April 1932 Radio News
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from
Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
Yes, this is another article
that will probably appeal to a small percentage of RF Cafe visitors, but please
countenance my indulgence in things aeronautical as well as things electrical.
The early 1930s was a time when both airplanes and electronics were a wonder
and a mystery to most of the public worldwide. Of course today both are still
a mystery to the public but the wonder is gone - it's merely taken for granted.
Many idiosyncrasies of airborne electronic communications were encountered for
the first time, like the need for proper grounding and static electricity dissipation.
Ruggedization of chassis assemblies in terms of mechanical vibration and shock
as well as for temperature extremes was a real challenge to engineers, technicians,
and pilots. As the state of the art advanced, pilots and passengers placed gradually
more and more reliance and confidence on electronic systems, which motivated
the creation of more electronics for easing pilots' flight workload and enabling
flight during previously unnavigable conditions, which motivated further improvements.
How to Break into the Aviation Radio Game
By Lieut. Myron Eddy*
"I most heartily concur in Colonel Lindbergh's advice to
young men to 'take the radio side of aviation.' It is the fastest, most fascinating
and profitable part of the air game."
Aviation radio operators what sort of men are they? Having trained hundreds
of them, I am often asked that question. Wherein do they differ from ships'
radio operators or the men who operate the broadcast station equipment? Interesting
questions, these. The answer is that they are not so very different. In fact,
they are in many instances the same men - ships' operators often take up aviation
radio work. But to make good they must like aviation and be something of a mechanic.
To "like aviation" usually means that they are familiar with airplanes and engines,
that they would like to fly, that they would be unafraid in the air. There are
many strictly "ground" jobs for radio operators, but I think that air-plane
operators are the ones who usually get the most fun out of their job.
First "Try Your Wings"
So if you are thinking of taking up "the radio side of aviation," which Colonel
Lindbergh not long ago advised was "the coming thing," first fly a bit. Get
your flight reactions established by flying. And do something while you are
in the air. A radio operator concentrates on his work, every minute of every
flight. You must learn to do the same and still not be tired. Pan-American radio
operators must all accept flight duty when assigned, even though employed at
radio stations on the ground. The first of our questions are answered, then
- aviation radio operators should be the sort of men who do not get air-sick.
In this respect they must be different from the ship's operator who may be relieved
by another operator if he becomes sea-sick. There is no relief operator aboard
a plane. In fact, the operator should be able to relieve the plane mechanic
if the latter is overcome with gas fumes or injured while in flight. On most
planes the operator is referred to as the "radio mechanic" because he serves
as both radio operator and plane mechanic. Sometimes he is the only mechanic
aboard. In this case he usually holds an airplane mechanic's license. In every
case he must hold a commercial radio operator's license - a broadcast operator's
license simply will not do. Because it seemed that there was a special sort
of operator needed for airplanes, the Department of Commerce (Radio Division)
authorized, nearly a year ago, a special Aircraft Radio Operator's license -
Commercial Third Class.
A working speed of only fifteen words code is required to secure this class
of license. This is because a greater speed in transmission and reception aboard
airplanes is unnecessary and undesirable, accuracy being more essential than
speed. Indeed, accuracy and dependability are the chief professional qualifications
desired in the airplane radio operator. The ability to maintain the radio set
and get the messages through on schedule is the main thing.
Testing Radio Beacon
Mr. H. L. Clemens, Assistant to Radio Engineer, testing
the beacon and weather receiver on an Eastern Air Transportation mail plane
Consider the equipment to be maintained and operated: there is a transmitter,
two receivers and sometimes a course indicator. Generator, batteries and antennas
must also be watched. Regulations governing transmission of messages must be
known and adhered to and schedules handled "on the dot." The operator should
also know the Airways - every light and radio beacon, the bearing and distances
between them and the type of terrain flown over. The pilot will tell him the
air speed being flown. The compass will indicate the amount of drift caused
by wind. Between messages the quick operator will be able to estimate accurately
the ground speed being made and therefore the time of arrival to be radioed
to the next airport ahead. Yes, the radio operator aboard a transport plane
is a very important man, so far as flight is concerned.
Now what about his buddies on the ground? There are two of them, a radio
service or maintenance man at the airport who will overhaul the plane set at
the end of the run, and an Airways station operator who handles the actual message
traffic with the plane. Their work is also important. The reports of these two
men make or break the young plane operator; if the messages do not come through
and the airport maintenance man locates a fault in the set that could have been
remedied in the air, the plane operator is probably "grounded" for a while,
to spend weary hours in disgrace washing down planes and playing radio messenger
boy. Messages must get through! As a matter of fact, they usually do get through,
thanks to the combined efforts of the plane operator, the station operator and
the maintenance man.
Ground Station Operators
The good station operator works his set all the time. He services the set
as he operates it. He "picks up" the plane calling other distant stations first;
then he takes over the handling of traffic at the most convenient time according
to existing schedules. Every minute of every hour is scheduled, either to a
particular station, or to planes east, south, west, north. He hears them all
in sequence and at the proper time exchanges a brief call with each to establish
contact. As each, in turn, approaches and passes, he "clears" them, reporting
their position by land wire or teletype machine to the proper flight-division
Sometimes the Airways station operator becomes an impromptu radio serviceman
or plane mechanic. If a plane lands at his station he may become both, because
at every stop made, and especially whenever there is a non-scheduled landing,
the engine, plane and radio set are inspected and tested. If it is an emergency
landing, full details must be forwarded to the division headquarters at once,
without interfering with the work to be done on the plane. In this case the
relief operator is hurriedly called and put on the key while the regular operator
hurries out to meet the plane, helping to man the landing lights at night if
it is an "intermediate" field.
Aviation Radio Serviceman at Work
Testing the bonding of a training plane by comparing with
a receiver which has been set outside of the plane.
Requirements and Rank
These station operators are always assistants to the field superintendent
and usually make up and send weather reports as a part of their regular duties.
They are all required to be not only radio-telegraph but radio-telephone operators
and must therefore neither stutter nor lisp! Living quarters, are usually provided
and at government stations the salary received is from $1640 per annum, up.
Upon being appointed to one of these stations there is a probationary period
of six months, during which time the probationer may qualify at the kitchen
sink or solo at the lawnmower. But they like it! Day and night great airplanes
soar by overhead, speeded on their way by work at the key and the microphone.
Through storm and fog, the station man keeps his radio beacon sending out its
guiding beam to carry the pilot straight through to a safe landing. There is
a thrill in this. And yet the station job lends itself to domesticity. The married
man at an Airways station eats and sleeps "home" every night. For this reason
the older men with families usually end up at either an Airways station or at
And what does the radio serviceman at the airport do when he takes over the
set at the end of each run? Briefly. he works the set. If it won't work, he
finds out why and replaces the equipment that is faulty. He charges the battery.
He sets up the generator on a test bench and gives it a speed run. He loads
a "dummy" antenna and runs the transmitter full blast, noting its maximum output
into this "dummy" antenna. He tests every tube in the receiver and listens for
"distance" to determine its sensitiveness. If it is more noisy on the plane
than off, he checks up on the airplane engine's ignition system to see if it
is properly shielded and also if the plane itself is properly bonded to form
a perfect counterpoise. In performing these tests he strings the trailing type
antenna out in different directions to nearby poles, in order to determine any
directional tendencies. The results of all tests are recorded and a copy furnished
the plane operator before the next flight. Then, just before the take-off, the
entire radio set is tested by both serviceman and plane operator, the latter
signing the test report as "condition satisfactory for flight work."
Overhauling Ignition Shielding System
Aviation maintenance men checking the ignition shielding
system of a plane so necessary for quiet operation.
The situation regarding employment is peculiar and the governing facts are
of interest. There are now nearly 400 radio-equipped planes in the United States
and there will be more each succeeding year, all licensed as mobile stations.
All are required to be manned by licensed radio operators. This influences the
employment situation. Approximately 75% of the air-transport companies use radiophones
on their planes. Many of these planes do not carry radio operators, although
there must be one pilot aboard holding a radiophone license. Pan-American is
a notable exception - they fly mostly over water, communicate longer distances
and use radio-telegraphy exclusively. They say it is the only thing for distance,
accuracy and dependability. They hire experienced, first-class commercial operators
only. Many of these operators qualify for an airplane or engine mechanic's license.
This license can only be secured by one having had experience on a plane, and
an operator holding it usually makes more money than a ship's operator. He is
To get a job in aviation as a radio maintenance man you should be a good
trouble-shooter on aircraft sets, a good battery man and not averse to gassing
and oiling planes. Occasionally a maintenance man will be required to relieve
the airport radio operator, which means that he should know the company's communication
system as well as its sets. The most important thing is to be absolutely reliable
and also adaptable to other kinds of jobs. When you "OK" a plane set, it must
thereafter work perfectly throughout the next flight. Sometimes you have to
check the plane operator, to eliminate the flight trouble! Assuredly the airport
radio maintenance man must be a man of ability and tact.
The following are ·the more important requirements for assistant radio operator
(Airways). This is a Civil Service job starting at $1800 a year with a $60 raise
every year up to $2000. This sounds like a pretty good job, and it is. Assistants
may be promoted to operator in charge, any time after six months' service, at
salaries ranging from $2300 to $2800, and also to radio electricians at $3000
and more per year. The assistant's job is open to any operator between 18 and
40 who is sound of wind and limb and who has no impediment of speech or "brogue"
accent. Applicants will not be examined personally, but will be rated on their
training, experience and fitness. They must be able to send and receive and
type at speeds up to 30 words per minute.
There is a popular belief among civilian radio men that ex-army and ex-navy
men get preference when it comes to employment in aviation. This misconception
is caused by many unrelated facts. It is a fact that the Civil Service Airways
jobs are often secured by disabled veterans. These men are legally entitled
to a handicap on their examination which often puts them at the head of the
eligible list. Civilian flying concerns are honeycombed with good men who learned
the air game in the army or navy. These men favor their friends because they
know the air game as well as radio.
Radio operators who learn the business of commercial aviation will progress
upward as airport superintendents, field managers, plane despatchers, airline
managers and officials of air companies. There are few old-time aviation radio
operators, because the good ones have been promoted out of radio and more directly
Now do you see what sort of men aviation radio operators must be? Pretty
good all-around men. Men who know three sides of the game: flying, operating,
and maintenance. Able to sympathize with the troubles of the other fellow but
not to condone his faults. Men without alibis - men of character, not afraid.
To this type of man aviation radio promises much interesting work, on the ground
and in the air, as well as a great future; a future to be filled with accomplishment
and personal advancement. I have trained radio men of this type in the navy
for years and am now training men for commercial aviation jobs and I find it
always works out so that the better the man the better the aviation radio operator
* Author, Aircraft Radio.
Posted February 23, 2021
(updated from original post on 12/3/2013)