the form of tourists.

Even today, there is little doubt that Iceland can make the eastern end of the airline pay—the part between that country and the rest of Europe.

When we study the position of Iceland on the map, we become aware that that country must be regarded as the logical European junction point of the transatlantic flying route, just as Cochrane is the logical American terminus. From Reykjavik the routes to Europe’s northern capitals spread out like fingers from an open hand. Reykjavik is the focal point at which the American flying system can best be tied in with the European, and with local European steamer service.

No wonder that the Germans have taken steps to establish flying in Iceland. In the Icelandic parliament of this year, they applied for a concession for exclusive commercial flying there. Had they received it, they would today have an exclusive concession to the only feasible airplane route between America and Europe.

In Answer to the Sceptics

THE plans of the Chicago company are still vague and unannounced. When it begins operations, they will undoubtedly be regarded with an almost universal scepticism. I for one am convinced that the company’s only possible mistake is that, perhaps, it is ahead of its time. But that is a flimsy criticism, overworked by the conservatives. It has so often proved unjustified in Canadian history alone that we must be careful in its application.

The tempo of our times is increasing enormously. The need for the GreenlandIceland flying service is becoming more apparent with each step in the development of the Hudson Bay Region and of Iceland. And as for Greenland, Canada has plenty of historical parallels, of lines of transportation crossing “useless” and non-productive territories. It was once predicted that the Canadian Pacific could never pay for its own axle-grease because it crossed the barren prairies of Saskatchewan and Alberta. It was predicted that the Hudson Bay Railroad would prove a failure for similar reasons. The trend of modern developments is rapidly northward. Predictions regarding the productivity of Greenland are as futile today as predictions regarding the productivity of the Hudson Bay Region were futile five years ago.

The main trouble with the business of prophecy is that no prophet can possibly take into full account all the trends and developments, technical, economic, psychological, that may have a bearing on any given case.