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Friday, 12th December 2008
F or most of us

completing the well-known phrase, 'What goes up, must come down.' is not difficult. The fact that most of us do not choose too complete that sentence having just seen the stewardess go through the emergency procedures goes to the very heart of our unease.

These planes are big, they are heavy, there is just no way of getting around this fact. It defies all logic that they are going to get into the air and, more importantly, stay there.

Frankly I am mortified by the large jumbo-jets, far more so than the light aircraft (I have the same problem with boats.)

To my mind powered aircraft makes one of the most interesting areas of theme collecting that is possible in cigarette cards. Afterall cigarette cards were there at the very beginning and carried right threw all the major developments of powered flight.

Cigarette cards have spanned many developments but lets face it, an eighty-five year old car is still a car. A sportsman, however old the card, is still a sportsman. But an 85 year aircraft is just not the same sort of thing we fly about in today.

If you thought it was a scary idea to blast into the sky in a metal monster just imagine going skyward in something made of tissue paper and card, held together with bits of wire.

...the sort of fuel that was almost capable of exploding by looking at it incorrectly.

Those that get close to the large international airports the sky is full of very large aircraft.

Unpleasantly full at times as it happens. The threat of these things colliding becomes all to obvious. It was all very different at the beginning of the 20th century.

On Dec 17th 1903, Orville made the first powered manned flight. Before that balloons were the method of heading skyward. Card 35 Wills, Aviation, shows the event.

Wills, Aviation#35
The Americans, Wilbur and Orville Wright, are probably the first men who ever made really practical flights with 'heavier than air' machines. Instead of starting on wheels, as practically all other machines do, the Wright machine is launched from a special rail, Its notable features are those warping wing tips in connection with which a great deal of aerial litigation is pending.

There is some suggestion that the Americans did not get there first (isn't there always.) Wills, Aviation [1910] card 31 describes the Ader flying machine. M. Ader with the backing of the French government (to the tune of £30,000) claimed to have flown considerable distances in 1890.

Card 26, throws this into some doubt when a Frenchman re-introduced an idea first floated by a Persian King. Simplicity itself, it was based on training four large eagles to fly in unison guided by the owner waving lumps of meat in front of their beaks. Well in 1908, training was contemplated.

This set was very much at the cutting edge of Aircraft development around the world and is utterly fascinating, however bizarre. Several of the cards were aware of the 'history in the making' side of things, being dated by month and year.

It is quite amazing how many also-rans existed which were the 'might-have-beens' of Aviation. Chanute (card 32) is described as someone who 'must always stand among the pioneers of mechanical flight.' Given his great legacy to the field it is a shame he is not better known than he is.

Wills, Aviation [1910]

1910 is not far away from 1914 but as far as I can see there is no mention of a military angle on the heavier-than-air machines of cards 26-50. This is very much in contrast to the first cards of the set 1-25 (lighter than air) which are basically the airships. A lot of these were developed or purchased by the military. Card 23 shows the 'German Zeppelin type' which the card says is distinguishable because of its enormous size, over 400 feet. The card says three were destroyed (but not how it fails to mention), three belonged to the German Government. Three were being built, 2 for passenger service. It also says that the British Navy were developing something similar. The fact that three were destroyed is something of an aside as many of the cards explain that their subject was destroyed at some point. In a time when everything was built to last these things were not.

Although I have brushed against the concept of powered flight, I really want to remain in the world of the airship for the remainder of this article.

In the beginning of airship history you have to remember that there was no real power-supply beyond, human-muscle, steam or clockwork. I only know of one effort to make a clockwork design, Le Precurseur which was built in 1850 by a talented watchmaker. The model is shown on card 46, Paterson & Sons, Balloons [1960] mf48. A steam-driven machine was created by Giffard. The boiler weighed 300 lbs and produced only 3h.p which meant in still air there was a possibility of reaching 6mph. However in 1852 Giffard was prepared to test the machine himself.

Trivia buffs: Balloons was the only set that Paterson ever did. So well done them for doing a good set and quitting on top of their game. Please also note this is a trade card (they were a biscuit manufacturer) so something of a double-blessing.
Wills, Famous Inventions [1915]#31and Wills, Aviation [1910]#7 use the phrase, 'first really successful dirigible'. Thing is, they are describing 2 different machines, still hindsight is an exact science.

Well aware of the rather dangerous mixture of steam-power and flimsy bags of hydrogen the car was slung 40 feet below the balloon and the chimney pointed downward.

This machine is shown in a number of sets and also highlights something of an interesting area. Again the Paterson set shows it on card 49. Wills, Aviation shows it at #6 and Suchard series 143 #6.

The Paterson set once more does the best job. For some reason the Wills set adds a 2nd propeller to the machine and the Suchard set shows a rather rounded form of ship. Paterson also has enough detail to see Giffard's attire (frock-coat and top-hat for those that care.)

1883 saw the appearance of the Tissandier Bros. invention and Capts. Renard & Krebs introduced their machine in 1884. The best picture of the Tissandier machine can be seen in Barratts, History of the Air.#5

So far we have only dealt with airships which showed powered-controlled flight was possible, rather than practical. The breakthrough was to find a suitable method of propulsion. It came as a surprise to me to discover this was found in 1883-84 and took the form of an electric motor driven by batteries.

For those that care a better picture of the car appears on Savoy Products, Aerial Navigations Series B#14 (catchy huh?)

The early years of aviation was very fluid. Although great design had been touched on very often there was a withdrawing from the new to the old. Remember the eagle powered concept? For example in 1872 the internal combustion engine was strapped into an airship (it failed due to excessive weight).

However whilst this radical design was being tried people were still trying to get machines off the ground using muscle-power alone. It is interesting to note that muscle-power was the very last way that mankind got into the air.

It did not stop people trying. 1872 saw the introduction of a machine that attempted to get off the ground with the harnessed power of 8 men (de Lome) and the one-man power attempted in the US as portrayed in Rossi, History of Flight [1963] series 1#14.

I noted earlier the military expectations which were given to the airships and just to round this article off I will give a limited breakdown of the British campaign.

The first was Nullis Secundus which was cannibalised to create its successor,

Lambert & Butler, Aviation [1915]

'Baby' was a small experimental airship and appears in Wills, Aviation#13. Later it was enlarged and modified going under the name of Beta. Under which name it can be seen in the Wills, Australian issue of Aviation series (regal back variety.)

The next to be built was the Gamma and this appears on the Wills, Britian's Defenders [1915]#34 (which again is an Australian issue). It also appears on the Lambert & Butler, Aviation [1915].

Every story should have a beginning a middle and an end, at least that is what I was told. This is the middle bit of my story of Aviation. If this was a film you would now be wondering if it was safe to go out and make a cup of tea without missing anything important.

Well no worries, put that kettle on (you might find it a bit tight under the arms) Technically this story has no end so I will create one. My stories were always pretty simple, I introduced the characters, they suffered a bit and then a good few died. Life is like that.

My politics professor said I was a cynical individual when I described politicians as vote maximisers that only cared about anything by default. I stand by that claim. Political ambition has quite a bit to do with this period of aircraft development.

I am skipping the First World War as, although there were many developments in the world of aircraft, there were few sets which felt necessary to dwell on this fact at the time.

The inter-years are a more profitable area of examination. Although many developments were inspired by the desire to kill more people more efficiently the pioneering spirit was still very much to the fore.

The first major record to go was the first non stop flight across the Atlantic by Alcock & Brown in June 1919. The plane used was a Vickers Vimy bomber which is appropriately card 1 of Murray & Sons, Types of Aeroplane [1929]

This was also the aircraft which flew between England and Australia by Ross Smith. By card 20 of this series we get to the Avro Avian which broke the England to Australia record when Bert Hinkler made the trip in a mere 15.5 days. More of that record later.

Lambert & Butler produced a very commendable series, Famous British Airmen & Airwomen which shows Jean Batten at number 3. She became the first woman to fly UK to Australia and back when she landed in Croydon in 29th April 1935.

It might be just me but the Schneider Trophy says it all for me when it comes to seat of the pants aviation. Open to seaplanes the two mile oval course had the sort of turns at either end which defy belief (In 1929 victory was denied one pilot when his goggles flew off due to turning the corner to sharply!).

In 1927 the competition was won by Flt Lt SN Webster in a Supermarine S5 (Murray & Son, Types of Aeroplane #4) with a speed of 281.54mph. By 1931 the speed had risen to 340.08mph with Flt JN Boothman which brought the trophy to Blighty for good being the third successive win. He appears in the Lambert & Butler series as does Flt Lt GH Stainforth who set up the world speed record of 409.5mph in 1931.

This achievement assures that Stainforth also appears in Gallaher, Champions 1934 #38 and Ardath, Sports Champions. #8.

Later there was a special effort made to increase the Schneider speed record to over 400mph. It was attempted in a specially adapted Supermarine S6B (Lambert & Butler, A History of Aviation #25). The engine burnt the sort of fuel that was almost capable of exploding by looking at it incorrectly.

The record was set without the competition from the Italians who had produced a plane so wild it had killed both their pilots in testing. No doubt it is a generalisation but this seems to be the most lethal period of aircraft development.

Later the Italians were to surpass themselves with the Macchi-Castoldi, a plane built about two engines which produced a take-off rating of 3100hp. The plane appears in Wills, Speed [1938]#7. On 23 Oct 1934 the aircraft was flown by Francesco Agello to set up a speed record of 440.681mph as an absolute speed record.

This gets the man onto the number one card of Churchmans, Kings of Speed. . The card mentions he beat GH Stainforth in the 1933 Schneider trophy. Which was a role reversal from the 1929 race over the Isle of Wight.

Players, Aircraft of the Royal Air Force, #28, Spitfire

The record he set was to remain until the advent of the jet and remained until 1961 for a seaplane.

It is of interest that the Schneider trophy greatly enhanced the development of the seaplane over the land plane. card 2 of Kings of Speed shows Wurster who set a land speed record of 379.67mph in a specially adapted Messerschmit 109BF (which appears in Will, Speed)

Now I am straying towards the thunderheads of World War two and we see the Hawker Hurricane, that most efficient, if overshadowed, aircraft which was to do such service in the Battle of Britain. This aircraft appears in Gallaher, Aeroplanes#5.

Card 8 of Churchmans, Kings of Speed is a man who you could make a film, Jim Mollison (I am cheating here I have just watched the film<g>). He appears on a number of other sets mentioned so famous is he.

His records included the fastest east-west solo crossing of the Atlantic, considered the most difficult of things. He crossed in 13 hours 17 minutes. In October 1936 he was the first man to fly the Atlantic with a female co-pilot. All right perhaps I am reaching here but it is worth mentioning because his wife was Amy Johnson.

In 1931 he broke the England to Australia record flying it in 8 days 22 hours and 25 minutes.

Airwomen might get more famous than Amy Johnson but if they have I do not know of them. She appears in Lambert & Butler, Famous British Airmen and Airwomen#18.

She was to die tragically in 1941 flying aircraft delivery service for the RAF with the Air Transport Auxiliary.

I have just seen her kick up one heck of a stink in the film because British brass does not believe that she is capable of flying being a mere woman. In glass cutting tones she explains who she is and is leaping into a plane.

Just meeting her, by now, estranged husband. Perhaps even reconciliation in the air as she takes to the air for the final time.

The sets which depict fliers in the thirties are sad times (as many sets from 1935 are) as to many of the faces were to be killed in the global war, 1939-45.

Aircraft development during this period was all about greater bomb loads and killing ability. Either that or they were aimed at stopping the aircraft with huge bombloads from flattening large areas of civilian population which is not something I wish to get into in this article, go see ARP. Not for any moral reasons but because it does not have a fat lot to do with cigarette cards. The final article of this series will be the advent of the jet aircraft.

In an ever shrinking world airliners are very much part of the culture. Without aircraft the world would seem a much larger place afterall. I write this article on the anniversary of Concorde, that most expensive of white elephants, even has a trunk like one. I suppose it should have been known to be given it was a commercial (?) venture between the English and the French, not really the best of international friends.

Now you will not catch me in the larger aircraft. I do not have a morbid fear of them hurtling out of the sky more of a healthy ignorance of how much it takes to keep something that big up in the air. Small aircraft I am fine with, if I can see the bubble-gum and elastic bands holding the thing together I feel strangely reassured. I never said I was sane.

In 1936 Players introduced the set International Airliners which was a set of 50 cards. They have adhesive backs which are something of a pain to find in the better conditions because of the ageing gum. Of the 50 cards 49 are horizontal format and there is one, just the one, vertical format. Card 50, an interior view of a cockpit.

This card is something of a revelation in itself and shows just how far we have advanced. Nowadays the banks of knobs, switches, read-outs is so mind-boggling computers are needed just to make sense of what is going on. Not so on card 50, showing as it does the bridge of the 'Commonwealth' class liner. Modern cars have more informative dashboards.

The set is grouped into airliner providers:

Now I am British and we have rather lost the art of self-promotion. Nothing is more fun than shaking our heads in misery and agreeing we are the sickman of Europe. We have spent years looking abroad and wondering why we are not like the other nations we see.

Why are our industries not like the German industries? Why aren't we as motivated and as wealthy as the Japanese? How come the W.Indies play better cricket? Why can't we run the ball like the All-Blacks? How come we are so bad at soccer?

Who knows? If you look about, most of our industries are owned by other countries and as for sport that's simple we've bought all our good players from other countries so our national sides usually come off the substitutes bench.

Maybe enough philosophy for one article but what I am cracking on about is the fact that there a five bi-planes shown in this set, four of them are British. That might be part of the explanation to many Col. Handlebars sitting in club armchairs with a whiskey and soda exporting redundant goods to the crumbling empire. I can sit and crow though, I sit in club armchairs, drink beer and export small bits of card which ceased production around 60 years ago. See the difference? Good. <bg>.

Crickey, I am not sure where all this anger has come from, I better go and have a lie down.

Imperial Airways was created in 1924 as the Government subsidized business which grew out of Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited which appeared in 1916.
In 1939 the merger of Imperial and the newly created British Airways created B.O.A.C which was eventually renamed as British Airways in 1974.

International flight was very much in its infancy in 1936 when this set was introduced. 1927 saw the first international passenger flight between Florida and Cuba. Although flight had been first proved possible in the States (although there are some dissenters to this view) the US was lagging behind in aircraft development at this time.

On Aug 27 1939 the first turbo-prop aircraft went across the sky in the form of the German He 178. By the end of World War II this situation had changed.

A good number of the aircraft are seaplanes. I have given this a bit of thought and I am assuming it is because water made a natural (cheap) runway when the infastructure was not readily available.

As you would expect at this time the German aircraft look quite the most interesting. Card 18 prominently displays the Nazi Swastika on the tail plane of the Heinkel He 111. Of interest is the passenger capacity of these earlier aircraft. For example this plane carried ten passengers.

Quite the most radical of the designs is the next card, again German, the Junkers G. 38. This one has a passenger compliment of 34. Six are squeezed into two compartments which are fitted into the leading edges of the wings. Two sit in the nose, the rest are more conventionally arranged. Great fun, imagine sitting in the wings!

This brings me to the point that this set is not called, International Passenger Aircraft and for good reason. A lot of the aircraft were really designed for moving mail from A to B rather than people. Often the people were strapped in as something of an afterthought, exploding pens and all.


Card 20 is the Junker Ju-86 which is uncomfortably close to the Ju-88 (Stuka) so we move on. Card 22 shows an interesting combination of a joint, German-USSR aircraft.

Card 23 is the Douglas DC-2, which also appears on card 32, card 41 and card 47. Card 47 explains it was developed in 1933 for the New York to Los Angeles run (which in 1936 took 18 hours flying time and required 4 stops.) Card 47 explains that in 1933 it 'created an entirely new standard in high-speed air transport.'

Card 41 adds the detail that the 'Great Silver fleet' (Eastern Airlines) operated 15 round trips daily between New York & Washington. The 14 passengers also have buffet facilities as it comes complete with a refrigerator (in 1936 this was quite something). As the card says 'meals in the air.'

Each of the cards contains considerable information on them:

Card 34: Swissair: Lockheed 'Orion' (Switzerland)
The Lockheed 'Orion' is a high performance, single-engined transport monoplane built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The two machines of this type in the service of Swissair were the first American aircraft to be bought by the Company, and were used to speed up the Basle-Zurich-Munich-Vienna service. The 'Orion' has accomodation for six passengers and, fitted with a 500 h.p Wright 'Cyclone' engine, has a cruising speed of 205 mph. It is of all-wood construction and, like all other machines in the Swissair fleet, is fitted with a retractable undercarraige. It weighs, fully loaded, 5,800 lbs.

This particular aircraft is all wood construction, there are few of those in the set but the compiler felt it was necessary to point out when they were made from all metal. There is also something rather strange about this aircraft which has had me puzzled for a while and it has just dawned on me what it is.

There is but a single pilot and he sits in an open cockpit just behind the single engine. They might have had retractable undercarriage (not the tail wheel) but little else it would seem.

So there you have it a small piece of aviation history which was very much sandwiched between historical events, 1927 seeing the first international passenger flight and 1939 seeing the outbreak of war in Europe.