this is another article that will probably appeal to a small percentage
of RF Cafe visitors, but please countenance my indulgence in things
aeronautical as well as things electrical. The early 1930s was a
time when both airplanes and electronics were a wonder and a mystery
to most of the public worldwide. Of course today both are still
a mystery to the public but the wonder is gone - it's merely taken
for granted. Many idiosyncrasies of airborne electronic communications
were encountered for the first time, like the need for proper grounding
and static electricity dissipation. Ruggedization of chassis assemblies
in terms of mechanical vibration and shock as well as for temperature
extremes was a real challenge to engineers, technicians, and pilots.
As the state of the art advanced, pilots and passengers placed gradually
more and more reliance and confidence on electronic systems, which
motivated the creation of more electronics for easing pilots' flight
workload and enabling flight during previously unnavigable conditions,
which motivated further improvements...
April 1932 Radio News
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio &
Television News, published 1919 - 1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
How to Break into the Aviation Radio Game
By Lieut. Myron Eddy*
Aviation radio operators what sort of men are they? Having trained
hundreds of them, I am often asked that question. Wherein do they
differ from ships' radio operators or the men who operate the broadcast
station equipment? Interesting questions, these. The answer is that
they are not so very different. In fact, they are in many instances
the same men - ships' operators often take up aviation radio work.
But to make good they must like aviation and be something of a mechanic.
To "like aviation" usually means that they are familiar with airplanes
"I most heartily concur in Colonel Lindbergh's advice to
young men to 'take the radio side of aviation.' It is the
fastest, most fascinating and profitable part of the air
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and engines, that they would like to fly, that they would be
unafraid in the air. There are many strictly "ground" jobs for radio
operators, but I think that air-plane operators are the ones who
usually get the most fun out of their job.
First "Try Your
So if you are thinking of taking up "the radio side
of aviation," which Colonel Lindbergh not long ago advised was "the
coming thing," first fly a bit. Get your flight reactions established
by flying. And do something while you are in the air. A radio operator
concentrates on his work, every minute of every flight. You must
learn to do the same and still not be tired. Pan-American radio
operators must all accept flight duty when assigned, even though
employed at radio stations on the ground. The first of our questions
are answered, then - aviation radio operators should be the sort
of men who do not get air-sick. In this respect they must be different
from the ship's operator who may be relieved by another operator
if he becomes sea-sick. There is no relief operator aboard a plane.
In fact, the operator should be able to relieve the plane mechanic
if the latter is overcome with gas fumes or injured while in flight.
On most planes the operator is referred to as the "radio mechanic"
because he serves as both radio operator and plane mechanic. Sometimes
he is the only mechanic aboard. In this case he usually holds an
airplane mechanic's license. In every case he must hold a commercial
radio operator's license - a broadcast operator's license simply
will not do. Because it seemed that there was a special sort of
operator needed for airplanes, the Department of Commerce (Radio
Division) authorized, nearly a year ago, a special Aircraft Radio
Operator's license - Commercial Third Class.
A working speed
of only fifteen words code is required to secure this class of license.
This is because a greater speed in transmission and reception aboard
airplanes is unnecessary and undesirable, accuracy being more essential
than speed. Indeed, accuracy and dependability are the chief professional
qualifications desired in the airplane radio operator. The ability
to maintain the radio set and get the messages through on schedule
is the main thing.
Testing Radio Beacon
Mr. H. L. Clemens, Assistant
to Radio Engineer, testing the beacon and weather receiver
on an Eastern Air Transportation mail plane
Consider the equipment to be maintained
and operated: there is a transmitter, two receivers and sometimes
a course indicator. Generator, batteries and antennas must also
be watched. Regulations governing transmission of messages must
be known and adhered to and schedules handled "on the dot." The
operator should also know the Airways - every light and radio beacon,
the bearing and distances between them and the type of terrain flown
over. The pilot will tell him the air speed being flown. The compass
will indicate the amount of drift caused by wind. Between messages
the quick operator will be able to estimate accurately the ground
speed being made and therefore the time of arrival to be radioed
to the next airport ahead. Yes, the radio operator aboard a transport
plane is a very important man, so far as flight is concerned.
Now what about his buddies on the ground? There are two
of them, a radio service or maintenance man at the airport who will
overhaul the plane set at the end of the run, and an Airways station
operator who handles the actual message traffic with the plane.
Their work is also important. The reports of these two men make
or break the young plane operator; if the messages do not come through
and the airport maintenance man locates a fault in the set that
could have been remedied in the air, the plane operator is probably
"grounded" for a while, to spend weary hours in disgrace washing
down planes and playing radio messenger boy. Messages must get through!
As a matter of fact, they usually do get through, thanks to the
combined efforts of the plane operator, the station operator and
the maintenance man.
Ground Station Operators
The good station operator works his set all the time. He services
the set as he operates it. He "picks up" the plane calling other
distant stations first; then he takes over the handling of traffic
at the most convenient time according to existing schedules. Every
minute of every hour is scheduled, either to a particular station,
or to planes east, south, west, north. He hears them all in sequence
and at the proper time exchanges a brief call with each to establish
contact. As each, in turn, approaches and passes, he "clears" them,
reporting their position by land wire or teletype machine to the
proper flight-division airport.
Sometimes the Airways station
operator becomes an impromptu radio serviceman or plane mechanic.
If a plane lands at his station he may become both, because at every
stop made, and especially whenever there is a non-scheduled landing,
the engine, plane and radio set are inspected and tested. If it
is an emergency landing, full details must be forwarded to the division
headquarters at once, without interfering with the work to be done
on the plane. In this case the relief operator is hurriedly called
and put on the key while the regular operator hurries out to meet
the plane, helping to man the landing lights at night if it is an
Requirements and Rank
Aviation Radio Serviceman at Work
Testing the bonding
of a training plane by comparing with a receiver which has
been set outside of the plane.
These station operators are always
assistants to the field superintendent and usually make up and send
weather reports as a part of their regular duties. They are all
required to be not only radio-telegraph but radio-telephone operators
and must therefore neither stutter nor lisp! Living quarters, are
usually provided and at government stations the salary received
is from $1640 per annum, up. Upon being appointed to one of these
stations there is a probationary period of six months, during which
time the probationer may qualify at the kitchen sink or solo at
the lawnmower. But they like it! Day and night great airplanes soar
by overhead, speeded on their way by work at the key and the microphone.
Through storm and fog, the station man keeps his radio beacon sending
out its guiding beam to carry the pilot straight through to a safe
landing. There is a thrill in this. And yet the station job lends
itself to domesticity. The married man at an Airways station eats
and sleeps "home" every night. For this reason the older men with
families usually end up at either an Airways station or at an airport.
And what does the radio serviceman at the airport do when
he takes over the set at the end of each run? Briefly. he works
the set. If it won't work, he finds out why and replaces the equipment
that is faulty. He charges the battery. He sets up the generator
on a test bench and gives it a speed run. He loads a "dummy" antenna
and runs the transmitter full blast, noting its maximum output into
this "dummy" antenna. He tests every tube in the receiver and listens
for "distance" to determine its sensitiveness. If it is more noisy
on the plane than off, he checks up on the airplane engine's ignition
system to see if it is properly shielded and also if the plane itself
is properly bonded to form a perfect counterpoise. In performing
these tests he strings the trailing type antenna out in different
directions to nearby poles, in order to determine any directional
tendencies. The results of all tests are recorded and a copy furnished
the plane operator before the next flight. Then, just before the
take-off, the entire radio set is tested by both serviceman and
plane operator, the latter signing the test report as "condition
satisfactory for flight work."
Overhauling Ignition Shielding System
men checking the ignition shielding system of a plane so
necessary for quiet operation.
The situation regarding employment
is peculiar and the governing facts are of interest. There are now
nearly 400 radio-equipped planes in the United States and there
will be more each succeeding year, all licensed as mobile stations.
All are required to be manned by licensed radio operators. This
influences the employment situation. Approximately 75% of the air-transport
companies use radiophones on their planes. Many of these planes
do not carry radio operators, although there must be one pilot aboard
holding a radiophone license. Pan-American is a notable exception
- they fly mostly over water, communicate longer distances and use
radio-telegraphy exclusively. They say it is the only thing for
distance, accuracy and dependability. They hire experienced, first-class
commercial operators only. Many of these operators qualify for an
airplane or engine mechanic's license. This license can only be
secured by one having had experience on a plane, and an operator
holding it usually makes more money than a ship's operator. He is
To get a job in aviation as a radio maintenance
man you should be a good trouble-shooter on aircraft sets, a good
battery man and not averse to gassing and oiling planes. Occasionally
a maintenance man will be required to relieve the airport radio
operator, which means that he should know the company's communication
system as well as its sets. The most important thing is to be absolutely
reliable and also adaptable to other kinds of jobs. When you "OK"
a plane set, it must thereafter work perfectly throughout the next
flight. Sometimes you have to check the plane operator, to eliminate
the flight trouble! Assuredly the airport radio maintenance man
must be a man of ability and tact.
The following are ·the
more important requirements for assistant radio operator (Airways).
This is a Civil Service job starting at $1800 a year with a $60
raise every year up to $2000. This sounds like a pretty good job,
and it is. Assistants may be promoted to operator in charge, any
time after six months' service, at salaries ranging from $2300 to
$2800, and also to radio electricians at $3000 and more per year.
The assistant's job is open to any operator between 18 and 40 who
is sound of wind and limb and who has no impediment of speech or
"brogue" accent. Applicants will not be examined personally, but
will be rated on their training, experience and fitness. They must
be able to send and receive and type at speeds up to 30 words per
There is a popular belief among civilian radio men
that ex-army and ex-navy men get preference when it comes to employment
in aviation. This misconception is caused by many unrelated facts.
It is a fact that the Civil Service Airways jobs are often secured
by disabled veterans. These men are legally entitled to a handicap
on their examination which often puts them at the head of the eligible
list. Civilian flying concerns are honeycombed with good men who
learned the air game in the army or navy. These men favor their
friends because they know the air game as well as radio.
Radio operators who learn the business of commercial aviation
will progress upward as airport superintendents, field managers,
plane despatchers, airline managers and officials of air companies.
There are few old-time aviation radio operators, because the good
ones have been promoted out of radio and more directly into aviation.
Now do you see what sort of men aviation radio operators
must be? Pretty good all-around men. Men who know three sides of
the game: flying, operating, and maintenance. Able to sympathize
with the troubles of the other fellow but not to condone his faults.
Men without alibis - men of character, not afraid. To this type
of man aviation radio promises much interesting work, on the ground
and in the air, as well as a great future; a future to be filled
with accomplishment and personal advancement. I have trained radio
men of this type in the navy for years and am now training men for
commercial aviation jobs and I find it always works out so that
the better the man the better the aviation radio operator will be.
* Author, Aircraft Radio.