31 December 2014

Discord at the 1944 Chicago Conference and the Formation of ICAO

Adolf Berle, FDR's aviation advisor
Early in the Second World War, the Allied powers were already giving consideration to the commercial importance of aviation in a postwar world. In 1941, Secretary of State Cordell Hull placed a brilliant diplomat and lawyer under him, Adolf Augustus Berle, in charge of aviation affairs. Berle soon became President Franklin D. Roosevelt's primary advisor on commercial aviation affairs. Berle saw the postwar potential for aviation threatened by two factors- on one hand were what he thought were outdated imperial notions espoused by the British and on the other hand were ruthless commercial interests typified by Juan Trippe, the chairman of Pan American Airways. Given his legal background, Berle sought to construct a legal framework to govern aviation commerce worldwide and keep powerful political interests and business interests in check. By 1943, Berle had Roosevelt's approval to forge ahead with an international conference to be held before war's end to start laying down the ground rules for postwar commercial aviation. His concepts were for what today would be called "open skies". By the 1943 Quebec Conference, Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt had on their agenda the discussion of postwar aviation policy in addition to the primary discussion of war strategy. At their meeting, Roosevelt established that open skies would be the United States position on postwar commercial aviation and the wheels were set in motion for an international aviation conference to be held the following year in Chicago. 

British aviation interests were forwarded by Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook. During the war as Minister of Aircraft Production he was instrumental in streamlining and increasing the efficiency of British aircraft production to meet wartime needs. Britain saw aviation as the key to retaining its Empire with far flung bases in its many dependencies and Commonwealth nations that would rival the American network of bases. However, many in the British government saw that despite wartime production demands, the American aviation industry still managed to design and build civilian aircraft as well as hold the technological lead in bomber designs that would undoubtedly influence postwar airliner designs. Combined with the already legendary ruthlessness of Juan Trippe at Pan American Airways, the development of postwar British aviation policy became one of protectionism- safeguard the economic livelihood of the British aircraft industry, maintain the British Empire and use British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) as the primary means of maintaining the aviation links of Britain's far flung empire. 

With the Americans and the British certain to dominate the upcoming 1944 Chicago Conference, a third party emerged that would have great influence as well, and that was the Canadians. During the Second World War, Canada was of strategic importance in that it sat astride not just the North Atlantic sea lanes to support the war effort in Europe, but it also had key landing fields that formed the western terminus of the North Atlantic air routes to Europe. As long as aircraft were unable to cross the Atlantic non-stop, Canada was a necessity in the any postwar discussion. Led by the chairman of Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA, which later became Air Canada), Herbert Symington, the Canadians not only presciently saw the North Atlantic air routes as lucrative in the postwar period, but they also saw themselves as conciliators between the American and British viewpoints. Lacking Britain's extensive aviation industry and far flung empire, in general the Canadians tended to lean towards the United States' position of open skies. In the run up to the 1944 Chicago Conference, Canadian diplomats were already playing the part of honest broker between the Americans and the British. 

Given the time, it's obvious the Axis powers weren't invited. The Soviets were invited but early on they made it clear they were dead set against any internationalization of commercial aviation. As far as Josef Stalin was concerned, any air traffic within their vast nation would be their sole domain only and would only connect with other airlines at specific points. 

With the formation of the United Nations in October 1945, the Americans formally invited all the signatories to the UN charter to the Chicago Conference in November to discuss postwar aviation policy. Initially the Soviet Union agreed to send a delegation but backed out of the conference the day before it opened. The only nation not present in Chicago besides the Soviet Union was Saudi Arabia. 

Lord Swinton, head of the UK delegation
Adolf Berle led the American delegation at Chicago and Herbert Symington led the Canadian delegation. Curiously, Lord Beaverbrook didn't attend and instead sent one of his deputies, Philip Cunlife-Lister, the First Lord of Swinton, as head of the British delegation. He had just been appointed as the new Minister of Aviation though his prior experience in aviation paled in comparison to his superior, Lord Beaverbrook. Unfortunately for the British, they didn't place the priority on the Chicago Conference that the Americans and Canadians did. Even some of the British delegation present failed to attend any of the sessions where more specific discussions took place. 

At the opening of the conference, Berle outlined the five freedoms of the air: 

1. Freedom to fly over a nation (today we'd call this overflight rights).
2. Freedom to land in a nation but without picking up passengers or freight (today we'd call this a technical stop).
3. Freedom to fly passengers and freight from the home nation to another nation.
4. Freedom to fly passengers and freight from another nation back to the home nation. 
5. Freedom to fly passengers or freight of a another nation between any two intermediate points (today we refer this as Fifth Freedom rights or cabotage, a contentious issue in commercial aviation).

The first two freedoms weren't too contentious and for obvious reasons- there was no economic benefit or harm to the involved parties. But invoking its protectionist stand, Swinton pushed for a system of quotas in relation to the third and fourth freedoms to prevent what he thought would be postwar flood of American airlines starting services to British cities. France, Australia, and New Zealand supported Swinton's quota system where service frequencies and the number of passengers would be tightly controlled to prevent domination by the Americans. Key to the quota system was "escalation" which was supported by the British aircraft industry- as they were able to recover from wartime production and shift to production of airliners to rival American designs, the quotas would be gradually relaxed as the British (and any of their supporters) got onto a more competitive footing. 

The American delegation led by Adolf Berle wouldn't have any of it. It was clearly apparent to the attendees that Adolf Berle and Lord Swinton had a genuine dislike of each other and it was up to Herbert Symington and the Canadians to try to bridge the divide. The Canadians proposed a less stringent system that tried to take into account both American and British positions. It was at this point with both the Americans and British unwilling to give ground that a series of errors in communication would harm British interests. Lord Swinton contacted Lord Beaverbrook for further instructions but he was unavailable. When Beaverbrook called back, Swinton blew him off due to the hour with the classic quote "Max, go to hell, it's three o'clock in the morning here!" Beaverbrook then sent a telegram stating "You may abandon escalation." To the relief of the attendees, the British announced their concession to go with the Canadian proposal on regulating the third and fourth freedoms. After their announcement, a second telegram from Beaverbrook arrived "Before 'abandon', insert 'not'", but it was too late as Swinton told Beaverbrook "A British delegation does not go back on its word."

With agreement now on the third and fourth freedoms (which today we know as bilateral air agreements), the conference moved on to the hot button topic, that of Fifth Freedom rights. Again, the British refused to budge from their protectionist position and Prime Minister Churchill himself made it known that Fifth Freedom rights were unacceptable. President Roosevelt himself tried to convince Churchill to yield, saying "It has been a cardinal point in American policy throughout that the ultimate judge should be the passenger and shipper."Churchill pushed for an adjournment of the Chicago Conference to a later date, but Roosevelt insisted that it would continue until an agreement was reached. Herbert Symington, leading the Canadian delegation, supported the Americans and they also insisted that the conference would continue until an agreement was reached. Soon the Latin American nations joined the American resolution. The crucial swing came when the Dutch, keenly aware the British restrictions threatened KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, joined the Americans along with other European nations. Only New Zealand, France, and Australia supported the British. Churchill still refused to budge and Roosevelt continued his own intervention with Churchill, even to the point of assuring him that American airliner designs would be as readily available to British airlines as they would be with American operators. One of the American delegates, Ralph Damon, who was president of American Airlines (and later would be a long time head of TWA) even went as far to offer the British fifty Douglas DC-4s if they would at least compromise. 

The ICAO flag
The Dutch delegation with the support of the Canadians put forth a compromise in which the first two freedoms were explicitly recognized (something that was already the case anyway), the third and fourth freedoms would be subject to individual review between the involved nations, and the fifth freedom was essentially tabled for later discussion. While Adolf Berle was bitter at the failure of his dream of open skies, he did get his legal framework. At the conclusion of the conference, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was set up under the aegis of the United Nations as a means for nations to exchange and maintain aviation regulations. The headquarters would be in Montreal-this was a compromise from the Canadians once again, with Britain and France wanting ICAO based in Europe and the Americans wanting ICAO based in the United States. The first president of ICAO was an respected American aeronautical engineer, Edward Warner, who would serve at the head of ICAO until his retirement in 1957. Today the ICAO has the Edward Warner Award given to for meritorious accomplishment in civil aviation. 

ICAO is the true legacy of the 1944 Chicago Conference. It created a mechanism for not just the exchange of regulations and safety advances in aviation but also a means for the standardization of the protocols and procedures in civil aviation worldwide. The Freedoms of the Air continue to be a contentious issue with open skies agreements coming only after considerable struggle amongst the signatory nations. Most remarkable has been the transformation of the United States from being an advocate for open skies to being protectionist of the domestic airline market with not just restrictions on cabotage but also foreign investment in US airlines. 

Source: Empires of the Sky: The Politics, Contests, and Cartels of the World Airlines by Anthony Sampson. Random House, 1984, pp 62-71. Photos: Wikipedia.

28 December 2014

The Industry Cooperation in the Lockheed Electra Investigation.

The outboard nacelle- the Achilles heel of the Lockheed Electra
In my previous blog entry, I had discussed how subcontracting was a way of building goodwill between aerospace competitors, the example from I talked about was in reference to the Space Shuttle program. However, even aside from financial incentives, there have been times in aviation history that corporate rivals have cooperated beyond that of a joint venture and one unheralded example of such cooperation was the extensive investigation into the loss of two Lockheed L-188 Electras shortly after the type went into service. The first loss was on 29 September 1959 when Braniff International Airways Flight 542 went down near Buffalo, Texas, on a flight from Houston Hobby Airport to Dallas Love Field. The second loss was on 17 March 1960 when Northwest Airlines Flight 710 went down near Tell City, Indiana, on a flight from Chicago Midway to Miami. 

The cooperation of Lockheed's competitors began after the Braniff crash. A Dallas warehouse was used to reassemble the wreckage as part of the investigation. Using a chicken wire frame, pieces were added in a gigantic jigsaw puzzle from October into November. In January 1960, the investigators with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) were no closer to determining the cause of the loss of Braniff 542 and invited representatives from Eastern Airlines and American Airlines, both operators of large Electra fleets, along with NASA to join the investigation. The following month Lockheed invited engineers from Boeing, Convair, and Douglas to review what had been done so far in the investigation. But the loss of the second Electra when Northwest 710 went down shook the airline and aviation industry as aircraft like the Electra were the leading edge of the jet turbine age that would revolutionize air travel. There was near unanimous sentiment in American aviation that the cause of the loss of two Electras in passenger service had to be found and rectified for the good of the entire industry. 

NASA immediately put its resources at Lockheed's disposal (the decision to ground versus speed restrict the Electra will be subject of a future post for this blog). Allison, the maker of the Electra's engines, initiated its own flight test program with its own company Electra. Boeing and Douglas made their resources also available to Lockheed- with both companies fielding their own advanced jetliner designs for the day, helping Lockheed determine the cause of the Electra crashes was vital to confidence in both the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8. With Lockheed engineering staff getting pulled from various projects to the Electra investigation, Boeing's chief Bill Allen dispatched his own engineers and his best aerodynamicists from Seattle to assist Lockheed in Burbank. The investigation and any fix needed had a name- Lockheed Electra Achievement Program, or LEAP. To everyone involved, it became Operation LEAP. 

Part of Operation LEAP was the use of a specially instrumented Electra that was flown by Lockheed and government test pilots over the Sierra Nevada range looking for mountain wave turbulence that would shake the test aircraft as no airliner had ever before been punished in-flight. Lockheed had actually pioneering the methods for testing inflight loads on structures back in 1949 that became the industry standard in flight testing. Sixty nine flights into the rough air offered a clue- the load instruments noted that the outboard nacelles were taking a rougher beating than expected. Flutter of some sort became the suspect cause- every aircraft has some degree of flutter, the air moving over various parts and imposing loads can cause them to vibrate and if unchecked, those vibrations increase in amplitude until structures fail. Aircraft structures are designed in part to dampen these oscillations. 

With flutter as the suspect, Douglas had sent over to Lockheed a vane exciter that was basically an actuated vane mounted on the wingtip that could move quickly to induce flutter in the wings. Even in smooth air, the vane exciters could really dole out some punishment to the wing structure. Douglas had used the device in the DC-8 flight test program and put them at Lockheed's disposal. The devices in combination with the rough air flight testing showed the outboard engine nacelles were the source of the flutter and a review of the wreckage from the Braniff and Northwest crashes showed that the outboard nacelle structure in combination with the wing structure allowed an obscure type of flutter called "whirl mode"- in short, gyroscopic movements of the propeller caused oscillations in the nacelle which were then transferred to the wing which caused the wing to fail. 

Though commercial rivals, Boeing and Douglas were only keenly aware that Lockheed was well respected in the business and its engineering and design methods were top notch. Much of how Lockheed went about the design and testing of the Electra wasn't all that dissimilar to how Boeing and Douglas went about the design and testing of their jetliners. If there was something Lockheed had missed, then it was something that left their designs  and the processes used open to question as well. 

On 12 May 1960, Lockheed chairman Robert Gross announced the cause of the loss of Braniff 542 and Northwest 710 as unstable whirl mode. Think about the technology of that day as this was well before computer modeling was available. Now think about the time frame- Braniff 542 went down at the end of September 1959. Northwest 710 went down in the middle of March 1960. And by the middle of May 1960 the cause had been identified. It's one of the great herculean efforts of American aviation that an obscure flutter mode was found to be the cause in just seven months. That amazing time frame wouldn't have been possible if Lockheed didn't have the cooperation of its commercial rivals as well as NASA, Allison, and the airline operators of the Electra. 

Source: The Electra Story: Aviation's Greatest Mystery (Bantam Air & Space Series No. 9) by Robert Serling. Bantam Publishing, 1962, 1991. Illustration: Flight Simulator X screenshot.

27 December 2014

Rockwell Builds the Shuttle by Farming Out the Work

The Grumman Shuttle Orbiter design
On 26 July 1972, NASA announced that Rockwell International had been selected as the prime contractor for the Space Shuttle (specifically the Shuttle Orbiter) after an intense competition with Lockheed, Grumman, and McDonnell Douglas. Each contractor proposal also had to detail management of the complex program as well as its technical aspects and the lengthy proposals then went to a specially convened selection board at NASA which evaluated each submission. The top two proposals belonged to Rockwell and Grumman and showcased the effect that a good management proposal could have in winning the competition. From a technical standpoint, NASA scored the Grumman proposal the best, with Rockwell's orbiter design coming in second. Rockwell's submission, however, impressed the NASA selection board with its management system. With the cost overruns on several military programs like the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy on everyone's mind, Rockwell's management proposal stressed cost controls for what was to be the biggest aviation contract in years. With a technical design not much more inferior that the Grumman design, Rockwell was awarded the contract. 

In the industry slump as Vietnam was winding down, the Orbiter contract was a very big prize for any firm that could clinch the award. At the time of the selection, Rockwell had 6,200 employees in their Space Division and with the award, plans were in place to hire as many as 16,000 by 1975. Priority would given to anyone who had worked on the Apollo program. Despite the buoyant mood at Rockwell, things were considerably more glum at the losing contenders, Grumman, Lockheed, and McDonnell Douglas. Grumman had been a mainstay of the US space program from its early days, best known for its work on the Apollo Lunar Module. Company officials made plans for Grumman to be out of the space business by December 1972 along with the attendant layoffs. 

McDonnell Douglas (via McDonnell) had built the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft and was in the midst of winding down its work as the prime contractor for Skylab. The company was also suffering from a downturn in the world commercial aviation market that was affecting most greatly its Douglas DC-9 program. 11,000 layoffs were planned at McDonnell Douglas by 1973.

While Lockheed didn't have as prominent a role in the US manned spaceflight program in the 1960s as McDonnell Douglas or Grumman, their expertise in high speed flight as well as thermal protection systems was unparalleled in the industry at the time. 

Rockwell, however, recognized two realities that came with winning the Shuttle Orbiter contract. The first one was the limitations of its in-house expertise. Quite simply, Rockwell would need other aerospace companies for their skills and expertise to bring the Orbiter to fruition. The second reality was a bit more prosaic but nonetheless vital. Keep in mind that in the early 1970s there was an atmosphere of budget austerity and NASA was no less exempt from financial realities than any other government agency at the time. Subcontracting work on the Orbiter to other companies in effect would spread the footprint of the endeavor across the districts of multiple Congressional representatives who would be routinely voting on NASA's budgetary allocations for the Space Shuttle program. Subcontracts were a common way as well in the industry of building goodwill- by farming out work to competitors and keeping them active and in business, today's winner might one day become tomorrow's loser on a another program and could hope for subcontract work from a rival. 

Rockwell planned to subcontract at least 53% of the work on the Shuttle Orbiter and this had NASA's blessing as a means of preserving the American industrial base for spaceflight. Just weeks after winning the contract as the prime, Rockwell was already conducting seminars across the nation for potential subcontractors. By March 1973 Rockwell began selecting subcontractors for the program with NASA's approval. Grumman would work on the delta wing, McDonnell Douglas got the OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System), Fairchild Republic got the vertical fin, and the Convair Division of General Dynamics got the mid-fuselage/payload bay. Rockwell would be responsible for the nose and crew compartment as well as the aft fuselage that would house the three Rocketdyne SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) packages. Lockheed would get the External Tank while Thiokol got the contract for the SRB (Solid Rocket Booster). 

By the summer of 1975, 34,000 workers across 47 states and a broad host of companies across the American aerospace industry were working on the Space Shuttle program. The peak would be in 1977 with 47,000 workers. The post-Vietnam slump, the Space Shuttle program was very much the crown jewel of the US aviation industry. 

Source: Development of the Space Shuttle 1972-1981: History of the Space Shuttle, Volume Two by T.A. Heppenheimer. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002. Illustration: Aerospace Projects Review

21 December 2014

Saving Lockheed for Christmas and Beyond: Carl Squier

Carl Squier
I had written this article a year ago for Christmas but I think it's worth reposting given this is Christmas Eve. There are a lot of folks in aviation little known to history but whose actions footnotes of the time set the stage for larger events in history. Carl Squier is one such individual- the 13th licensed pilot in the United States, in 1917 he became an Army pilot and flew in France in the first World War and became a long time friend of American ace Eddie Rickenbacker.

In 1928 he became the VP of the Eastman Flying Boat company after a career barnstorming after he returned from the Western Front. That year Eastman was bought by the Detroit Aircraft Company and they sent him to California to manage a struggling subsidiary they had just also acquired, Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank. While running Lockheed for the parent company, he found himself a home in aviation and became a patron of the employees at the Burbank plant.
With the stock market crash and the Great Depression, Detroit Aircraft went bankrupt and it dragged Lockheed into the red. No one was sure if Lockheed would survive. A few days before Christmas, he sent the employees home early from the Burbank plant and at the exit, handed each demoralized employee a ten dollar bill (a hearty sum in those days) and wished them a Merry Christmas. All one-hundred ten employees of Lockheed Aircraft went home that evening with ten dollars, all from Carl Squier's own savings which he emptied for his employees. The following January he mortgaged his own car and home to make payroll for the employees. When Lockheed finally succumbed to bankruptcy a few months later, Lockheed only had three employees- his secretary, an accountant, and a stock clerk who doubled as the night watchman for the Burbank hangar of the company.

Squier so believed the Lockheed name was too good to pass into history and the people he came to lead too good to abandon, he convinced an investor, Robert Gross, Gross' brother Courtlandt, three other men, and what he had left of his own savings to purchase Lockheed's remaining assets. Gross wanted to run an aircraft company of his own and in 1932 the group purchased what was left of Lockheed for $40,000. In the bankruptcy courtroom that day sitting in the back was none other than Allan Lockheed himself, who on his way out told Gross "I hope you know what you're doing". With a shoestring staff led by a young engineer they recruited, Hal Hibbard, Lockheed came back to life with its Lockheed Model 10 Electra.

Hal Hibbard and Robert Gross would go on to build Lockheed into one of the giants of American aviation, but it all started with the passion, generosity, and salesmanship of Carl Squier. It was said that if it wasn't for Carl Squier, there wouldn't be a Lockheed. He retired in 1956 as the VP of sales and flew west in 1967.

Source: The Electra Story: Aviation's Greatest Mystery (Bantam Air & Space Series No. 9) by Robert Serling. Bantam Publishing, 1962, 1991.