October 1938 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
A century from now somebody will re-publish a story about the first
human voyage to the planet Mars, and many of the folks reading it
- or at least its headline - will deem such information obsolete
and not worthy of his/her/its time reading. The same is true for
many of these historical articles I post here on RF Cafe for the
benefit of those people who appreciate the efforts and sacrifices
of men and women who came before us to push back the frontiers of
Howard Hughes, whose name is familiar to fewer and fewer people
these days, was a well-known and, increasingly throughout his life,
eccentric millionaire. He made his money in, among other ventures,
the aerospace industry. Hughes Aircraft is one of his eponymous
companies. Not only was Mr. Hughes an accomplished aerospace engineer
and aircraft designer, but he was an excellent pilot as well. This
story from a 1938 edition of Radio-Craft magazine reports
on his bid to be the first round-the-globe flight to be in constant
contact with terra firma operators via radio communications. Nowadays
anyone with a cellphone can accomplish the same feat, just like
someday anyone with enough money will be able to visit Mars.
Aside: Hughes' famous
Spruce Goose amphibious airplane did not fly until 1947.
See all articles from
Radio on a Globe-Circling Dash
R. D. Bernard
A "flying laboratory," hurtling around the world at 200 miles-per-hour,
counts an extensive radio installation a necessity, and means of
Radio Facilities ...
... Aboard the New York World's Fair 1939 were extensive;
as this illustration shows. The homing compass enabled Hughes
to come in on the WEAF broadcast station program to a perfect
landing at Floyd Bennett Airport. Automatic equipment proved
Last month, bloodless wars were fought on 2 major fronts. First
was the battle successfully waged, by Howard Hughes and his crew
of 4 experts, against Time, and Nature; second, and less heralded,
was the perhaps tie contest between the several networks for 1st
Place in the radio sun.
New York World's Fair, 1939, silver Lockheed 14 monoplane of
aviator Hughes (a millionaire many times over), zipped around the
Northern portion of the Northern Hemisphere, as mapped on the facing
page, at the record-breaking pace of 205 miles-per-hour. The ship
completed the approximately 15,000-mile flight in 91 hours, 8 minutes,
10 seconds - figures which include the slightly zig-zag course over
Germany, at a comparatively slow speed (185 m.p.h.) and "over 10,000
ft." altitude, prescribed by Nazi officials. (Magellan took 1,083
days to circumnavigate the globe in 1519-'22.) Flight expenses were
said by official sources to total over $300,000; the plane, with
its elaborate radio installation as illustrated below, cost $200,000.
Starting quietly enough, the flight ended in a blaze of glory
- tumultuous greeting by 30,000 persons at Floyd Bennett Airport,
from whence they had started only a few days previously - and a
triumphal parade by motorcade up Broadway the next day, for more
enthusiastic reception by 500,000 New Yorkers, who "baptized" the
fliers with tickertape and other forms of paper, tons of it!
Included in the 500 lbs. of radio equipment carried on the flight
was a 15-watt, 10-inch-square, portable emergency radio outfit.
This waterproof radio set was powered for 4 hours of continuous
operation, and was supplied with a balloon, to be filled from an
available nitrogen tank, for carrying an antenna into the air in
the event of an emergency landing on land or water.
A "casualty" of the flight was the loss, twice, of trailing antennas,
which, in the second instance, temporarily put Hughes' plane out
of radio contact with the listening world.
Important benefits of the flight included a 40-page report of flight
minutiae, and information that Siberian mountains mapped as no higher
than 6,500 feet, actually are more than 9,500 ft. - which is something
that aviators flying blind would like to know; a night flight out
of Yakutsk (Siberia) might have ended the flight in a crack-up,
Hughes intimated. This information may spur research on the ultra-high
frequency "absolute altimeter" now under development by the U. S.
Bureau of Air Commerce in collaboration with the Bureau of Standards;
and mentioned by Richard C. Gazely in a recent issue of the Air
Flight Headquarters ...
... On the grounds of the New York World's Fair 1939.
W. A. Rockefeller, meteorologist and Charles Perrine, radioman,
are listening-in for flashes from Hughes.
The device operates on the principle of reflection from a body
(water, mountains, etc.); the "echo" time then determines the distance
of the reflecting body.
In one of 4 rooms of the Business Systems Building on the New
York World's Fair site, a corps of radio engineers maintained almost
unbroken contact with the Hughes plane. In one of these rooms an
enormous wall map was used to keep track of the plane's progress;
as radio position reports came in, a toy plane was moved forward
to a new position on the line-of-flight. In another of the rooms,
meteorologists and weathermen kept close tabs on incoming weather
reports, and from them prepared forecasts for the avigators.
In addition to the official reports given to networks announcers
by Hughes' radio staff, listeners-in heard reports by the various
press services, and listened to scheduled pick-ups from radio stations
en route, as well as actual contact with New York World's Fair 1939.
Following are reports supplied to Radio-Craft by the several networks
that participated in bringing this epochal event into so many homes,
here and abroad.
From the moment Howard Hughes and his crew of 4 lifted their
silver ship from Floyd Bennett Field to smash the existing round-the-world
flight record radio was almost as busy setting records of its own.
N.B.C., in fact, began long before the plane left the ground, then
as the swift eastward flight astounded the world followed every
move of the intrepid aviators for the benefit of its nation of listeners.
Broadcasts began at the New York field, continued from mid-Atlantic,
and multiplied when the Hughes crew set their plane down in Paris.
The novel 2-way conversation carried on between N.B.C. officials
at Radio City and the Hughes plane somewhere east of Newfoundland
was broadcast, via the RCA Communications at Rocky Point and Riverhead,
N.B.C. scored a clean scoop at Le Bourget in Paris when Fred
Bate, N.B.C.'s European representative was on the air as the ship
landed and continued through the frenzied welcome after the crew
stepped from the plane.
The N.B.C. crew, communicating with the United States over A.T.&T.
facilities at Netcong, N. J., also reported the take-off from the
French capital. As the networks remained open to bring news of the
flight's procedure over Germany, N .B.C. again picked up the fliers,
including Hughes himself, as they passed Berlin. This was effected
through the facilities of the Reichs Rundfunk and RCA Communications,
the program originating in the plane and passed out over one of
the 3 radio transmitters installed before Hughes left on his historic
Radio Map ...
... Of the Hughes world-girdling flight. Antennas indicate
points from which transmissions were made via land stations.
Intermediate silhouettes of the plane indicate non-scheduled
transmissions from it.
At 4:20 A.M., EDST, Tuesday Hughes again came to the microphone,
this time at the Moscow airport where he reported over the Russian
government radio facilities, in touch with N.B.C. through RCAC.
Then, as Hughes and his crew roared over Siberian wastes and
touched at 2 points they were beyond reach of shortwave radio. N.B.C.
was forced to rely on relayed reports reaching American listeners
through an extension to Flight Headquarters, at the New York World's
Fair ground, Flushing, L. I.
It was not until the now-weary crew set foot on ground at Fairbanks,
Alaska, that the world next heard the voices of the record smashers.
The arrival and take-off was reported Wednesday night (July 13)
over the shortwave facilities of the U. S. Army from Fairbanks to
Seattle, where the program was fed into the N.B.C. networks.
Again Hughes and his companions were silent for several hours
as they proceeded toward St. Paul. But from that point on reports
came thick and fast from all the towns on the course. And as the
plane again set wheels on Floyd Bennett Field, N.B.C. had its pack
sets, microphones and mobile unit placed strategically about the
airport to give a complete, running account of the end of the fastest
round-the-world journey in history.
Although on the Hughes hop-off and landing WNYC only took "feeds"
from N.B.C., the Municipal Station went in for a coverage of the
Hughes reception that was as extensive as any station's. WNYC utilized
its mobile shortwave transmitter WASJ, housed in a truck and followed
the Hughes party from Battery Park to City Hall. Since the parade
moved slowly, a WNYC announcer with a mike and several hundred feet
of extension cord, was able to hop out during the parade and interview
not only Stoddart, Thurlow and Connor, but their wives as well.
The WNYC man was the first radio man during the parade to reach
the cars of Thurlow, Stoddart, Connor and Lund, and scooped N.B.C.
men with their portable pack transmitters. WNYC's announcer also
got the first parade interview with young Tommy Thurlow, son of
navigator Thomas Thurlow.
After the ceremonies at City Hall, which WNYC covered in full,
the parade was again followed by the shortwave truck as far as 5th
Avenue and 9th Street.
Howard Hughes, his crew of 4 and the great silver-winged monoplane,
New York World's Fair 1939, are back in New York.
"He's Landing" ...
... Is the report by announcer Chas. Stark. C.B.S. engineers
assist at the pack equipment.
From Saturday (July 9) WOR and the Mutual network, under the
direction of Special Features head G. W. Johnstone, remained on
the air 24 hours a day, covering the plane's round-the-world flight
almost mile by mile, bringing listeners broadcast after broadcast,
either direct from the plane itself, or from one of the foreign
airports at which the plane landed, or from the flight headquarters
at the New York World's Fair in Flushing, New York.
Included in this coverage - the most complete ever given such
an event - were history-making exclusive broadcasts, each of which
brought to America the first word of their latest position. These
included exclusive broadcasts from the plane's cabin on Sunday (July
10) as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, on Tuesday (July 12) as it
reached Moscow, on Wednesday (July 13) as it landed at the airport
at Fairbanks, Alaska, and on Thursday (July 14) when the plane first
touched United States territory at Minneapolis on its final lap
The whole series of broadcasts, numbering over 10 a day for 5
days, finally was brought to a conclusion with the breathless description
of the end of the trip at Floyd Bennett Field on Thursday at 2:37
P.M. Immediately following that, announcers, engineers and fliers
all went to bed.
The Hughes flight which proved radio's boast of almost world-wide
coverage did not present as many technical problems as the layman
might imagine. WOR and the Mutual network described the take-off
from New York's Floyd Bennett Field from the land and from the air.
The broadcast was kept on the ground until the plane taxied to the
end of the runway for its long dash down the field. Control was
then switched to Dave Driscoll flying in an Eastern Air Line transport
plane overhead. WOR engineers, under the direction of Charles Singer,
had installed in the plane the network's regular relay broadcast
transmitter, designed by station engineers. An intermediate frequency
of 2,790 kilocycles was used for this broadcast. The signal was
picked up at the Press Wireless station at Baldwin, L. I., and relayed
to the network.
At 2:30 A.M., July 11, Howard Hughes made a dramatic 8-minute
broadcast from the New York World's Fair 1939, then more than 1,500
miles out of New York. This broadcast originated with the 100-watt
composite transmitter aboard the Hughes plane, the signal again
being received at Press Wireless with fine quality.
The next contacts with the ship were made early the next day,
Tuesday, as it winged its way from Paris to Moscow. Two broadcasts,
one from a point over Germany, the other from above Poland, featured
2-way conversations with an English-speaking announcer of the Reich
Rundfunk Gesellschaft in Germany. The signal was relayed to Press
Wireless over the regular trans-Atlantic channels of the German
The landing in Moscow was described by an English-speaking Russian
announcer stationed at the field. The Russians failed to make any
tests prior to the actual broadcast so the signal was picked up
cold at Baldwin, but with good understandable quality. This broadcast
originated with one of the 500,000-watt shortwave Russian transmitters.
No further phone transmissions either from airport or plane were
heard until the ship landed at Fairbanks, Alaska, Wednesday evening.
While the Hughes Lockheed was flying from Moscow to Omsk and from
Omsk to Yakutsk, Siberia, the flight was covered through bulletins
received at flight headquarters in New York. The bulletins were
transmitted in C.W. from the ship to Russian ground stations which
in turn relayed to Moscow. Moscow forwarded the messages to New
Journey's End ...
... And safely! A throng of 30,000 admirers greet the
returning heroes of the epochal flight of the New York World's
Fair 1939. Unshaven, Hughes gracefully carried off the ordeal
of an overwhelming welcome, after he and his crew had completed
an around-the-world flight of approximately 15,000 miles
in less than 4 days.
Because no wire lines could be made available from the Fairbanks
field to the U. S. Army Signal Corps transmitter located some distance
away Mutual contacted Pan American Airways and after talking with
its Fairbanks manager, Joe Crosson, famous pilot of the North, arranged
to have the air line operators and Crosson describe the landing
and take-off through their own transmitter. The broadcast was picked
up by the Signal Corps and relayed through their regular circuits
to Seattle where station KOL of the Don Lee leg of Mutual made
arrangements to feed the coast-to-coast network.
Mutual scooped the country on the Minneapolis landing by maintaining
flash service with A.T.&T. through Wednesday night and early
Thursday so that network lines could be reversed to the Twin Cities
if Hughes decided to land there. Arrangements were also made to
pick up a shortwave broadcast from a Winnipeg transmitter which
was to relay its description from the airport to its 2,000-watt
transmitter by means of a mobile unit. This signal would have been
picked up by Press Wireless with whom tests had been made. Hughes
landed in Minneapolis, A.T.&T. reversed lines instantly and
interviews with the crew and a description of the take-off were
heard exclusively over Mutual.
For the landing at Floyd Bennett Field 2 positions were used,
one in the tower of the Administration Building, the other on the
concrete apron to which Hughes taxied. At the latter point a pack
transmitter was used in addition to land lines.
Posted October 6, 2014