How to Break into the Aviation Radio Game
April 1932 Radio News Article
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...
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the Radio & Television News magazine.
Here is a list of the Radio & Television News articles
I have already posted. As time permits, I will be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights (if any) are hereby
How to Break into the Aviation Radio Game
By Lieut. Myron Eddy*
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
"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." <click
for larger image>
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.
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 airport.
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.
Requirements and Rank
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.
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 an airport.
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
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 worth more.
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
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 into aviation.
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 will be.
* Author, Aircraft Radio.
Posted December 3, 2013