Looking about for some barometer that might reveal for our readers the amount of work actually being done here at Washington I hit upon the National Inventors' Council, but one small agency in dozens down here. Headed by an old friend of aviation, "Boss" Kettering of General Motors, and with Col Leon B Lent as chief engineer, a group of our best scientists has considered no less than 40,000 inventions of all kinds, most of them dealing with aviation, in 18 months.
Many of us are inventors; some of us have dealt with them. We all know the amount of diplomacy, patience, tact, study and man hours all this has entailed. Most other agencies cover relatively just as much ground but none reveals the volume more clearly than the Inventors' Council. While Colonel Lent has no "dough" to hand out from his own office, his group has been such a good filter that when something "gets by," it usually gets funds (and readily, too) from the agency most vitally concerned.
Colonel Lent, whom many will recall as being the first superintendent of the US Air Mail before private contractors flew the airlines, is credited with exploring personally most of the novel inventions submitted and of being "a second Job" for patience in dealing with serious looking gentlemen. One long-haired gentleman appeared at the White House bright and early recently, demanding immediate entrance. He would see none but the President himself. With furtive glances he walked suspiciously and haltingly to the registry desk.
"But the President is much too busy, he cannot possibly meet you today." Day after day, interpolated with calls upon his Senators and Congressmen, this man who held the key to victory waited to show the big Chief himself the invention that was to save Democracy again.
Finally, White House Secretary Marvin McIntyre persuaded the persistent inventor to see Colonel Lent. He agreed, upon the condition that all the doors be locked during the interview. They met. Peeking behind every desk, radiator and chair the inventor whisperingly confided: "A great magnet suspended on a steel cable from a fast airplane will be swept over the ground troops and jerk every rifle from the enemy's grasp, rendering whole platoons impotent." "Yes," added Lent, "and I'll bet you never thought of another application" never batting an eye, Lent went on "just think," lowering his voice in seeming seriousness, "not only would it disarm them but if the tin-hatted soldiers kept their chin straps on, the magnet would suddenly pull heavenward all the steel helmets and strangle the whole bunch en masse!" Colonel Lent's reply displayed such interest and understanding that he became fertile ground forthwith for the personal "touch" to pay the man's fare back home to his people.
With Pearl Harbor, out came an order in both the War and Navy Departments here making it mandatory for all officers to wear their uniforms.
One major of the Air Forces appeared with his four rows of ribbons under his sterling pilot's wings, He was the envy of all the hard working brother officers, save one who took neither the tokens, nor that hard work which had won them, very seriously. Passing out of the Carlton dining room, the latter spied the gallant major, bedecked in all his gaudy bars. Pausing, he leaned over and whispered close to his ear: "Tell your host that if he'll give you another drink, buddy, you'll put up another row." The beribboned major grinned and hopefully reached in his pocket for a fifth bar of State ribbons!
Saw a movie this week taken of the instrument board on Jack O'Meara's plane, recorded from a camera fixed back over Jack's left shoulder during his last and fatal "six G" dive. The film was pretty badly mutilated but what impressed your correspondent most was the split seconds of time given a man to get out of a closed cockpit once a wing does let go. As we watched the picture run through for detail a second time and as we stopped it here and there to make a minute examination, we found that our mind just would not keep to the shocking film. We recalled problem after problem Jack had encountered so willingly year after year as he pioneered aviation. His set-backs and his successes paraded before us. Remembered an appointment he had with us the following week to discuss a very disconcerting situation we both were facing, a bridge which he thought he had to cross but which now he will never encounter. Jack may not have amassed much wealth but his memory is sure something to warm the hearts of the hundreds who were fortunate to have known him.
Stimulating to find some of the 20-hour-per-day Army and Navy officers finally receiving their just promotion lately. Thousands more are to come in aviation ranks, if the 160,000 plane program becomes a reality before the Axis powers fold up.
Your correspondent sharpened his pencil and figured out that by January 1, 1944, every flying officer in the Air Forces of the Army today will be at least a major and if we really get going at the pace set by American officers flying on the front in the last war, we will have dozens of lieutenant colonels who will not have reached their 23d birthday.
Some of the well known aviation men recently promoted include Eric Nelson, Jack Knight, and Ted Curtiss, now lieutenant colonels. Merian Cooper, right hand man to Gen 'Mike' Scanlon of A2 Air Staff, is now a major. Robert Olds is a brigadier general a just reward for a job well done on the Ferrying Command.
Although so many civilians indulge in cocktail parties that in one hotel at five in the afternoon the lobby is full of tables and looks like the Cafe de Paris sidewalk cafe, very few uniforms are seen amongst them. Have heard it said that the Army and Navy officers are busy at cocktail parties daily. This statement is not true. They are too tired to indulge. They work here seven days per week on an average of 12 hours a day. Consequently they are too tired to accept the dozens of bids they get daily for refreshment.
Gen. Donald H Connolly's appointment to General Arnold's staff to aid the latter on civil aviation matters meets with general approval. The Air Service was helped immeasurably by the talents of two fine officers of the Engineer's Corps in the last war, Maj Gen Mason M Patrick and Col William Sherman, and the presence of General Connolly is reassuring.
Van R Sternbergh of the chief's office (General Menoher) Army Air Service, World War I, has been commissioned in the Air Force Intelligence.
Little need now to worry over non-recognition of air power. The talk going on here since Pearl Harbor runs about like this: "It (air power) neutralized our floating 'Maginot Line' in the Pacific. Intelligently handled, it swung our Naval supremacy there over to our enemy. The President never even mentioned Navy production in his message to Congress."
This column was originally published in the March, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 30, no 3, pp 35, 94.
The original column was illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.