Tag Archives: 1930 airplanes

1933: High Fashion in Wings

We exchanged some polite remarks while we heaved our bags in the rack above us and sought our proper place. We just fitted in our seats together: the blonde lady in sweater and jeans at the window, I in the middle and to my right the middle aged guy in safari jacket with long hair in a ponytail… Then we underwent in silence the start of the machine and the handout of some gorgeous delicacies like peanuts wrapped in tiny little plastic bags.

picture by Monica Staalman
picture by Monica Staalman

After a while the plane had climbed to cruising height and I bent forward to the left to look out of the window. I saw an elegant upward turned wing tip against the hard blue expansion of the universe and the faintly curved horizon of our planet.
“Isn’t it amazing?”  the lady smiled at me – “how we are sitting here crunching peanuts above the world?”
“It’s stunning,” I agreed. – “I was also observing the wing tip. There seems to be a fashion nowadays to bend them upward.”
“Well dear, it’s all about saving fuel you know. The proper shape may give you an extra 3 or 4 per cent range. It all counts with the present fuel prices.” (This conversation took place some years ago).
“How can that be?”
She explained: “The wings leave behind a corkscrew of whirling air, one at each side. It is an air vortex. In a way you may say that the airplane pulls the vortex forward. The bigger the vortex, the more energy it takes from the plane. With careful design of the wing tip the engineers try to make the generation of the vortex more gradual, less violent, see?” She looked at me and smiled.

this magnificent picture is from NASA, via Wiki. See note below
this magnificent picture is from NASA, via Wiki. See note below

“Yeah,” the man to my right added -“and these vortices are bloody dangerous for the little guy who is flying behind them. You better stay out of the wake of the big ones…”
And so it turned out to be a pleasant flight for all of us. The safari chap ordered a meal and offered me his dessert because he was, as he explained, a diabetic. The lady at the window knew more about airplanes than any of us. And I told them about Willy Fiedler who had built and flown a sailplane in 1933 with vertical wing tips and no fin at the tail. I even showed them a picture on my i-phone.
They were properly impressed.

We spent the rest of the flight with pleasurable chitchat. However, as always when flying, I lost my new friends at the Luggage Claim.  If we had traveled by steamship we would probably still be in contact now.

1933: Aka Flug Stuttgart F-1 Fledermaus, design Willy Fiedler

1933: Aka Flug Stuttgart F-1 Fledermaus, design Willy Fiedler

See also:



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wake_turbulence where you will find:

DescriptionAirplane vortex edit.jpg (see earlier picture)
Date  4 May 1990
English: Wake Vortex Study at Wallops Island
The air flow from the wing of this agricultural plane is made visible by a technique that uses colored smoke rising from the ground. The swirl at the wingtip traces the aircraft’s wake vortex, which exerts a powerful influence on the flow field behind the plane. Because of wake vortex, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires aircraft to maintain set distances behind each other when they land. A joint NASA-FAA program aimed at boosting airport capacity, however, is aimed at determining conditions under which planes may fly closer together. NASA researchers are studying wake vortex with a variety of tools, from supercomputers, to wind tunnels, to actual flight tests in research aircraft. Their goal is to fully understand the phenomenon, then use that knowledge to create an automated system that could predict changing wake vortex conditions at airports. Pilots already know, for example, that they have to worry less about wake vortex in rough weather because windy conditions cause them to dissipate more rapidly.



1890: the Wing Otto Lilienthal used
ca 1890: the Organic Wing Otto Lilienthal used

When, in 1953, in my capacity of apprentice in the KLM Maintenance Service at Schiphol, I started one morning to help take off half the wing of a Douglas DC-3, I was most astonished to find that the wing of this rather famous and historic airliner had no sturdy spar in its innards, but that the metal wing cover had a seam from front to back at a position close to the engine, where it was simply bolted to the center section of the airplane.
Only recently I read that this particular construction was called ‘multi-spar’ and invented by Jack Northrop around 1930. In document 3-22(a-b)  3-22-b: Engineering Department, Douglas Aircraft Co. “Development of the Douglas Transport”, Technical Data Report SW-157A, ca. 1933-34, Folder AD-761184-05, Aircraft Technical Files, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., one can find:

“In the Douglas and Northrop types of multi-cellular wing construction, there are a multiplicity of full length span-wise stiffeners, and the fact that they have no abrupt changes or ‘breaks’ [in their extended shape] results in no concentration of stresses. With the centroids of the stiffeners located at the maximum distances from the neutral axis of the [wing] section, a most efficient structure for absorbing the bending load is obtained.”

Northrop N9MB as seen at the Air Museum Planes of Fame in Chino Ca, where it is flown regularly.
Northrop N9MB Flying Wing as seen at the Air Museum Planes of Fame in Chino Ca, where it is flown regularly.

In my interpretation this means that the outside skin of the wing (well reinforced with span-wise stiffeners) will absorb all the bending stresses and that one can dispense with heavy spars directly connected to the fuselage. The remainder of the text is too interesting to be omitted, as we, modern airline customers, only too well know how scary modern airliners sometimes flex their wings:

“In a highly stressed airplane, torsional rigidity of the wing is of paramount importance in the prevention of wing flutter at high speeds and torsional deflection of the structure must therefore be kept to an absolute minimum. When under load, there will always be some vertical deflection but this must not be excessive since a wing with large vertical deflections might cause jamming of aileron controls and by no means inspires confidence in the passengers or pilots.”

Also, vibrations can generate most annoying noise (I remember flying in the Vickers Vanguard in 1962):

“If unsupported flat metal surfaces are even moderately large, there is always a tendency for the middle of the surface to vibrate in flight, even when there is no stress. This is termed ‘oil canning’and will, in time, cause fatigue in the sheet metal and in the rivets and cause rivet heads to work and to pop off. These unsupported flat surfaces continually drum and cause a noise that cannot be completely eliminated in a cabin, because part is carried as vibration thru the structure. This is different from ‘wrinkling’of the skin. Wrinkling will be present in every metal wing with a flat metal covering taking stress. These wrinkles are deflections of the skin under load and ordinarily do not have any tendency to vibrate.”

Northrop wing with skin removed showing longitudinal stringers [from: WoodToMetal.pdf  SI 94-7718]
Northrop wing with skin removed showing longitudinal stringers [from: WoodToMetal.pdf SI 94-7718]
The report continues with more on the subject of the wing design for the early Douglas airliners:

“In determining the wing construction of the early Douglas machines single, two, three and multi spar designs were considered as well as shell type and multi-cellular designs. After a thorough investigation of all types the Northrop multi-cellular wing construction was finally decided upon. This type of structure consists of a flat skin reinforced by numerous longitudinals and ribs. The bending is taken by the combination of flat skin and full length [longitudinal] stringers. Three main flat [vertical] sheets or ‘webs’ carry the shear loads. Torsion and indirect stress are carried by the skin with frequent ribs preserving the contour and dividing the structure up into a number of small rigid boxes or cells. Since the major loads are carried in the outer surface of the wing as well as in the in the internal structure, an inspection of the exterior gives a ready indication of the structural condition. The unit stresses in the material are low and therefore the deflections are at a minimum giving a maximum in rigidity. This construction has proven to be a happy medium of those considered since it combines practically all of the advantages of each; namely, very small unsupported areas, extreme lightness for its strength and rigidity; also ease of construction, inspection, maintenance and repair.“

Douglas DC-3
Douglas DC-3

For the early Douglas airliners:

“The Northrop wing being comparatively small, it is economical to have many of the stringers run from the top to the bottom of the wing as shear webs or spars. However, when the principle is carried out on a larger scale, as in the DC-1 with its deeper wing, it is more efficient to have only three shear webs or spars. Thus it was not necessary to evolve a new type of structure but merely to adapt a time proven type to the dimensions of the DC-1.” [end of quote]

Detachable wing of DC-3
Detachable wing of DC-3

The exterior wing was fastened to the center section with a great numbers of bolts. It was my task to receive each bolt, nut and washer that became undone and secure them in a numbered hole in a plywood board. In the end there were 20 boards with a total of 652 bolt sets. My mentors /colleagues worked according to strict KLM protocol  [see the following drawing which I owe to Mr. Wim Snieder, The Hague, Holland]  and had the use of an overhead crane.

Part of the KLM protocol for dis-assembling wing of Douglas DC-3
Part of the KLM protocol for dis-assembling wing of Douglas DC-3

We finished unbolting the [half] wing by 3 pm and went for tea, delivering on our way the boards with fasteners at Testing for examination on hair cracks and corrosion.




I am posting a short biographical sketch of

Willy FIEDLER’s life in Germany


Willy Fiedler was a remarkable German/American aviation engineer, test pilot
and development scientist in Missiles and Rocket propulsion.
He is remembered by many as a cheerful, congenial person who made important contributions in his field of endeavor.



Soon I plan to deposit on this website the story of Isaac Machlin Laddon and his superb creation the
PBY Catalina flying boat.

In 1934 he obtained with this airplane form that was perfect­ly matched to function.
He was so happy with it (rightly so), that he patented its shape, like Coca Cola had done with its bottle. Especially pleasing to the eye was the mounting of the high parasol wing on the fish-like hull. An original supporting structure was used; its origin puzzled the experts.

 Roscoe Creed wrote:  “…Laddon’s choices were:
–  to use struts to mount the wing as before,
–  or resort to a deep hull with a shoulder-mounted wing,
–  or a less deep hull with a gull-wing,
–  or set the wing on a pylon…
Just how and when Laddon came up with the pylon idea nobody knows…”

The article that I will be posting shortly under ‘PBY CATALINA’ pretends to give the answer.


Zero A6M5_Aleutian

Somehow the real theme of this website seems to be
long distance flight in the last century.
Today I am posting the page ‘ZERO MYTH’ by my friend Roy Day about the Japanese Zero fighter that could fly 2000 miles.
There were rumors that it was invincible…
Until one day in 1942 a PBY Catalina came across a shot-down Zero in the Aleutians..

Read also the remarkable companion story in Sport Aviation.
(Link provided.)