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...
See all available vintage
Radio News articles
How to Break into the Aviation
By Lieut. Myron Eddy*
"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>
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
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.
First "Try Your Wings"
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Requirements and Rank
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 work."
Overhauling Ignition Shielding System
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
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 per minute.
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