FAA History: pre-1930

Thursday, May 20, 1926:President Calvin Coolidge signed the Air Commerce Act of 1926 into law. The act instructed the Secretary of Commerce to foster air commerce; designate and establish airways; establish, operate, and maintain aids to air navigation (but not airports); arrange for research and development to improve such aids; license pilots; issue airworthiness certificates for aircraft and major aircraft components; and investigate accidents.
Sunday, May 23, 1926:Western Air Express (WAE) became one of the first U.S. airlines to offer regular passenger service, flying from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas. WAE had begun flying on April 17 as the fourth carrier to begin operations under a new air mail contract system that became the major source of income for the era’s small but growing airline industry (see June 3, 1926).
Over twelve years earlier, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line had offered the world’s first regularly scheduled airline service using heavier-than-air craft. This enterprise lasted for only the first three months of 1914. On March 1, 1925, T. Claude Ryan’s Los Angeles-San Diego Air Line had begun the first scheduled passenger service operated wholly over the U.S. mainland and throughout the year.
Thursday, June 3, 1926:Amended legislation introduced a more workable method of paying airlines for carrying mail. The Air Mail Act of February 2, 1925, commonly known as the Kelly Act, had provided for transportation of mail on the basis of contracts between the Post Office Department and individual air carriers, a system that was to prove a great boon to America’s fledgling airlines. Under the original Kelly Act, however, the carrier’s compensation was computed as a percentage of the actual postage affixed to the mail carried. Since this computation proved cumbersome, the 1926 amendment substituted a procedure under which the airlines were paid by the pound for mail carried. (See May 17, 1928.)
Friday, June 11, 1926:The Ford Trimotor made its first flight. The famous “Tin Goose” was a high-wing monoplane with all-metal construction and a corrugated skin. The original 4-AT model seated eight passengers, later increased to twelve, and the improved 5-AT seated up to thirteen passengers. The Trimotor became a workhorse for U.S. airlines and remained in production until 1933.
Friday, July 2, 1926:A drop of tree seeds over a burned area in Hawaii on this date was the first recorded instance of reforesting by airplane.
Saturday, July 3, 1926:A congressional joint resolution authorized the President to detail officers of the Army Air Corps to the Commerce Department to help in promoting civil aviation, provided the details did not exceed one year.
Friday, July 16, 1926:The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company inaugurated the first daily passenger air service between Philadelphia and Washington, DC, in connection with the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Declaration of Independence. Both passengers and mail were carried on a schedule of three trips in each direction daily, using three-engine Fokker monoplanes seating 10 passengers. The flying time was approximately 1 hour 30 minutes each way, and the passenger fare was $15 one way and $25 roundtrip. The service lasted for five months.
Wednesday, August 11, 1926:William P. MacCracken, Jr., took office as the first Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics (see October 1, 1929). He thus became the first head of the Aeronautics Branch, created in the Department of Commerce by Secretary Herbert Hoover to carry out the Secretary’s responsibilities under the Air Commerce Act of 1926. MacCracken, who had assisted in drafting that act, brought to the position experience as a World War I Army pilot, as chairman of the American Bar Association’s committee on aviation law, and as general counsel of National Air Transport, a contract mail carrier he helped organize in 1925.
With the appointment of MacCracken as its chief, the organization of the Aeronautics Branch proceeded rapidly. Secretary Hoover believed that the duties imposed by the Air Commerce Act should be carried out by existing Department of Commerce components. Although five principal units made up the Aeronautics Branch, which ranked as a bureau, only two were structurally part of the new Branch–the Air Regulations Division and the Air Information Division. The other three units followed directions from the Branch concerning work to be undertaken, but received detailed guidance and administrative support from other bureau-level components of the Department. Thus, the Airways Division was organized within the Bureau of Lighthouses, the Aeronautical Research Division within the Bureau of Standards, and the Air Mapping Section within the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Friday, October 1, 1926:Northwest Airways began service as a contract mail carrier. The company began passenger service the following year, and expanded its routes in the late twenties and early thirties, changing its name to Northwest Airlines on April 16, 1934. Further expansion included routes to Asia, beginning in the 1940s, and for a time the carrier used the name Northwest Orient Airlines.
Monday, November 15, 1926:The Post Office invited bids from private operators to take over the transcontinental air mail route in two sections: San Francisco-Chicago and Chicago-New York. Although no satisfactory bids were received for the Chicago-New York route, the contract for the San Francisco-Chicago route went to the organizers of Boeing Air Transport on January 29, 1927. After new bidding, the Post Office on April 3, 1927, announced the award of the Chicago-New York route to the newly formed National Air Transport. (See August 31, 1927.)
Tuesday, November 16, 1926:Dr. Louis Hopewell Bauer became the first Medical Director of the Aeronautics Branch. A major in the Medical Corps at the time of his appointment, Dr. Bauer had spent more than half of his 13-year Army career in the Air Service. (See February 28, 1927.)
Tuesday, December 7, 1926:The first airway light beacon erected by the Aeronautics Branch began operation. The beacon was located 15 miles northeast of Moline, IL, on the Chicago-Dallas air mail route. By June 30, 1927, there were 4,121 miles of lighted airways, including 2,041 miles on the transcontinental airway that had been previously lighted by the Post Office Department. (See April 1973.)
Tuesday, December 7, 1926:The Aeronautics Branch made its first official airworthiness inspection of an American aircraft when Inspector Ralph Lockwood tested a Stinson Detroiter before its delivery to Canadian Air Express.
Saturday, December 18, 1926: The first issue of Domestic Air News, the Aeronautics Branch official publication, appeared. (See July 1, 1929.)
Friday, December 31, 1926:The first Air Commerce Regulations of the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, became effective. Promulgated under provisions of the Air Commerce Act of 1926, these regulations resulted from many conferences between the Aeronautics Branch and pilots, operators, manufacturers, the Army, the Navy, and the Post Office Department.
The regulations required all aircraft engaged in interstate or foreign commerce to be licensed and marked with an assigned identification number. Pilots of licensed aircraft were required to hold private or commercial licenses. Commercial pilots were classed as either transport or industrial. Mechanics repairing aircraft engaged in air commerce were required to secure either engine or airplane mechanic licenses, or both. Owners, pilots, and mechanics affected had until March 1 (later extended to May 1), 1927, to place their applications on file. Pending action on these applications by the Aeronautics Branch, those applying by the specified date could continue operating as previously until July 1, 1927. Failure to apply as required was punishable by a $500 fine. The regulations also prescribed operational and air traffic safety rules. (See March 22, 1927.)
Monday, February 28, 1927:Domestic Air News published a list of 57 physicians qualified to give medical examinations for pilot licenses. Scattered over the United States, these physicians (soon to be known as aviation medical examiners) had been selected and qualified by Aeronautics Branch Medical Director Louis H. Bauer. By October 1, 1927, the number of qualified physicians had grown to 188, and additional appointees were added from time to time. Besides these civilian medical examiners, all Army and Navy flight surgeons were qualified ex officio to give airman medical examinations. (See June 1, 1945.)
Tuesday, March 22, 1927:The first general amendments to the Air Commerce Regulations took effect (see December 31, 1926). Among the many mandated changes were the addition of a limited commercial pilot license classification to the existing categories of transport, industrial, and private. The new category permitted pilots to carry passengers within a ten mile radius of their base while building up flight time for a transport license.
The amendments altered the original system under which the identification numbers for licensed aircraft would be preceded by the letter “C” (commercial), “S” (state), or “P” (private). The “P” designation was now dropped and “X” (experimental) was added. The regulations also required the identification number of an aircraft engaged in foreign air commerce be preceded by the letter “N” (denoting U.S. registry in accordance with a 1919 international convention). The “N” was optional at this time for other licensed aircraft. Later, the identification numbers of all U.S. licensed aircraft began with “N”, followed by numbers and/or letters under systems that varied as the registration process evolved.
Tuesday, March 29, 1927:The Aeronautics Branch issued Aircraft Type Certificate No. 1 to the Buhl Airster C-A3, a three-place open biplane. The plane had an empty weight of 1,686 pounds and its engine had a horsepower rating of 200. By the end of fiscal year 1927, the total of aircraft type certificates issued had reached nine. The rate of type certification then progressively increased. By the end of fiscal year 1928, the total had reached 47; by the end of fiscal 1929, 170; by January 15, 1930, 287.
Wednesday, April 6, 1927:William P. MacCracken, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics, received Pilot License No. 1, a private pilot license, from the Aeronautics Branch. MacCracken thus became the first person to obtain a pilot license from a civilian agency of the U.S. Government.
(During World War I, the Joint Army and Navy Board on Aeronautic Cognizance had issued flying licenses to civilian individuals and companies. The Board acted under the authority of a Presidential proclamation, issued on February 28, 1918, which described the program as a wartime security measure; however, the proclamation remained in effect until July 31, 1919, more than eight months after the Armistice.)
Before accepting License No. 1, MacCracken had offered this honor to Orville Wright, promising to waive the fee and examination. Wright declined because he no longer flew and did not think he needed a Federal license to show that he had been the first man to fly. Like Secretary Hoover, Wright believed MacCracken should receive License No. 1. (See August 19, 1940.)
Saturday, April 30, 1927:The Aeronautics Branch announced that it had recently acquired three aircraft: two Buhl Airsters (open cockpit) and one Stinson-Detroiter (cabin plane). The Branch planned to add one Wright Travel Air (open cockpit) and one Fairchild FC-1A (cabin plane).
May 20-21, 1927:Charles A. Lindbergh, a former air mail pilot, made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic in an airplane, a Ryan monoplane dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis. He flew the 3,610 miles from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY, to Le Bourget Field, Paris, France, in 33 hours 29 minutes.
Lindbergh’s feat provided a strong stimulus to U.S. aviation, and made him a world hero whose fame overshadowed earlier Atlantic crossings by air. The first transatlantic flight had been made in stages on May 16-27, 1919, from Newfoundland to Lisbon, via the Azores, by a U.S. Navy Curtiss NC-4 seaplane, flown by a six-man crew commanded by Albert C. Read. That same year, on June 14-15, Royal Air Force pilots John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown crossed the Atlantic nonstop from Newfoundland to Ireland in a Vickers Vimy. The following month, another Royal Air Force crew, commanded by G. H. Scott, flew the airship R-34 from Scotland to New York (July 2-6), then returned to England (July 9-13). Between July 30 and August 31, 1924, two U.S. Army Douglas World Cruiser seaplanes (manned by Lowell H. Smith, Leslie P. Arnold, Erik H. Nelson, and John Harding), flew from England to Labrador during the course of history’s first round-the-world flight. Three other aircraft with multiple crew members had also crossed the Atlantic before Lindbergh’s “Lone Eagle” flight.
June 4-5, 1927:Charles A. Levine, a New York businessman, became the first person to cross the Atlantic by airplane as a passenger when he flew nonstop between New York and Germany in a Bellanca monoplane piloted by Clarence Chamberlin, whom he had sponsored.
Saturday, June 25, 1927:Construction of the Propeller Research Tunnel was completed at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The largest research facility of its kind up to that time, the wind tunnel could accommodate the entire fuselage of a full-sized airplane, making it possible to conduct aerodynamic tests on full-scale fuselages, propellers, and other airplane parts. The facility, which was to make great contributions to aeronautical development (see November 1928), was part of a series of wind tunnels. NACA had begun operating its first wind tunnel on June 11, 1920. Later developments included a refrigerated tunnel, which NACA placed in operation in 1928 for study of icing on wings and propellers. In the spring of 1931, NACA began operating a Full Scale Tunnel large enough to test the performance of actual aircraft.
June 28-29, 1927: Army lieutenants A. F. Hegenberger and L. J. Maitland made the first nonstop flight between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii, taking off from Oakland, CA, in a Fokker three-engine monoplane.
Thursday, June 30, 1927:The Aeronautics Branch announced that its first airways strip map was available for purchase: Moline, IL, to Kansas City, MO.
Thursday, June 30, 1927:The Aeronautics Branch issued Transport License No. 199 to Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie, probably the first woman to obtain a pilot license from a civilian agency of the U.S. government. (Other American women had previously received pilot licenses from the Joint Army and Navy Board on Aeronautic Cognizance, which issued civilian flying licenses during 1918-19, as well as from organizations such as the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.) The Aeronautics Branch also issued one of the early aircraft and engine mechanic’s licenses to Omlie.
Friday, July 1, 1927:The transcontinental airway was transferred to the Department of Commerce from the Post Office Department. Extending from New York to San Francisco, the airway was 2,612 miles long, with 2,041 miles lighted (see January 29, 1929). Its facilities included 92 intermediate landing fields, 101 electric beacons, and 417 acetylene beacons. Also included were 17 radio stations (see March 1, 1960). Personnel involved in the transfer included 45 radio operators, 14 maintenance mechanics, and 84 caretakers. At the same time, the Post Office relinquished air mail operations along the western section–Chicago to San Francisco–of the transcontinental route to Boeing Air Transport.
Friday, July 1, 1927:Frank Gates Gardner of Norfolk, VA, received the first Federal aircraft mechanic license.
Friday, July 1, 1927:The Secretary of Commerce appointed Clarence M. Young as Director of Aeronautics to administer the Aeronautics Branch under the general supervision of the Assistant Secretary for Aeronautics. A lawyer from Des Moines, IA, Young had served as a pilot on the Italian front in World War I and was later active in civil aeronautics. (See October 1, 1929.)
Monday, July 4, 1927:The Lockheed Vega first flew. The single-engine, high-wing monoplane seating up to six passengers marked an important step toward the low-drag designs with which U.S. manufacturers were to revolutionize airliners in the 1930s. The Vega went into passenger service on September 17, 1928, with International Airlines.
Wednesday, August 31, 1927:The Post Office Department turned over operation of its last air mail route, New York to Chicago, to National Air Transport (see November 15, 1926). Private operators under contract to the Post Office Department now conducted the entire service, a system that promoted the growth of the airline industry.
Thursday, September 1, 1927:American Railway Express and major airlines began air cargo express operations. Referring to the importance of this event, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that though it was “much less spectacular than the long transoceanic flights, the beginning of real commercial aviation is, from the practical point of view, the most worthy development of all.”
Wednesday, October 19, 1927:Pan American Airways began its operations with an air mail flight between the United States and Cuba, accomplished with a rented plane to meet a contract deadline. The company began regular air mail service between Key West and Havana on October 28, and scheduled passenger service on the route on January 16, 1928.
October 1927:The International Radio Convention met in Washington, DC. During sessions that lasted into November, the conferees secured international agreements on the use of certain frequencies by aircraft and airway control stations. As a result, it was necessary to reassign frequencies to the Airways Division of the Aeronautics Branch and to other U.S. Government agencies. The Aeronautics Branch assisted the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee in making these reassignments.
Sunday, January 15, 1928:The Aeronautics Branch published a list of newly licensed pilots that included James Herman Banning as holder of a limited commercial license. Banning was the first known African American to receive a Federal pilot license. The first Federal transport pilot license issued to an African American is believed to have been received by C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson in 1932.
Black aviators had been active in the United States as early as the years preceding World War I, an era when nearly all pilots were unlicensed. The first African American to receive a pilot certificate of any type was probably Eugene Bullard, who was licensed by the French air corps in 1917 and served as a combat pilot. In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African American to receive a pilot’s certificate from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, an international organization based in Paris.
Tuesday, January 31, 1928:The Aeronautics Branch’s Domestic Air News reported an early instance of airplane noise nuisance. The proprietor of the Cackle Corner Poultry Farm, Garrettsville, OH, complained to the Postmaster General that low-flying planes were disrupting egg production. The Postmaster General forwarded the letter to National Air Transport, Inc., the private company operating the New York-Chicago air mail route, suggesting it make a special effort to maintain altitude over Garrettsville.
Thursday, March 8, 1928:The Foreign Air Mail Act expanded the U.S. Post Office’s role in international mail by giving it new authority to award contracts for periods of up to ten years for transport of mail to foreign countries and U.S. insular possessions.
Tuesday, March 20, 1928:The Department of Commerce announced the award of contracts for equipment that included 12 new radio stations capable of keeping pilots advised of changes in weather conditions while they were in flight. At that time, the Department was operating 17 radio stations that had been received when it assumed responsibility for the transcontinental airway (see July 1, 1927). Known as Airway Radio Stations under Commerce, the facilities served as gathering points for data on weather and flights for use in pre-flight briefings for pilots. The stations transmitted this information along the airways by radiotelegraphy. (Soon, however, teletypewriter communications via ground lines began to be used for this purpose: see July 1, 1928) During January 1929, the Department reported that three stations were now broadcasting hourly voice weather reports to aircraft in flight. When necessary for safety, the stations also accepted messages from operating companies and transmitted them to pilots aloft. By June 30, 1929, 11 new standard stations had replaced older stations with obsolete arc-type equipment, and new radio equipment was installed at nine other locations. All these stations transmitted scheduled voice broadcasts. By mid-1933, there were 68 radio communication stations, and a growing number of pilots were able to send as well as receive transmissions. At the end of the following year, radio-equipped aircraft flying the airways included 326 with two-way radio and 449 with receiving sets only.
Wednesday, March 28, 1928:Assistant Secretary of Commerce MacCracken called a special conference of representatives of the Army Air Corps, Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, Weather Bureau, Bureau of Standards, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to study the causes and prevention of ice formation on aircraft, and to discuss the possible development of an instrument to indicate when ice forms on an aircraft in flight.
April 12-13, 1928:Hermann Koehl, a German, and James Fitzmaurice, an Irishman, accompanied by one passenger, made the first nonstop east-to-west crossing of the Atlantic by airplane, flying from Ireland to a crash landing on Greenly Island, Labrador, in the Junkers W-33L Bremen.
April 15-21, 1928:George Hubert Wilkins, an Australian explorer, and Carl Ben Eielson, an American pilot, made the first flight across the Arctic in a heavier-than-air craft, flying from Point Barrow, AK, to Spitsbergen, Norway, in a Lockheed Vega. Later in the year, Wilkins and Eielson flew the same Vega along the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, earning the distinction of being the first to operate an airplane in Antarctica.
Tuesday, May 1, 1928:Pitcairn Aviation began operations along the Atlantic seaboard as a contract mail-hauler. The airline inaugurated passenger operations between New York and Washington on August 18, 1930, under the name Eastern Air Transport. The growing carrier acquired New York Airways in 1931 and Luddington Air Lines in 1933, and later took the name Eastern Air Lines in 1934. Eastern subsequently absorbed Colonial Airlines in 1956 and Mackey Air Lines in 1967.
Wednesday, May 16, 1928:Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) came into being. Backed by powerful financial groups that allied manufacturers with operating airlines, TAT was unusual for its time in giving priority to passenger service rather than mail. The airline was popularly known as the “Lindbergh Line” because of its association with the famous aviator. (See July 7, 1929, and July 19, 1930.)
Thursday, May 17, 1928:Another amendment to the Air Mail Act of 1925 (see June 3, 1926) provided that air carriers that had operated satisfactorily on mail routes for two years could exchange their contracts for “air mail route certificates” for a period not to exceed 10 years. The amendment protected the investment of the airlines in the equipment necessary for carrying out their original contracts since the life of that equipment was considerably longer than the life of those contracts. At this time, mail contracts provided virtually the only profitable form of airline operation. (See April 29, 1930.)
May 31-June 9, 1928:Australian pilots Charles E. Kingsford-Smith and Charles T. P. Ulm, accompanied by a navigator and a radioman, both Americans, made the first transpacific crossing by air. They flew from Oakland, CA, to Brisbane, Australia, with stopovers at Hawaii and the Fiji Islands, in a modified Fokker F.VII.
Monday, June 11, 1928:Friedrich Stamer made the first rocket-powered piloted flight, in a tailless glider, at Wasserkuppe, Germany. Takeoff was assisted by an elastic launching rope. The craft traveled approximately one mile.
June 17-18, 1928:Wilmer Stultz piloted a pontoon-equipped Fokker from Newfoundland to Wales on the first nonstop transatlantic flight by a seaplane. He was accompanied by a mechanic and by Amelia Earhart, the first woman transatlantic air passenger.
Wednesday, June 20, 1928:Braniff Air Lines began operations. Organized by brothers Thomas and Paul Braniff, the airline carried passengers between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The brothers soon sold their airline, but later organized Braniff Airways, which began operations on November 13, 1930, in the same region. After expanding and acquiring Latin American routes, the company changed its name to Braniff International Airways on June 4, 1948.
Saturday, June 30, 1928:During the quarter that ended on this date, the Commerce Department’s Aeronautics Branch established a five-member Aircraft Accident Board to investigate and analyze civil aircraft accidents with a view to determining and eliminating their causes.
Saturday, June 30, 1928:During fiscal 1928, which ended on this date, the Commerce Department succeeded in developing a practical radio navigation beacon system. Two series of flight tests were conducted on the New York-Cleveland airway between July 1927 and February 1928. During fiscal 1929, the Aeronautics Branch standardized a type of four-course radio range system in which pilots listened to aural signals to determine if they were on course. By June 30, 1929, the Branch was able to report that seven of these standard radio beacons were in operation, providing a continuous radio-marked course from Omaha to New York and from Key West to Havana. The Branch stepped up installation of four-course radio ranges in the early 1930s. This type of facility became the standard civil air navigation aid, and retained that status until after World War II (see Calendar year 1952 and September 5, 1974).
Sunday, July 1, 1928:The Commerce Department began using teletype machines to transmit aviation weather information. Among the first airport stations to receive teletypes were those at Hadley Field, NJ, Cleveland, OH, Chicago, IL, and Concord, CA. Those units were all connected with the central office at Washington, DC, from which data were exchanged for all locations. By October 1938, the teletype weather communications system had been extended to a total of 21,790 miles, covering all 48 states except Maine, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.
Wednesday, August 1, 1928:As a first step toward promoting uniform state aeronautical legislation consistent with Federal law, the Aeronautics Branch issued Aeronautics Bulletin No. 18 reviewing the characteristics of various state statutes and setting forth suggested drafts of required laws. At this time, 20 states had no aeronautical legislation. (See December 16, 1930.)
Saturday, September 15, 1928:The Aeronautics Branch published civil aviation accident statistics for the first half of 1928. There was a total of 390 accidents, of which 34 occurred in scheduled flying, 69 in student instruction, 17 in experimental operations, and 270 in miscellaneous flying. Assigned causes blamed pilot error for 43.29 percent of the accidents, engine failure for 16.59 percent, weather for 10.23 percent, and airport or terrain for 8.72 percent. There was a total of 153 fatalities and 276 injuries. Only six of the fatalities occurred in scheduled flying.
Tuesday, September 18, 1928:The Graf Zeppelin, the most successful rigid airship ever built, first flew. By the time it was retired in 1937, this craft had flown more than a million miles, spent 16,000 hours in the air, and carried 13,100 passengers.
Wednesday, September 19, 1928:The Packard Motor Car Company flight tested the first diesel engine to power heavier-than-air craft. Diesel aircraft engines seemed promising but proved too heavy, and interest in their development waned during the 1930s.
Wednesday, October 31, 1928:Statistics published by the Aeronautics Branch indicated that of the 3,659 pilots holding active licenses, nine states and the District of Columbia accounted for 2,343: California, 633; New York, 347; Illinois, 216; Michigan, 194; Ohio and Pennsylvania, 180 each; Texas, 176; District of Columbia, 161; Missouri, 150; and Virginia, 105. Of the overall total, 2,426 (66.3 percent) were transport pilots, 385 (10.5 percent) limited commercial, 63 (l.7 percent) industrial, and 785 (21.5 percent) private. One year previously, transport pilots had accounted for 85 percent of the total. The reduced percentage was due to the faster growth of private flying.
November 1928:Fred E. Weick, an aerodynamicist at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, described in National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Technical Note No. 301 the testing of long-chord cowling that significantly reduced drag, the retarding force acting on an airplane moving in air. Unlike conventional cowlings of that period, which covered the crankcase and the lower portion of the cylinders, the NACA cowl totally enclosed the engine. In actual flight tests, a Curtiss AT-5A trainer equipped with NACA’s cowling increased its maximum speed from 118 to 137 mph–the equivalent of providing the aircraft with 83 additional horsepower without an added expenditure in fuel. The NACA cowl had a very positive effect on airline economics when its appeared on the modern transports of the early 1930s.
Tuesday, December 4, 1928:The Aeronautics Branch issued regulations covering the entry and clearance of aircraft carrying foreign cargo and passengers into the United States. The rules became effective February 1, 1929.
December 12-14, 1928:The International Civil Aeronautics Conference held sessions in Washington, DC. The President had suggested the conference, and Congress had authorized it by a joint resolution. The 441 participants included 77 official and 39 unofficial delegates from foreign countries. The conference provided an opportunity to exchange views on problems pertaining to aircraft in international commerce, and the program included presentations on a variety of aviation topics. Another purpose was to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright brothers. Orville Wright was guest of honor, and the membership of the conference attended ceremonies at Kitty Hawk, NC, on the December 17 anniversary.
Wednesday, December 19, 1928:Harold F. Pitcairn made the first autogiro flight in the United States at Willow Grove, PA. Designed by Spain’s Juan de la Cierva, the rotary-wing aircraft obtained its support in flight from a rotor turned by the air forces resulting from its motion. Propulsion came from a conventional engine and airscrew. On February 12, 1931, the Detroit News placed the first order for a commercial autogiro in the United States, the Pitcairn PC A-2. The Aeronautics Branch type-certificated the plane on April 2, 1931, and Pitcairn’s Autogiro Company of America built 51 autogiros in 1931.
Monday, January 14, 1929:The Commerce Department’s Aeronautics Branch received the Aero Club of America Trophy for 1928 for its outstanding development of airways and air navigation facilities. Robert J. Collier had established the award, first presented in 1912, to honor the previous year’s most outstanding contribution to U.S. aeronautics or astronautics. In 1922, the Aero Club of America was incorporated as the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), which assumed administration of the award and renamed it the Robert J. Collier Trophy in 1944.
Tuesday, January 29, 1929:The Airways Division of the Department of Commerce turned on Beacon #25 at Miriam, NV, on the San Francisco-Salt Lake City Airway, completing the lighting of the transcontinental airway by closing the final twenty mile unlighted gap. (See July 1, 1927.)
Monday, February 4, 1929:The Aeronautics Branch established a Field Service Section which assumed certain duties performed by the former Airport Section, including assistance to municipalities and other organizations desiring to establish or improve airports. Five airport specialists, including the section chief, toured the U.S. to inspect sites, confer with officials, and address civic groups. The creation of the Field Service Section was part of a general reorganization of the Division of Airports and Aeronautic Information, formerly known as the Information Division, during fiscal 1929. (See November 1929.)
Thursday, February 21, 1929:Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh was appointed Technical Adviser to the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce.
Thursday, February 28, 1929:The Air Commerce Act was amended to provide for Federal licensing of flying schools. Instructors were divided into two classes, flying and ground, each of which was rated separately. Regulations were promulgated in April and went into effect in June 1929.
Saturday, March 2, 1929:Domestic Air News reported that Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) successfully bid to carry air mail three times weekly from Cristobal, Canal Zone, to Santiago, Chile, the longest designated air mail route in the world. Created on January 25, 1929, Panagra was jointly controlled by Pan American Airway’s holding company and the W.R. Grace shipping company of New York. Its bid of $1.80 per mile, plus $0.90 per pound per thousand miles, was not the lowest submitted. Postmaster General Harry S. New explained, however, that the lowest bidder was not equipped to carry out the contract, and failure in the project would harm the prestige of U.S. aeronautical enterprise.
Monday, March 4, 1929:Herbert C. Hoover became President, succeeding Calvin Coolidge.
Thursday, May 9, 1929:An Interdepartmental Committee on Airways was established to study and pass on applications for extension of civil airways in the United States. Totaling six members, the committee consisted of three representatives each from the Post Office and Commerce Departments.
Monday, June 17, 1929:Delta Air Service made its first passenger flight, with a six-passenger Travel Air, from Dallas, TX, to Monroe, LA. As it broadened its passenger operations, the company (which originated as an aerial crop dusting operation, the Huff Daland Dusters) changed its name to Delta Air Corporation and then, in 1945, to Delta Air Lines. On May 1, 1953, Chicago and Southern Airlines merged into Delta.
Sunday, June 30, 1929:During the fiscal year that ended on this date, the Airways Division of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Lighhouses established an office at Fort Worth, TX, under an airways engineer, for maintenance of aeronautical aids on certain specified airways. A similar office had previously been established at Salt Lake City during fiscal 1927. These were the only two organizations concerned exclusively with the maintenance of aeronautical aides. For the remainder of the nation’s airways, maintenance of facilities was apportioned among the Third, Sixth, Tenth, Twelfth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Lighthouse Districts. Although part of the Bureau of Lighthouses, these organizations received pertinent directions from the Aeronautics Branch (see August 11, 1926, and July 1, 1933).
Also during this fiscal year, the field organization of the Inspection Service of the Aeronautics Branch was reduced from eleven to nine districts, each under the direction of a supervising aeronautical inspector. The headquarters of the numbered districts were located at Garden City, NY; Camden, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO; Dallas, TX; Oakland, CA; and Los Angeles, CA.
Monday, July 1, 1929:The first issue of the Air Commerce Bulletin, the official journal of the Aeronautics Branch, was published, superseding the Domestic Air News. (See December 18, 1926, and January 15, 1940.)
Sunday, July 7, 1929:Transcontinental Air Transport inaugurated 48-hour coast-to-coast passenger transportation service, with air travel by day and rail travel by night. Charles A. Lindbergh flew the first plane over the route. (See May 16, 1928, and October 25, 1930.)
August 8-29, 1929:The Graf Zeppelin made the first round-the-world flight by a rigid airship, leaving from and returning to Lakehurst, NJ, in 21 days 7 hours 34 minutes. This was the second round-the-world flight; two U.S. Army Douglas World Cruisers had first performed the feat during April 6-September 28, 1924. (See June 23-July 1, 1931.)
Sunday, September 1, 1929:New regulations affecting transport pilots became effective, stating that a pilot “may operate any type licensed aircraft but shall not carry persons or property for hire in licensed aircraft other than those specified on his license.” A later amendment, effective February 8, 1930, required transport and limited commercial pilots carrying passengers to have special authority from the Department of Commerce.
Tuesday, September 24, 1929:At Mitchel Field, NY, Army Lt. James H. Doolittle became the first pilot to use only instrument guidance to take off, fly a set course, and land. Doolittle received directional guidance from a radio range course aligned with the airport runway, while radio marker beacons indicated his distance from the runway. He relied on a sensitive altimeter to determine his altitude, and controlled the attitude of his aircraft with guidance from a directional gyro and an artificial horizon. Doolittle made the flight as part of research he conducted for the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, with cooperation from the Bureau of Standards, the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce, and other organizations. He flew in a hooded cockpit, but was accompanied by a check pilot who could have intervened in an emergency. On May 9, 1932, Capt. A. F. Hegenberger flew without a check pilot to make the first blind solo flight on instruments only, at Dayton, OH.
Tuesday, October 1, 1929:William P. MacCracken, Jr., resigned as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics and was succeeded by Clarence M. Young (see July 1, 1927), who had been serving as Director of Aeronautics. (See May 23, 1933.)
Tuesday, October 1, 1929:Allocation of radio frequencies by the Federal Radio Commission cleared the way for air transport companies to develop a communications network supplementing Federal facilities. At the close of the year some major transport lines were maintaining two-way voice communication with their planes in flight. (See December 2, 1929.)
Tuesday, October 1, 1929:The Aeronautics Branch issued a set of “Uniform Field Rules” for air traffic control that were recommended for adoption by states, counties, cities, and other agencies operating airports.
Thursday, October 10, 1929:The Aeronautics Branch inaugurated position-reporting service for planes flying the Federal airways.
Monday, October 21, 1929:Colonial Flying Service and the Scully Walton Ambulance Company of New York, NY, inaugurated an Air Ambulance Service.
Thursday, October 24, 1929:A stock market convulsion gripped Wall Street. The initial crash was followed by another severe break on October 29, and by a continuing slide that heralded the onset of the Great Depression. Aviation stocks, as others, were strongly affected.
The Depression’s impact on the budget of the Aeronautics Branch was not immediate. To get underway in fiscal 1927, the Branch had received $550,000, and this was increased to $3,791,500 in fiscal 1928 and $5,575,400 in fiscal 1929. The increases continued after the Depression began: fiscal 1930, $6,676,320; fiscal 1931, $9,208,030; and fiscal 1932, $10,362,300.
The economizing ax fell in fiscal 1933, when Congress reduced the Aeronautics Branch allocation to $8,533,500. For fiscal 1934, the Branch received only $7,660,780., and this was cut still further by the Bureau of the Budget, which limited actual expenditures to $5,172,500–the smallest of the Depression budgets for aeronautic activities. The nation had passed the lowest point of the Depression in March 1933, however, and the budgets of Bureau of Air Commerce–as the Aeronautics Branch was renamed on July 1, 1934–began a rising trend that lasted into World War II. (See July 1, 1937).
November 28-29, 1929:Richard E. Byrd, with pilot Bernt Balchen and two other crew members, became the first to fly over the South Pole, operating a Ford Trimotor from the U.S. base at Little America. Earlier, on May 9, 1926, Byrd and Floyd Bennett had made a flight credited as the first over the North Pole, in a Fokker F.VII.
November 1929:As a result of increased activities, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics Clarence Young reorganized the Aeronautics Branch. He abolished the position of Director of Aeronautics and divided the principal functions of the Branch among three executives who reported directly to the Assistant Secretary and, under his chairmanship, constituted the executive board of the Branch. These three officials were: the Director of Air Regulation, whose responsibilities included the Inspection Service and the Licensing Division, as well as the Engine Testing Section; the Chief Engineer of the Airways Division; and the Director Aeronautic Development, whose responsibilities included the Aeronautic Information Division and the Aeronautics Research Division. The Director of Aeronautic Development also gave direction to special research committees, the Airways Mapping Section, and the Airport Section, which on December 2, 1929, took over the duties of the Field Service Section established ten months earlier. (See February 4, 1929.)
Monday, December 2, 1929:Fifteen air carriers pooled $100,000.00 to set up the not-for-profit organization, Aeronautical Radio, Inc. (ARINC) , to serve as the single coordinator of aeronautical communications for the air transport industry, using a common network of ground stations.
Friday, December 20, 1929:Pan American Airways placed orders for the Sikorsky S-40, a large four-engined flying boat. These were the first airplanes that Pan American christened “Clipper,” the subsequent trade mark name of the airline’s planes.
Primary Sources:
Dated items along the left margin of the FAA History Pages were compiled from the series of FAA’s ‘Historical Chronology’ PDF files. For a list and links to uploaded copies of these PDF files, see aiReform’s ‘FAA History’ main page (link above).
Additional content has been compiled from Wikipedia and other sources; these items are presented along the right margin, and include significant accidents, Whistleblower case actions, various news items, ATC technology developments, links to related material, comments, etc. Further content will be added at a later date.