All posts by ritstaalman

retired engineer-programmer-teacher born in Amsterdam studying history of the earth, science and aviation

2017: United Revisited


It may be surprising,
but the confrontation
with Real aeroplanes
often comes as a shock.
To begin with, we shudder at jet’s
Sudden Roar.
Aeroplanes turn out to be Noisy.
(They never were so
in our picture books or imagination).

Next, we resent being
into a Wide-Body fuselage
for transport to our Exotic Holiday.
The very act of embarking the aircraft,
being inside,
changes our feelings towards it.

We can no longer,
with our eyes,
its smooth outside shape.
We can no longer dream
how it will traverse the sky
after a graceful start.

In our imagination
the aeroplane
is the perfect Man-Made object.
Imita­ting a living being,
it almost has come to life itself.

of this almost-living being,
it turns out to be stuffy, smelly,
almost nauseating.

The interior flying machine
stacks its passengers
into a cramped,
crowded space.
Starved, strapped, sedated,
we are offered at most
a narrow glimpse of clouds,
earth and sky.


we aeroplane-lovers
are Bird-lovers.

We fancy birds,
we admire birds,
we wonder how they fly.
We would like to Be birds,
but we don’t necessarily
want to be

note: this blog was first published October 24, 2014
Since then the situation inside airliners has deteriorated.
Last year United Airlines made a profit of more than 2 billion dollars.



In 1994 I bought a handsome collection of short biographies of aviation pioneers, from which I quote:

The Wing Man: David R. Davis – 1894(?) – 1972  [1]

“David Davis grew up as a sickly child who was advised to spend as much time outdoors as possible. While a young man, he was sent on an educational camping trip with a tutor, during which they retraced the route of Lewis and Clark. [2]   When he was fifteen he moved to California with his mother. Their home was near Los Angeles where [aviation pioneer] Glenn Martin was experimenting and Davis would often help Martin ground-handle his plane.
“In 1911 Davis made his first flight and four years later he bought his first aeroplane. During World War I he served in the Army.  After the war he became a barnstormer before joining with Donald Douglas in 1920 to start the Davis-Douglas Airplane Company  [Davis put up $40,000.] This venture failed and Davis was completely wiped out with the Stock Market crash in 1929.”

About the period with Douglas, Oliver E. Allen writes in “The Airline Builders“:[3]

“…In 1920 Douglas was ready to start his own firm. He went to Southern California with less than $1000 because he felt at home there and one could fly there all year. It was however a bad time to start an aircraft factory anywhere. Douglas tried to borrow money everywhere, until a friend introduced him to David R. Davis, a well to do young man from California who wanted to have an airplane built for a non-stop transcontinental flight.”


“The two men founded the Davis-Douglas Co. and rented an office. Afterwards they moved to a loft over a lumberyard in Los Angeles. There they constructed the Cloudster. This airplane had one unique property: it was the first plane that could transport a load greater than its own weight.  During the first [attempt of the] transcontinental flight the [Liberty] engine broke down and Davis had to crash land at Fort Bliss (Texas). In 1923, when he was ready for a second attempt, two army officers had already completed the non-stop flight with a Fokker T2. Davis lost interest and withdrew from the company…”

Quoting again from Longyard:

“…Davis took an everyday job to support his family but he never gave up his penchant for airplanes. He tried to develop a variable pitch propeller, but lack of funds hampered his efforts. By the late 1930s, he had developed a theory of aerofoils that he thought could greatly increase the efficiency of wings. He tested model sections mounted on a borrowed car.
Through Walter Brookins, he was able to convince Reuben Fleet [of Consolidated Aircraft] of the possibilities inherent in his new wing. Fleet had a wing section tested at the California Institute of Technology where the scientists said the wing was an impossible 102 percent efficient. They disassembled their windtunnel to see what was wrong! Fleet ordered that his next flying boat be built with a ‘Davis Wing’ – a million dollar gamble. In 1939 this plane [the Corregidor] was flown by an amazed test pilot who said it handled like a fighter.”

Altogether not a very complete picture of what exactly went on with the Davis-wing. Remember this was the time before Google, Internet and Wiki. In those days one had to search in libraries and magazines. So imagine what a surprise it was when one day in 1996 I found a letter in the mail from my old friend of Canadian days John Galipeau, whom I had not seen for thirty years. He had heard of my interest in the Davis wing and he had visited the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where he had found fresh information for me, such as the photograph of two of the principal actors shown above: Donald Douglas and David R. Davis.

to be continued…

[0] Picture of Cloudster is shown at the top of the article. Note the big belly needed to store all the fuel.            Pic credit: Wiki
[1] The collection of short biographies is from: William H. Longyard, “Who’s Who in Aviation History“, Shrewsbury, Airlife, 1994.
[2]  Two famous explorers, who were sent out by Thomas Jefferson in 1803 to find a route from St.Louis to the Pacific Coast.
[3] Chicago, Time/Life, 1981, here translated from the Dutch edition.


I got interested (again) in aviation history when I bought thirty years ago at a jumble sale an old scrap book with photographs of the Dornier Do-X. The Germans have always been very proud of that boat, but of course in 1932 it failed dramatically where five years earlier Charles Lindbergh had succeeded without apparent effort: a simple non-stop jump across the Atlantic. I wondered why this could be so and started to read (+ collect) books about 1930-flying boats and airliners. What were the factors that determined their long-range performance? How fascinating that era was!
Next I got into a correspondence with a certain Don Middleton, a British aviation journalist, who had stated in an English monthly that the amazing long range of the Consolidated Catalina patrol boat was due to its ‘Davis-wing’. Based on general data from Jane’s ‘Fighting Aircraft of WWII’ edition I undertook to compare four contemporary transport planes: the Douglas DC-3 and DC-4, and the Consolidated Catalina and B-24 Liberator, and proved to him that Catalina’s extreme performance was based on two factors: its light construction (empty weight approximately 50% of take-off weight) and its slow cruising speed, which was right at the optimal economic flight point (maximum  CL/CD ratio). The other three planes, for commercial or operational reasons, all cruised faster than their most economic speed and as a consequence had a comparatively shorter range. The Cats were slow, real slow, to the exasperation of their crews. However, slowness could also be advantageous: they were able to shield the ships they were escorting by circling tightly around them, outmaneuvering in this way attacking German and Japanese aircraft that were much faster.

The PBY Catalina had no Davis-wing and I think I proved it, but Middleton never entered into a serious discussion and suggested I submit my paper to the Royal Aeronautical Society, which of course was a bit much. Later on I learned he disliked smart asses like me who argued from theory: he had been a skilled aircraft worker at de Havillands himself and a RAF engineer during the war.
Of course the Davis-wing was used on the B-24 Liberator. Next blogs will summarize what I know about it. The inventor, David R. Davis, [1] appeals to me because he was obviously a maverick: he worked outside the official circuits of Universities and NACA. Apparently he had a mind of his own. As a result however, descriptions of his work are hard to find in official literature (like Abbott & Doenhoff; maybe Durand mentions him?). Apparently his wing had extreme low drag at small angles of attack (laminar flow?), which is remarkable, because long range (like Catalina’s) is usually associated with low engine power and therefore relative large angles of attack. So there were things here which were not quite clear to me. I wanted to know more about the wing profile: it must have been very thin with maximum depth near the middle of the chord. How can thin wings be made strong enough for long spans? This was the state of my comprehension until I found more information.

[1] A word of warning: there have been other aviators of fame with the name Davis. So is our man not to be confused with the unfortunate pilot Noel Guy Davis, who crashed short after take-off for a trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, aboard a Keystone Pathfinder (N-X179) airplane called American Legion.
[2] picture: PBY5 Catalina; credit: Wiki.

2004: Boeing 747-206 Last Journey

Don't be shy 747, why sneak thru the canals at night? Ah, you're missing your wings....
Don’t be shy 747, why sneak thru the canals at night?     Oi, you’re missing your wings….

70 years after the previous photograph was taken, this
Boeing 747-206, the KLM airliner PH-BUK Louis Breguet , navigated the nightly waters of Amsterdam on its way to Aviodrome, the national aviation museum at Lelystad. This particular airplane, with combined passenger/cargo capacity, had flown before retirement
98 million kilometers during more than 100,000 hours of flight.

Restored to its full glory (complete with tail, wings and engines)
Louis Breguet may now be visited and studied inside/out at Aviodrome, Lelystad:

Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet



In the 1930’s the above traffic situation occurred frequently in the canals of Amsterdam: the Fokker Aircraft factory was located in Amsterdam North, a residential and industrial section of town without an airfield, while Schiphol Airport was to the south of the city, on the bottom of a reclaimed lake. For flight tests newly built Fokkers had to be transported through the wondrous and winding canals of the old city. Sometimes, after heavy rainfall, Schiphol was too marshy and flight tests had to be relocated to Welschap, near Eindhoven, a distance of 70 miles or so to the south.

You can read about the tests at Welschap in the revised ‘album’ of Erich Schatzki’s life, when you click here:  alifeofflight2.pdf

Erich Schatzki loved the new country that he had settled in for a short interval of time. Relentlessly moved on by the unfolding of history, events took him eventually to the United States and then to Israel and back again to the USA – like a pendulum, going multiple times back and forth.

For the new data which I was able to add to the earlier description of Schatzki’s life, I am indebted to my old friend Wim Snieder, the writer of the only comprehensive bibliography of Dutch aviation history: “In Vogelvlucht” / Geannoteerde bibliografie over de Nederlandse luchtvaart, vanaf 1784. Uitgever; Canaletto/Repro Holland; 486 pages, ISBN 9789064697340

1939: Erich Schatzki Album


As a little boy in Holland I was enraptured by the original shape of the Fokker G-1 fighting plane of 1939. A few years later I became a (small) close witness to the atrocities of the war, as some of my schoolmates and good neighbors in the street where I lived in Amsterdam were deported because they were Jewish. (They never returned.)
Dr.Erich Schatzki

While living now in California and enjoying my own ‘Indian Summer’, I found on the web the designer of the G-1, Erich Schatzki. I also learned that he was a Jewish exile and that he and his family had been on the run for the Nazi’s since 1934. I set out to find more facts about his life.
I have collected these in an ‘Album’, a collection of factual items and a description of some of the fascinating people that he met in his long, adventurous life.

I have added my findings in a new file on my website today. If anybody can tell me more, or if somebody wants to correct an error, please leave a note!


1951: My Last Flight

On the twenty-ninth of June 1951 my active flying career ended with a tight full 360° turn.

The Grunau Baby in a wee turn [Wiki]
As he let me know afterwards in no uncertain terms, my flying instructor, Mr. Lucassen, thought it very unwise of me to initiate that turn right in front of the landings strip at a height of 150 meters. “You could have easily killed yourself”, he said. “I have warned you time and time again that steep turns at that low an altitude are asking for serious trouble. You are an unreliable glider pilot – I strongly advise you to take up other activities in your spare time.”
I could have argued that the landing after the turn had been all right. In fact, my whole flight had been quite successful. After the start, at a height of two hundred fifty meters I had been able to detect at least two thermal updrafts and by circling sharply and timely I had been able to use them to gain at least two hundred meters altitude. I had made my turns tight and had listened intently to the whistle of the wind to make sure I was not loosing speed. For the same reason I had kept the nose of my plane a fixed safe minimal distance below the horizon. I had also looked at my instruments and kept the little ball in the middle. My whole flight went rather well and had lasted a full thirty minutes. Then it was time to land and I misjudged – I came in too high. I decided, wrongly, that one more turn would fix me. The turn by itself went alright and when I exited from it I straightened out and landed in mid-field without having to use the air brakes. So…

Turn Indicator [Wiki]
In my heart, however, I knew Lucassen was right. To be frank, when flying solo, I was always scared of the landing and my pleasure in flying was spoiled by the fear of that what was to come with certainty at the finale: the touchdown. Coming in too low would be a disaster of course. My friend Herman R. had hit a bill board last year while coming in over the provincial road to Maarn. A lot of splintering wood had absorbed the shock and he had lived to tell stories about it. But coming in too high could also be most embarrassing: touching ground at the far end of the field invited acid comments from the ground crew that had to come and pick you up and the long run to the start area while holding up the wing tip  was far from pleasant. Unfortunately, with gliders, once you have started a landing, you cannot abort the approach. Giving full throttle and coming round for a second try was no option. Your approach had to be just right the first time.
So on that fateful day, after having completed my qualifying flight for the C-brevet (which I did not receive), I was much too high for a landing and actually precariously low for loosing some of the height with a nice 360 degree turn. Low turns are dangerous. One might by mistake loose too much height by banking too steeply or slide into a stall.  The stall, if not corrected in time, may go over into a tail spin and a tail spin at that low height would be fatal. I knew Lucassen was right. So I never flew again except as a cattle-passenger in over-crowded airliners.
Ir. Lucassen of course knew what he was talking about. He was fifteen years my senior and a staff member of NLR, the Dutch Aviation Research agency. As I found out much later on the meticulous web site of Herman Dekker, Ir. Lucassen had been in some remarkable crashes himself. On the 21st of October 5 years earlier, he had attempted a cable start with heavy crosswind. To compensate this, the Grunau Baby had banked into the wind with the star board wing tip close to the ground. When he had released the cable from the winch at low height, the sailplane had continued to turn and slammed into the ground. Ir. L. fortunately was unhurt but the fuselage of the Baby had been badly cracked up. So he knew what he was talking about.

The Accident Report of Ir. Lucassen


I took the advice and abandoned piloting myself. I decided not to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. A lifetime later I found in the same excellent database of Mr. Dekker the particulars of a deadly crash of a Dutch glider plane in 1979. The pilot, Mr. R.A.N. 22 years, had started a full turn at too low an altitude (250m) and had not survived. After stalling he got into a spin from which he could not recover. He had been told by his instructor to fly his Sagitta glider near minimum speed and land within a target area. However the weather had been hazy and the horizon had not been visible. Nor had the plane been equipped with an artificial horizon instrument. A deadly pea soup. Mr. R.A.N. died in the resulting crash.

I shivered – Lucassen had been so right – some of us stay better on the ground altogether.

The Sagitta glider crash