Looking over some British opinions on where we are now, and where we're going in aircraft and engine design, doesn't lead you to expect any startling changes in the near future. As might be expected, they're almost entirely concerned with military types. Under aerodynamic improvements, nothing is said about the possibilities of new low-drag airfoil sections, but the British, like everyone else, are known to be working on them.
The experts feel pretty well satisfied that the modern single-engined fighter is just about the end of the line in cleanness. On multimotored ships, however, they see a big chance to gain speed by finding some way of getting the engines inside. Engines specially designed to be flat enough to fit into the average wing haven't been heard of so much lately, but in France at least one (a Bugatti to turn out 1,500 hp) is being worked on. One suggestion is to put the motors in the fuselage and drive wing propellers through shafts and gearing, which would add plenty of weight and complication. Another is to use a couple of engines in the fuselage driving counter-revolving tractor props in the nose. Anyway, they agree, some better place to put motors will have to be found than where they are now.
Structures are considered almost entirely from the viewpoint of production. For this reason single-spar wings are praised as long as too many holes don't have to be put in forward of the spar. The two-spar wing is regarded as about the best present practice, taking into account the number of things that have to be stuck in a wing nowadays, ease of production, and the good support it furnishes for flaps and ailerons. Multispar wings are condemned as too hard to make, particularly since a lot of their theoretical weight saving over other types is lost by openings and joints.
The biggest field for progress pointed out is that of standardization of details, and possibly even of design practice for whole assemblies throughout the industry. The numerous fancy shapes of rolled and extruded sections, for example, could probably be cut down to a few standard sections in various sizes, without running up structural weights enough to notice. With such standardization, production of aircraft shapes could be speeded up, and costs and the necessity of carrying big stocks reduced. As an example of standardized design practice, the outer wing panels of multi-engined ships could probably all be made the same way. The panels could be made shorter or deeper or wider as required by different airplanes, but all would have the same general design and the same types of parts. Engine designers don't seem to be quite so willing to use standardization.Airline Replacements
One of the biggest problems now facing both neutral and belligerent airlines, is where they are going to get replacement ships. Besides the toll of a loss now and then, the progressive lines don't want to sit back watching their ships go down hill from normal wear and tear and obsolescence. The neutrals have so far been able to find plenty of manufacturers looking for business, but they're up against increasing pressure from the competition of military orders, and in cases where they're forced to import their ships, usually have trouble in persuading their own governments to spend foreign exchange for such luxuries as commercial planes.
The countries at war have been variously affected. The Germans have made out about the best as far as ships go; Lufthansa was pretty well supplied at the beginning of the war, and even though a good many of them aren't so new, they have a lot of good sturdy airplanes with lots of hours left in them. Besides, routes and frequencies have been reduced on both domestic and foreign lines to no more than is really needed. This was particularly easy and painless for Germany, which had no world empire or distant pals with whom it was necessary to maintain fast communication. In spite of these reductions, the Germans claim that Rangsdorf, which has replaced Tempelhof as the commercial field for Berlin, is Europe's busiest airport.
The British were certainly hit the worst. They were already suffering from an acute airliner shortage when the war began; most of their routes were too important in the scheme of empire communication to permit much reduction in service; work on new commercial ships was suspended, and then to finish things off, the government took over some of their remaining fleet for what they considered more urgent jobs. The Air Ministry is getting a very bad press from those who feel it hasn't stood up for the airlines strongly enough, but they don't seem to have much hope that anything will be done until it's too late. How hard the British are scraping the bottom of the barrel is shown by the recent loss of the ancient Hannibal on the way back from India, a veteran that certainly deserved a more happy and peaceful old age than it received.
The French, who were in a better spot in that they had just about completed a big landplane equipment program when the war came along, have made a move toward insuring a supply of commercial ships. A new company said to be capitalized at 300,000,000 francs has been set up, apparently under or at least in a close tie-up with Air France, to turn out transport ships for operation on the airlines.
Sidebar: "As Others Fly It"
Don't forget that the Italians are still in the export business. As the only European neutrals with a big-time aviation industry they're in a nice spot to turn about as much business in military and commercial ships as they want to take on. One country they've been going after in a big way lately is Japan. The recent goodwill flights back and forth between them is being followed by Italian-organized exhibitions in the large Japanese cities and even in Manchukuo. The Japanese have already thrown them some business, such as the Savoia-Marchettis for the Tokyo-Bangkok line mentioned here earlier. There's been a lot of talk recently about Belgium's plans to place some military orders there; she's been one of Italy's steadiest customers for commercial ships. Another story is that Norway, which already has some Bredas, will swap a big load of codfish for military plans.
Italy's biggest export opportunity is of course in selling to the boys already in the war, but down that alley there are plenty of political bumps. The British aeronautical press has recently been running little notes on how the Italians are pretty ner and build very nice airplanes and aren't such bad fellows after all all of which has smelled like building up the home folks for news of substantial orders with them as part of the big commercial agreement that's been expected for some time. It looks now as if they intended to, but that Mr Mussolini, while perfectly willing tos end them plenty of such products as garlic and olive oil, drew the line at armament. Beside the obvious hitch that this might have been a little embarrassing in view of Italy's official position in the international lineup, ther is the rumored one that the biggest part of the deal was for engines that would eventually have wound up with the French, who certainly can't be counted as loyal Mussolini rooters.
Another angle on fuel injection in German engines comes from the stories being brought out of Poland by those who had a good look at the German air force in action. According to them Polish attacks on German-occupied fields were often broken up because the Germans used to jump into parked fighters and take off without hanging around to warm up their engines. Captured Messerschmitts, according to this version, were found to have two small auxiliary tanks that made this stunt possible. For starting, which is done electrically, a mixture of ether and gasoline is injected, which gets things going in a hurry. Then the pilot switches over to another tank with a mixture of gasoline and lubricating oil, and takes off right away. After he's been going long enough for his engine to come up to temperature, he switches over again to draw on his main fuel tanks. With this system the Germans are said to have made full-throttle takeoffs with cold motors as a regular routine practice, but the Polish stories also claim that they had plenty of trouble with their fuel injection pumps, which demanded a lot of maintenance under service conditions.
There are signs that the French are loosening up a little on letting neutral lines into France. There's no talk of letting them run clear across the country, but they'll evidently be allowed far enough to shorten considerably the surface travel stretches now required. SABENA, which had its whole connection between Belgium and the Congo knocked out, has finally received permission to come north into Marseilles. It will run in pool with Air Afrique, each line sending out a round trip per week. KLM is also said to be in line for permits that would lop a day off the present Amsterdam-Naples train ride. In the north, according to these rumors, the Dutch would be allowed to fly as far as Dieppe on the coast, while in the south they could come over from Naples to Marseilles, leaving only the trip across France to be made by rail.
This column was originally published in the April, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 39, no 4, pp 84, 86.
The original column includes 3 photos: Schipol (Amsterdam) Airport, tail turret of a Short Sunderland, and the Stearman PT-13 assembly line. Photo credits to Authenticated News, British Press Combine.