1927 01 Planes Automobiles etc


Author: Not Decided
Status: In Research

Please post any ideas or research for this episode that you want to contribute in this topic. If the episode hasn’t been assigned to an author yet, you can note your intent to write in the string too, and we will contact you to discuss.

HELP! Urgent call for volunteers!


Thought I’d offer some help with the scientific side of episodes - definitely the atom episode from 1929, any others as well if needed. Have a chemistry degree and job (did a bunch of physics at uni as well); stil have all my textbooks at home, should have everything needed.

Also, thought if people are interested I’d add as a possible side note Nazi sponsored grand prix racing. Probably doesn’t fit into any of the episodes, but if there is interest I’d be happy to do a write up on this to go up on the forum and/or the website when you’re covering the time period (1934-39) in videos. Basically, the Nazi party decided to sponsor German car manufacturers (Mercedes Benz and Auto Union [now Audi]) to grand prix racing as a way to show German technical superiority. Many advances in technology were made (in areas like engine performance and suspension), I’d assume that many of these made it into WW2 technology, but I don’t know for sure. Many of the drivers and engineers would go on to serve in WW2. The story also includes names like Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Porsche. Thought it might be an interesting side note.


Greatly appreciate help on both topics. We have an as of now undefined planes and automobile episode where the Nazi car projects could fit (including the construction of the AVUS track in Berlin and the construction Autobahn as well- although contrary to myth the Autobahn was not a Nazi project). That episode is currently scheduled for 1927 to coincide with Lindbergh, but we aim to cover a broader scope of transportation development for the whole period (we already covered the beginnings of the topic up to 1925 in the first 1919 episode).

I’ve added you to the TGIS Section 1 Group, where we will start collecting research and other contributions on an episode per episode level.


I would like to help in some way I can. Since I have an engineering background, I think I am comfortable helping with the scientific side as well. I will check this topic and the atom one often to see if I can help. Perhaps I will do some research this weekend.


I don’t want to toot my own horn but I have a lot of aviation experience. I don’t have time right at this moment to do a full write up because of work but I’ll get to it this weekend.

The obvious thing from 1927 is Charles Lindbergh’s non-stop trans-Atlantic flight. I’ve read A. Scott Berg’s biography on Lindbergh and can use that as reference material. However, his flight is only one of a number of long distance flights that year. Tadija Sondermajer and Leonid Bajdak complete an 11 day flight from Paris to Bombay. Later that year, Clarence Duncan Chamberlin beats Lindbergh’s nonstop trans-Atlantic distance by flying 3,911 miles (6,294 km) from New York to Eisleben, Germany. In June of that year Lester J. Maitland and Albert F. Hegenberger make the first flight from North America to Hawaii. Just two months later the Dole Derby would be held between single-engine aircraft flying from California to Hawaii. Of the five that start the derby, only two arrive in Hawaii. The other three are lost at sea.

In other civilian aviation news, both Pan Am and Boeing Air Transport, one of the predecessors to United Airlines, had their first flight that year. In general, air mail and passenger air services begin to really take off this year (no pun inten…ah screw it, pun intended). The Cessna aircraft company is also established.

The Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel) was established this year. Its members would include Wernher von Braun, Walter Hohmann, Hermann Oberth, Eugen Sänger, and many other German space pioneers.

In military news, the US Navy commissions the Lexington and Saratoga aircraft carriers. Built from the hulls of battlecruisers that had to be scrapped as a result of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, they were the first carriers for the US Navy capable of fleet operations. Earlier that year their predecessor, the USS Langley, becomes the first aircraft carrier to operate a multi-engine aircraft. France also commissions its first aircraft carrier, the Béarn, that year.

Taking to the skies for the first time that year was the Lockheed Vega, the aircraft that would ultimately carry Amelia Earhart across the Atlantic the following year. Other aircraft taking flight that year were the Hamilton H-47, America’s first all metal aircraft, and the Curtis P-6 Hawk.


This weekend is time enough and all input greatly appreciated.


Here’s a wuick rundown on the German race cars. I know that its wayyy to much, but I thought more information was preferable to less and you can decide what to put in and take out.

Grand prix racing inn the late 1920s and early 1930s was dominated by names like Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Sunbeam and Delage. During the early 1930’s Mercedes Benz approached the Nazi party to ask for state help to go Grand Prix racing (Adolf Hitler was said to be a racing fan himself). The Nazi party established a 500 000 Reichsmark per season fund to help any German manufacturers who wanted to go grand prix racing to help show German technological and engineering superiority. It was anticipated that all of this money would go to Mercedes.

State sponsored grand prix racing was nothing new, the Italian government supported the Alfa Romeo team while the French government supported the SEFAC car, though the German fund was many times the total budget of any of the other Grand prix teams.

In 1932, 4 German automobile manufacturers (Audi, Horch, DKW [Zschopauer Motorenwerke J. S. Rasmussen] and Wanderer) merged to form Auto Union (today known as Audi). In fact Audi’s 4 interlinked rings symbol date back to this time with each representing one of the four brands that merged. They too wanted a piece of the Nazi money, so it was split 50:50 between the 2 manufacturers and they both went away and designed Grand Prix race cars for the 1934 season. As a side note Ferdinand Porsche’s engineering firm designed the first Auto union race cars.

The Alfa romeo’s were able to score a few wins in both the 1934 and 1935 seasons, mostly through unreliability of the German cars (and disputed with the Belgian government over taxes on their ethanol based fuel), but after that it was all Germany. A famous Alfa Romeo victory came in the 1935 German Grand Prix. Adolf Hitler was on hand and the German crowd came to see a German victory. So sure were the germans of a home victory that they didn’t bother to bring any other national anthem for the post-race celebrations. Through a combination of great driving skill and luck, Tazio Nuvolari won the race in an Alfa Romeo. The story here gets a bit muddled, but either Nuvolari himself, Enzo Ferrari (who was running the Alfa Romeo team at the time – in fact the first Ferrari race cars were actually pre-war Alfa Romeo’s) or another team member carried the Italian national anthem for lick everywhere he went. So that version of the anthem was played on the podium.

Technological improvements were fast and common due to the fierce rivalry. The first German race cars produced between 370 and 400 horse power (the competition was in the low to mid 300’s) while by the outbreak of WW2 they were over 500 horse power and pushing 600 in some configurations. Racing teams would paint their cars in their national colours (green for Britain, red for Italy, blue for France, etc. The German colour was white. Competition between the German manufacturers was so intense that Mercedes and Auto Union stopped painting their cars to save a few grams of weight, this was the start of silver German cars. The first rear engine race cars were built (though this wouldn’t catch on until after the war). Secrecy was key, Mercedes Benz put bodywork over their suspension so rivals couldn’t get a glimpse of what was going on. Twin master cylinder brakes (1 for the front and 1 for the rear) were introduced by Mercedes, allowing the front to rear brake bias to be adjusted, larger brakes with more cooling were added to slow the ever faster cars down. Tyre technology was pushed forward as well, extra tread was added for longevity, but this meant that it was further away from the caucus of the tyre and large tyre diameters run at high pressures were needed to reduce heat absorption and increase its dissipation. The first steps towards Independent suspension was first introduced in this era including swinging axles and parallel wishbone suspension. Hydraulic Dampers were introduced to the Mercedes cars in 1936, replacing the friction dampers that were in use previously.

If you want any more on any of the topics (especially any of the technology which I only briefly touched on) I can provide later.


And I forgot, given you mentioned the autobahn before, Mercedes’s and Auto Union’s other favorite pastime during this era was to use toe autobahn to break speed records using the autobahn (I don’t believe that the outright record was beaten, bit a number of the class records were).


Actually, the cars had a weight limit for each race. When they failed to meet the weight limit for a grand prix, they scraped off the paint to be able to race legally. From then on they didn’t paint the cars at all.

Source: https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/mercedes-benz/classic/history/mercedes-benz-silver-arrows/
It was a simple idea in 1934 that made silver the colour of racing success – success that persists through today. It all began on the eve of the Eifel race at the weighing station on the Nürburgring. The regulations allowed no vehicle to weigh more than 750 kilograms. The brand new W 25 weighed one kilogram too much however. Alfred Neubauer, manager of the Mercedes-Benz racing team, had the white paint ground off, leaving a purely aluminium body that sparkled in silver. The next morning Manfred von Brauchitsch took his seat at the wheel of the lightened, 750 kg car and won the race with a commanding performance. Later he was to tell the press: “To drive a Silver Arrow is an honour.”


Interesting, that does match what I’ve read about both Mercedes and Auto Union struggling to make minimum weight, but I’ve never heard that story about the paint being stripped to meet minimum weight.


I heard that story a couple of years ago in the Mercedes museum from a guide. I just Googled it and stumbled across this Mercedes webpage.


No problem. By combining all of our various knowledge we get the most complete picture of what happened. Your story is why the non-painted trend started while mine is why (a) Mercedes continued doing it and (b) Auto Union started doing it.


I know that I’m a few days late. This weekend ended up being busier than I had anticipated. I’ve only written the Lindbergh portion so far. I’ll get to the other parts over the next few days. I haven’t put any citations in this because I wanted to get it to you as soon as possible in case anything else happened. I’ll re-submit this later with proper citations. My main source of reference is “Lindbergh” by A. Scott Bergh.

In aviation, there were many distance records set before 1927 and many distance records after 1927, but none of them grabbed the world’s attention quite like Charles Lindbergh’s solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic in May of that year.

The 1920s saw a growth in technology that arguably rivaled the growth seen during the Great War. Despite the fact that the first all-metal monoplane, the Junkers J.1, flew in 1915, virtually all airplanes at the beginning of the 1920s were still rickety cloth and wood contraptions that had a propensity to spontaneously crash, break apart into a million pieces, and burst into flames, and not necessarily in that order. If the planes didn’t break, then their pilots would routinely get lost and run out of fuel or inadvertently fly into bad weather. However, by the end of the decade, regularly scheduled passenger flights would span across continents using all-metal multi-engine monoplanes – such as the Ford Trimotor and the Junkers Ju-52 – while the world’s first “blind flight” solely using instruments would be flown by James Doolittle.

One of the key motivators for this rapid advancement was the growth of airmail, particularly in the United States. Historically, communication between the east and west coasts of the U.S. could take weeks or even months. The advent of trans-continental rail and telegraph lines in the previous century reduced this significantly, but the airplane’s speed offered the promise of putting a letter or small package in the mail early in the morning and having it delivered across the country by the next evening.

The temperamental nature of early aircraft coupled with essentially non-existent aerial navigation aids forced the US Postal Service to invest in more reliable aircraft and to invent new navigation techniques. By 1924, a network of ground navigation aids and emergency landing fields, called the Transcontinental Airway System, stretched from coast to coast. As the US Postal Service was ironing out the kinks in airmail flying, airmail routes were being systematically handed over to commercial aviation. By 1927, private contractors were flying all airmail routes in the US.

Given all of this it should come as no surprise that the first person to cross the Atlantic solo non-stop would come from the airmail service. Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1902, Charles Augustus Lindbergh would spend most of his childhood in Little Falls, Minnesota. From a very early age, Charles exhibited an interest in all things mechanical. He took up flying shortly after flunking out of the mechanical engineering program at the University of Wisconsin in 1922. Soloing for the first time in May of 1923, he spent the next year flying across the US as the barnstorming pilot “Daredevil Lindbergh”.

In an attempt to get his hands on something faster and more modern than war surplus aircraft, he entered into a yearlong US Army pilot training program in March of 1924. The intense Army training program forced Cadet Lindberg to study harder than he ever did in college. When he completed the program in March of 1925, he graduated first in his class of only 19 pilots. The class started out with 104 cadets. Though the Army was in little need of new pilots in 1925, he was ultimately able to receive a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Missouri National Guard.

Between his barnstorming and blossoming military career, Charles Lindberg had earned a bit of a reputation for himself as an able pilot back at Lambert Field in St. Louis, where he had done most of his pre-military flying. In October of 1925, he was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis to begin scouting a path for the company’s recently acquired Contract Air Mail Route between St. Louis and Chicago. That route was only the second contract awarded under the Contract Air Mail system.

During this time, he also applied to be a pilot on Richard Byrd’s North Pole expedition but was ultimately turned down. Undeterred, Lindbergh set his sights on other avenues of aerial conquest. In May of 1919 New York Hotel Owner Raymond Orteig offered up a $25,000 reward to the first pilot or pilots from an Entente country to fly non-stop from New York to Paris or vice versa. After hearing of the efficiency records set at the 1926 National Air Races by the brand new Wright-Bellanca WB-2 and its efficient Wright J-5 Whirlwind engine, Lindberg calculated that it was now theoretically possible for that or a similar aircraft to win the Orteig Prize.

After securing sufficient funding from several St. Louis-based financial organization, Lindberg set about acquiring an aircraft. After a failed attempt at procuring the Wright-Bellanca WB-2 – a one-off prototype – he settled on a custom-built airplane from Ryan Aeronautical Company of San Diego, California. He chose Ryan because they produced the M-1 monoplane used on the West Coast airmail routes and because several other more prestigious aircraft manufacturers had turned him down, citing that a single-engine single-seat airplane was a ludicrous proposition for crossing the Atlantic.

The Ryan NYP – which stood for New York to Paris – was powered by the same Wright Whirlwind engine that powered the WB-2 and was designed specifically for the crossing. Aircraft performance was the primary concern and very little attention was paid to pilot accoutrements. The aircraft even lacked a front windshield as the space required was needed for more fuel. Lindberg deemed that a retractable periscope would suffice for the few minutes of forward visibility needed for takeoff and landing.

As the NYP – now dubbed The Spirit of St. Louis in honor of her financiers – neared completion, competition began to heat up. Three other American teams and one French team had entered the race, all better funded and better organized than Lindbergh. In case fortune chose not to favor him, Lindbergh started to make backup plans for a Pacific crossing. His primary focus still remained on crossing the Atlantic, however as April of 1927 began any luck that Lindbergh experienced typically came at the tragic misfortune of someone else.

Richard Byrd, fresh from his flight to the North Pole, had his chance to cross the Atlantic ripped from him on the 16th when the Fokker Trimotor he was planning to use for the flight crashed on its first test flight. On the 26th, two US Naval officers, Lieutenant Commander Noel Davis and Lieutenant Stanton Wooster, were killed during a test flight when their Keystone K-47 Pathfinder crashed shortly after takeoff from Langley, Virginia. Then, on the 8th of May, two French flying aces from the Great War, Charles Nungesser and François Coli, took off from Le Bourget field near Paris in a Levasseur PL.8 biplane named L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird) bound for New York. However, when The White Bird failed to appear over the skies of New York may hours after her scheduled arrival time the realization began to sink in that she had disappeared somewhere over the icy North Atlantic.

That only left Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis and Clarence Chamberlin in the Bellanca WB-2, now christened “Columbia”. After Lindberg’s arrival at New York bad weather across the Atlantic and rain in New York prevented either competitor or Byrd in his recently repaired Fokker to begin their journeys. On the 19th, weather reports began to indicate that a high pressure area over the North Atlantic would start to create clearer weather by the next day with conditions improving on the 21st.

After failing to get any sleep that night, the anxious Lindbergh set off for Roosevelt Field in the pre-dawn hours of the 20th to oversee the preparation of his aircraft. Despite the Spirit’s tires sinking into the muddy runway, Lindbergh decided to begin his attempt that day. With his aircraft fully fueled and his engine warmed, he advanced the throttle at 7:54 am and lumbered down the runway, bouncing several times off the muddy surface until he finally managed to takeoff, barely clearing the telegraph lines at the far end of the field.

Without the use of radio or celestial navigation aids to save weight, Lindbergh relied solely on the use of dead reckoning. This technique required flying a precise compass heading from one pre-determined waypoint to the next while occasionally verifying his location by comparing what he could see out his windows with the landmarks annotated on his aerial charts when he was over land. Being off by 1 degree could lead to a nearly 30 nautical mile (55 km) deviation in course after flying across 1,600 nautical miles (3,000 km) of open ocean from Newfoundland to Ireland.

He passed St. Jon’s, Newfoundland at 8:15 pm local time and headed out over the open ocean. During the flight across the Atlantic, Lindbergh battled poor visibility and icing conditions as well as fatigue brought on by a severe lack of sleep. The constant need to keep his unstable aircraft flying was the only thing that kept him from succumbing to exhaustion.

In the middle of the night, Lindbergh was forced to make some drastic maneuvers, both in direction and altitude, in an attempt to avoid a thunderstorm over the North Atlantic and to rid his wings of ice. The maneuvers and the electromagnetic interference from the thunderstorm made both his earth inductor compass and his magnetic compass, his only navigation aids, unreliable. It wasn’t until the clouds broke and he spotted the Moon that he had any indication of his general direction.

The extreme exhaustion he experienced due to lack of sleep also caused him to experience hallucinations in the form of ghostly apparitions and phantom islands. When he finally spotted real land the next day he was unsure what land it was. Because of his maneuvers in the middle of the night, the land in front of him could have been anything from Iceland to the Spanish coast. After careful consultation with his map, he confirmed that he was passing over Dingle Bay in Ireland, only a few miles off course.

He was spotted by the townspeople below and news quickly spread of his successful oceanic crossing. The news of his safe passage up to that point rallied stock markets around the world and had peopled either glued to their radios or mobbing newsstands for the latest editions. The only challenge left for Lindbergh was the last leg to Paris, a paltry 520 nautical miles (964 km) away.

He crossed the French coast near Cherbourg as the sun was beginning to set on the second day of his journey and headed east-southeast towards the mouth of the Seine. From there he was already able to make out the lights from the searchlights in Paris. As he approached the city, he used the illuminated Eifel Tower as a landmark.

He knew that Le Bourget Field was somewhere to the northeast of Paris, but he became confused by the patterns of light on the ground as he headed in that direction. It wasn’t until he lowered his altitude that he was able to determine that some of the lights were from a massive traffic jam that stretched all the way from the center of Paris to Le Bourget. The other strange constellation was from the cars that had already made it to the field and were attempting to light the runway with their headlights.

He made one low pass to determine the condition of the sod and then circled around for his final approach. His wheels finally touched French soil at 10:24 pm Paris time. He had been aloft for 33 and one half hours and had set a world distance record of 3,135 nautical miles (5,810 km).
A security detail consisting of airport police and two companies of French soldiers with fixed bayonets were unable to stop the human tide that rushed towards him. The first words spoken to Lindbergh came from a Le Bourget workman who shouted “Cette fois, ça va!” (“This time, it is done!”). Unable to hear much of anything due to 33.5 hours of constant engine noise he simply replied with “Are there any mechanics here?”

The frantic crowd finally reached him and he was pulled from his aircraft without being able to even set foot on the ground. As the jubilant crowd lifted him up on their shoulders he could hear cracking and tearing sounds as some members of the crowd sought souvenirs from the Spirit. The ecstatic crowd paraded him around the airfield on their shoulders for several minutes. He was ultimately rescued by a few members of the crow who created a diversion by putting Lindbergh’s pilot helmet on an American reporter who happened to be standing by and disguised him by throwing a coat over him.

Once rescued, he was ultimately able to make his way by awaiting motorcar to the house of American ambassador Myron Herrick after a brief detour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He made one brief press conference in pajamas provided to him by the ambassador and finally at approximately 4:15 am Paris time on the 22nd of May 1927, some 63 hours after he last slept, Charles Lindbergh finally went to bed.

When he awoke at 1:00 pm that afternoon, he found himself the most famous man in the world.