Nothing is more fun than flying an airplane. Be jealous. Believe it or not, the Bear even flew one backwards. This is not one of the Bear's tall tales. It's easily possible in a Skyhawk on a windy day. The airplane doesn't know forwards from backwards, it just knows air flow. So fly into a wind blowing at a greater speed than your airplane is going, and you can look down and watch the world creep underneath you the wrong way.
Anyway, Pete had a great link to some marvelous pictures from the Golden Age of Aviation. In the Bear's enthusiasm he wrote a too-long comment, so is going to expand it here.
Death Traps of the Golden Age of Aviation
|Boeing B377 Stratocruiser (Great airplane if the propellors stayed on.)|
Romantic yes, safe, no. In the 50s and 60s commercial airliners were deathtraps by today's standards. The most glamorous of them all was the four-engine propeller driven Boeing B377 Stratocruiser, which boasted two levels, like today's 747. It had numerous fatal incidents, some due to problems with the propellors, like coming off and going "runaway," a very bad thing.
|B377 Stratocruiser ditching near weather ship. Everyone survived.|
In one case, a B377 orbited a weather ship with only two working engines until daylight, then ditched, making for a dramatic photograph. Everyone survived.
One of Aviation's Greatest Mysteries: Pan Am Clipper Romance of the Skies
The B377 Pan Am Clipper Romance of the Skies (Pan Am always had the greatest names for each of their aircraft) went down on November 9, 1957 between San Francisco and Hawaii. Some wreckage and few bodies were found. Some recovered bodies showed trauma; others had apparently drowned. Most had lifejackets on and were without shoes. Clearly, the flight crew knew they were going down and people had time to prepare. Toxicology showed elevated carbon monoxide levels, but today that is not believed to be significant.
There were three plausible theories, not one, but two of which included foul play. A disgruntled purser who blew up the plane, a ex-Navy demolition expert who took out several insurances polices on himself and blew up the plane, but possibly never boarded it.
The third theory was mechanical: a "runaway propellor"- a pilot's nightmare in those days. Imagine a propellor magically turning into a solid disk. That's not what happens, but it illustrates the effect. It is very difficult to fly an airplane whose aerodynamics have been so deranged. To this day it remains one of the greatest mysteries in aviation. See more of this fascinating story at here.
British Death Trap: The Comet
|"BOAC: Better On A Camel." Beautiful airplane, but fatal design flaw.|
The British began the jet age with the de Havilland Comet. In 1954, two separate Comets mysteriously broke up and fell into the sea with no survivors. Unfortunately, it was another deathtrap due to bad design, The square windows developed microscopic cracks at the corners due to pressurization and depressurization. The area around the windows had been punch-riveted instead of drill riveted, as designed. The British commercial aviation industry never recovered (although Rolls Royce continues to make engines).
Commercial Aviation Today
The industry learned from every crash, though, and today airplanes are amazingly safe, but much, much less glamorous. The Europeans even gave us the name "Airbus." Today's "glass cockpits" have done away with dials, and everything is presented to the pilot in easily digestible form on a bank of screens. Modern jetliners literally fly themselves, and can even land.
However, pilots sometimes take the automation for granted. The Asiana 777 that crash landed in San Francisco in 2013 was a mess. The crew came in too high on approach, then tried to get back on the glide path by changing the autopilot setting. However, the selected setting did not control airspeed, something the captain apparently didn't know. The flight crew, incredibly, did not monitor airspeed on final! Nobody was controlling or even watching airspeed until it was too late. They went to full throttles and attempted to climb, but they were too low and too slow. Asiana's policy discouraged pilots from landing aircraft themselves, by the way, which may have led to over-reliance on automation and degraded airmanship. (This is not an unusual policy. Airlines prefer not to have ham-handed human pilots abusing their airplanes . That was sarcastic, by the way.)
The Connie, and the Kansas City Airline Museum
|Lockheed Constellation: Graceful and Distinctive.|
The Lockheed Constellation is arguably one of the most beautiful airliners ever made. It has four piston engines and three tails (technically, three vertical stabilizers on the empennage). Some of them had a glass dome so the navigator could use a sextant. (Which could be very dangerous.)
Aviation was still not mature, and the Connie was involved in many fatal accidents, including two famous mid-air collisions, one over the Grand Canyon.
The Golden Age was not the Age of Airline safety. Many lessons had to be learned the hard way. Procedures were changed, and safety technology had to be developed. To put things in perspective, there are thousands of Boeing 737s in use. Boeing estimates that, on average, 2.2 737s take off every second! Crashes are extremely rare these days.
They have a Connie at the wonderful little aviation museum in Kansas City. Well worth a tour to get a feel for those days. She was flying on the airshow circuit, where the Bear first saw her, but has been grounded for some time. She is reportedly progressing on her inspections and they hope to get her in the air again. Still nice to visit ,though, and walk through. (They also have a static Lockheed L1011, a great old "three-holer" from the 70s that set new technical standards. One of the nicest jet airliners ever made.)
A lot of people died in the Golden Age of Aviation, but commercial aviation is exceedingly safe today from the lessons learned.