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Episode Two
The Series

EPISODE TWO: THE VISIONARIES

 


 
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Episode One
Episode Two
Episode Three
Episode Four
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Exec. Producer Bio
Cinematographer Bio
Exec. Producer Interview
 
 
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Wind, Sand & Stars...
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
In 1928, a French pilot and adventurer named Antoine de Saint Exupery was flying the mail between remote settlements in the Sahara desert. He was traversing an inhospitable land in a notoriously unreliable World War I surplus plane. And yet he could not have been more thrilled. The intoxicating experience of soaring day after day across the Sahara inspired St. Exupery to spend his nights writing about his love affair with flying. Antoine de St. Exupery was a man who faced extraordinary difficulties and triumphed over them. In the 1920s, there were many like him and, together, they would shape the future of flight.

 
Pioneers...
In the early days of flight, those drawn to the quest to build a better plane combined equal parts creativity and daring. One of those designers was Donald Douglas who, at 29, decided to throw caution to the wind and start his own company. After moving to Los Angeles, Douglas partnered with a wealthy playboy named David Davis, and drew up plans for a plane called the Cloudster. The Cloudster - the first airplane able to carry a cargo equal to its own weight, impressed the military. Soon Douglas and his friends were building planes for the army. Douglas Aircraft was off and running. But Douglas wasn't the only one trying to build a better plane.

The Lockheed Brothers found success when their whiz kid designer Jack Northrop came up with the Vega, the most aerodynamically advanced plane of its day. Up in Seattle, Washington, a wealthy boat builder named William Boeing was soon turning out planes for the military. Soon, the company began using its own planes to start Boeing Airlines, which could compete for the lucrative air mail contracts. Boeing Airlines, which would soon change its name to United, was just one of dozens of tiny domestic airlines that were competing with each other to win mail contracts. With the competition so fierce, nobody was getting rich. But in New York, one man had his eye on a new market he believed could make him rich - flying outside the U.S.

 
Pan Am...
Pan Am
Bored with life as a Wall Street executive, Juan Trippe began to dream of an airline that would fly to foreign destinations. At 28, bankrolled by his own inheritance and those of his rich friends, Trippe opened the offices of Pan American Airways. Through his wealthy Yale roommate, Trippe had a line to Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of the Treasury. Mellon helped fix it so that Pan Am was awarded the first U.S. government airmail routes to the Caribbean. Trippe's bid to dominate the overseas routes gained an enormous boost when he convinced the most famous aviator in the world, Charles Lindbergh, to come to work for his airline. Pan Am's good fortune continued when in 1931, the Postmaster General awarded Trippe an incredibly valuable monopoly over airmail rights south of the United States. But Pan Am wasn't alone in its sweetheart deal with the U.S. government.

 
Scandal...
In 1933, the FDR Administration was convinced that the previous Republican Administration had been making shady deals with big business. Senator Black of Alabama was appointed to investigate the airline industry, where United, TWA, American and Eastern had suddenly and mysteriously been awarded almost all of the nation's domestic airmail contracts. When Black subpoenaed the records kept by the airlines, it was revealed that the Republican Postmaster General, Walter Folger Brown, had summoned a select group of airline executives to secret meetings in Washington. To bring a chaotic, cutthroat industry under control, Brown demanded that the men pick four airlines from among themselves to divide up all of the country's airmail routes.

With the FDR administration believing that monopolies were not in the public interest, Roosevelt canceled all government contracts with the big four airlines. Then he ordered the Army Air Corps to take over airmail delivery. But he only gave the Air Corps ten days to gear up in midst of the worst winter in years. As a result, twelve pilots died within a month. The President finally decided that the army should get out of the airmail business and give it back to private industry. But Roosevelt did make changes. The Airmail Act of 1934 restored open bidding. In addition, the huge holding companies like Boeing that controlled both manufacturers and airlines were broken up. It was a law with enormous consequences. For with their lucrative monopolies on flying the mail gone, if the airlines were going to grow, they would have to expand in an entirely different market - flying passengers.

 
The Birth of the Modern Airliner...
In March of 1931, a TWA flight took off from Kansas City bound for Los Angeles. One of the passengers was Knute Rockne, the famous football coach at Notre Dame. Suddenly, an hour into the flight, one of the plane's wings broke off. Inspections revealed that the wooden wings of the Fokker had been weakened by dry rot. The deaths of Knute Rockne and the seven others on board was front page news across the country. For countless Americans, the tragedy confirmed what they'd already suspected - planes might well be faster, but people lived longer if they took the train.

After the loss of Rockne, TWA President Jack Frye was under enormous pressure to find a better, safer plane. He sent letters to the top manufacturers requesting proposals. Douglas Aircraft won the TWA contract with a proposal for an all-aluminum plane that would be fitted with two of the most powerful engines ever built. It would be like nothing the world had seen before. TWA immediately put in an order for 20 of the planes. It was the beginning of a golden age for Douglas Aircraft. The company soon built an even bigger, more advanced plane with optional sleeping berths called the DC-3. Its luxurious accommodations transformed the experience of flying. More importantly, the DC-3 made history as the first plane to make money carrying only passengers - no mail. The era of widespread passenger flight was underway.

 
The Last Frontier...
In 1934, Trippe made a startling announcement, "Pan Am is going to conquer the Pacific." Flying an airliner across the Pacific was thought to be impossible, since there were not enough places to land and refuel in the vast stretch of open ocean between America and China. Trippe went to the office of the postmaster general with a proposition; if Pan Am found a way to cross the Pacific, it would be guaranteed all of the airmail contracts to the far east. Surprisingly, the Roosevelt administration agreed to this monopoly. They decided that it was in the national interest to allow Pan Am to do what it had done in the Caribbean: blaze a path behind which American business and the American military could follow.

Trippe spent millions to oufit a ship that would sail to Wake Island, a tiny piece of land that he knew almost nothing about, and build an airport. Over the course of nine lonely months, they transformed the three square mile island from an almost barren, uninhabited wasteland into a bustling town with streets, dock and seaport. Juan Trippe's gamble had paid off for Pan Am. The airlines were convinced that more and more people would embrace flying. The problem was that, for many, there was still a catch.

 
Fear of Flying...
Stewardesses
In 1935, airlines in the U.S. carried a total of one million passengers. Trains in the U.S carried a total of five hundred million passengers. One reason for the enormous discrepancy was that most train travelers still considered flying too risky. To win people away from the train, the airlines needed to change the very psychology of the public toward flying. And since the vast majority of travelers were men, it was the male attitude toward flying in particular that needed changing. It was a woman who figured out how.

In 1930, Ellen Church went to United Airlines and suggested that they put young nurses on board their planes to care for their frightened and airsick passengers. United Airlines executive Steve Stimpson suspected that putting women on planes might encourage men who were still afraid of flying to shed their fears. Stimpson hired Ellen Church and seven others under strict height and weight guidelines. It was a great deal to ask of young women, most in the first job they'd ever had, to handle such high stress situations. But because of their resilience and determination, staffing planes with stewardesses turned out to be a resounding success. The improvements in how the airlines went about their business had a major impact on how the public viewed flying. More and more people began taking the plane instead of the train. Flying had been transformed from a curiosity to a part of the fabric of life.
 

   
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