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Bombs Away: 1929

Bombs Away: 1929

1929. Washington, D.C., or vicinity. "NO CAPTION [Man in airplane]." Next-door neighbor to this image in the Harris & Ewing negative series. View full size.


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Trailing aerials

were still in use in the Viet Nam conflict, C-130's had massive trailing aerials many kilometers long, they flew in circles so the aerial would be almost vertical.

Can You Hear Me Now???

While Jenkins was working on this contraption, the Packard Motor Car Company had already solved the problem with radio static in an airplane – they designed, built and flew a diesel radial engine for an airplane. Because diesel engines do not have spark plugs, wires and other electrical interference items, The pilot can now communicate static free.

It was done on June 3, 1929 over the skies of the Packard Proving Grounds in Utica (now Shelby Township) Michigan. You can read the detailed explanation (published in 1930 by Charles H. Vincent, VP and Director of the Packard Proving Grounds. You can see the report here.

On June 1, 2014 the PPG Amateur Radio Club held a special event to commemorate the 85th anniversary of this special event.

On 28 May 1931, a Bellanca CH-300 fitted with a DR-980 diesel engine, piloted by Walter Edwin Lees and Frederic Brossy, set a record for staying aloft for 84 hours and 32 minutes without being refueled. This record was not broken until 55 years (1986) later by the Rutan Voyager. See this.

Ask the Man Who Owns One

Aircraft identity

The aircraft in the photo is a Fairchild FC-2. Production began in 1927.

The doors

Another great-detail shot from Shorpy.
I like the strap window risers (similar to Model T trucks) and the little inside door latches/locks mounted above the inside door handles

A lead fish

Tobacconist has nailed it. This is not the C.F. Jenkins invention described in the 1929 newspaper clipping; it is however, an earlier system described exactly in patent US1893287 which Jenkins filed Aug. 23, 1929. The second paragraph begins "Heretofore it has been customary in airplane-radio equipment to suspend a wire under the plane with a lead weight, 'a lead fish' attached to the free end thereof to hold it steady, and as nearly vertical as possible." It is possible that the fellow pictured is an associate of Jenkins' conducting experiments with this "prior art" system. Jenkins invention was the subject of an earlier picture here at Shorpy.


It's a shame we can't quite see what the rear seat instruments indicate or any labels on knob and panel...
But there is a clinometer visible, one with a very small range, I think 10 degrees either way. Whatever was happening, the instrument guy wanted the plane to be level.

In for a penny

Around this time experiments were being conducted with receive-only radios in patrol cars. The Detroit Police Department had a system in place since April 1928. They used higher frequencies than did commercial broadcast radio.

So why not radio receivers in airplanes? That little bomb-shaped device could very well be a streamlined weight for lowering an antenna wire.

Or perhaps this from the September 28, 1929 issue of the Appleton, Wisconsin Post-Crescent:


Advanced technology

A nice look at the engine control levers in the cockpit -- throttle, ignition timing, and mixture.


Suspended from a retractable wire, with associated electronics in the plane, the small bomb-like instrument on the wire under the airplane is very similar to the larger object in the background of the "Bright Star" photo.

Perhaps the strange sheet metal assembly in the "Bright Star" photo could be some kind of magnetic field director, possibly part of an experiment in secure non-radio battlefield communications methods. A large electromagnet would need a lot of DC power and the big battery bank could supply that, while the other equipment on the table could be a means of modulating the magnetic field to transmit information.

Who knows? A lot of ideas were tried out in the early days of electronics.

Now Try Not To Move

This looks like one of those early 20th Century photo ops. Sort of like those an itinerate photographer would take of a child on a pony.


The aluminum reel located on the floor of the plane, I going to say, is connected to that weight that looks like a miniature bomb under the fuselage. The gentleman looks to be seated in front of receiving equipment. This equipment possibly could've been used to receive a signal from the equipment in the earlier photo.

We may be looking at an early attempt at an direction finding experiment. Or, again referring to the earlier picture, that metal framing in front of the operator may have been a shortwave, for the time, frequency director dish and they had been doing radio glide slope experiments. With all those batteries, much more than would ever be needed for a battery radio receiver, it looks more like a transmitter with a fairly high B+ voltage. But what's not present are the transmitter tubes of the era.


What a darling baby bomb!

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