March 1930 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 acknowledged.
"Compactness distinguishes the Western Electric 8A airplane receiver."
That statement describes a 160-pound system that included a wind-driven
electricity generator for the equipment used by Captain Frank M. Hawks
when setting coast-to-coast time records in the year 1929 using his
Lockheed Air Express airplane, dubbed "Texaco 5." A simple 4-tube AM
radio, its chassis measured a whopping 6" x 10" x 12". There were no
radio direction finding stations enroute at the time, so the radio's
usefulness was limited to being "comforting to listen in every half-hour
and be advised of general conditions throughout the United States. Daring
pilots of the day risked life and limb to push forward the frontiers
of technology by testing and proving airframes, engines, electronics,
navigation methods, and, almost as importantly, building confidence
and a sense of awe and urgency on the part of the public so that continued
development would be assured and encouraged.
How My Radio Helped Me Break the Transcontinental Air Record
By picking up weather reports I was enabled to avoid storms and fog
and take advantage of favorable winds
By Captain Frank M. Hawks
The radio-equipped Lockheed Air Express flown by Capt. Hawks
in his record-breaking flights
Capt. Frank M. Hawks, holder of the East to West and West to
East speed records, in the control cockpit of his plane
Here is a complete Western Electric airplane receiver installation
consisting of receiver, wind-driven generator and remote control
Compactness distinguishes the Western Electric 8A airplane receiver
used by Capt. Hawks in his transcontinental dashes.
To the right, the circuit employed in the 8A receiver. It consists
of two r.f. stages, a detector and one resistance-coupled audio
To those readers who are technically inclined and who might be interested
in the characteristics of the Western Electric radio equipment which
I used in my Lockheed Air Express, Texaco 5, the plane which holds both
transcontinental speed records, I shall divide this data into two divisions.
First, the electrical characteristics: This set covers a range of
from 600 to 12,000 meters and is entirely remote-controlled. The circuit
consists of two stages of radio-frequency amplification, a detector
and one stage of audio-frequency amplification. Heater type screen-grid
tubes are used in the r.f. and detector stages. This type of tube, used
as a space-charge grid detector, permits very high sensitivity. The
input or antenna stage is provided with a special input filter to avoid
interference from unwanted stations.
Second, the physical characteristics: the receiver is made of duralumin,
and its dimensions are approximately 6" x 10" x 12". The weight is approximately
160 pounds. This receiver is arranged with its own shock-absorbing platform,
permitting easy assembly and removal from the plane for servicing. There
are two remote-control units, thereby permitting the receiver to be
mounted in any convenient location in the plane. Located in the pilot's
cockpit. they consist of a volume control and a remote tuning control.
Usually the power is supplied to the filaments directly from a twelve-volt
airplane battery, and a ballast lamp in the set automatically protects
the tubes against the average battery fluctuations. A seven-pound dynamotor,
operating from a twelve-volt airplane battery, supplies the plate potential
to the receiver. However, in my plane, I use a small wind-driven generator
which provides both the 'A' and 'B' supply directly to the receiver.
This was done to aid in the elimination of excess weight, as it was
necessary for me to carry 550 gallons of gasoline, weighing nearly 7,000
pounds, on my transcontinental hops.
Radio now plays an important part in air navigation. The Department
of Commerce has placed radio stations all the way across the continent
for guidance of pilots by means of radio beacons. Every half-hour the
beacon is shut off and weather reports are broadcast by voice on the
same wavelength. In order absolutely to guarantee record time and to
complete both non-stop hops successfully, it was necessary to have the
best radio equipment installed in my ship.
On the morning of the twenty-eighth, as I took off with a heavy load
for the West from Roosevelt Field to lower the previous record of twenty-four
hours, I was receiving weather reports from Hadley Field assuring me
of satisfactory flying conditions over the first hazardous part of the
trip, the Allegheny Mountains. After passing over Altoona, I began to
run into heavy ground fog which covered the entire surrounding country.
This condition is confusing to any pilot, but with my radio I was able
to receive favorable reports of the weather and I knew that the ground
fog was only local.
The remainder of the day I was favored with splendid visibility.
I did not need the radio; however, it was comforting to listen in every
half-hour and be advised of general conditions throughout the United
States. Upon arriving at Cajon Pass the entrance of the transcontinental
route into Los Angeles, an immense ground fog lay over the entire valley,
giving me considerable concern as to the landing possibilities. It was
about eight o'clock in the evening and darkness was rapidly coming upon
me. Once again the radio came to my rescue, and informed me that the
Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport was open, and that the fog had not
yet reached that area.
On the return trip I was favored with good weather. But head winds,
however, shortened my time record. The radio was used only as a comforter
at the half-hour periods, but became valuable when I arrived over Columbus
and nightfall came upon me once again. Clouds were rising rapidly to
high altitudes, and it was necessary to fly blindly through them in
my climb upward to get on the top.
From Columbus on into New York there was nothing but a sea of clouds
broken only at occasional points where I could see the lights of automobiles
and towns through the holes. Without the use of radio I doubt if I should
ever have continued because the weather looked more and more questionable
as I kept speeding eastward, and it was out of the question to rely
entirely upon my senses and unguided judgment alone. Here, again, the
radio unquestionably was the greatest of help. and it made the flight
a success. By its use, I was told the weather conditions and of the
broken forecast over Roosevelt Field which would permit a safe landing,
and I continued on through the darkness with the utmost confidence,
arriving at Roosevelt Field in record time by some forty minutes.
I am keenly enthusiastic over the use of radio in aircraft. On one
or two occasions I have flown a plane not equipped with radio on cross-country
trips. Each time I felt a though there was something lacking. I missed
the comforting half-hourly news from the Department of Commerce radio
weather stations and the steady buzz of the radio beacon.
I always make it a point to fly over the airways as outlined by the
Department of Commerce, because of their facilities to aid the pilot
in air navigation.
Still another experience helped to prove the value of radio. Immediately
after the National Air Tour I took off from Detroit for New York with
very questionable weather ahead. With twelve other pilots I headed for
New York. We went through several severe snowstorms with negligible
visibility and I am certain that I should never have continued if it
had not been for the radio beacon and encouraging weather reports from
the eastern end. I made the flight from Detroit to New York in three
hours, which I believe is record time, whereas the other pilots all
turned back at Toledo, and not one of them came through: They did not
I believe that the time will come when there will be written in the
air traffic regulations a special enactment calling for installation
of radio on all aircraft. The aid which radio insures to air navigation
is indispensable, and its use should be compulsory.
Posted April 1, 2014