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The World’s Greatest Travel System

There was a time in the Jazz Age when sure-footed Canadian businesses dared tread amongst the world’s titans, and even declared themselves to be of the first rank.  One of these was the Canadian Pacific Railway, which operated a full-blown vertically integrated empire encompassing a railway, steamship line, airline, and hotel chain.  CP gave itself the grandiose title of “World’s Greatest Travel System”, and buttressed the claim with a sheaf of beautiful ad posters.

cp_rail_hudson

The powerful Hudson 4-6-4 steam locomotive. Several remain operable; CP Rail still runs one (#2816) on sightseeing tours through the Rockies.

Looking out at Lake Louise from the Chateau of the same name.

An idealised view of Lake Louise from the Chateau of the same name.

RMS Empress of Britain, 42,348 gross tons.  Construction started 1928, launched 1931.  Carried 1,195 passengers (in two classes) in the summer, converted to 700 all-first-class berths in the winter.  Torpedoed and sunk by U-32 off Northern Ireland on October 26th, 1940.

RMS Empress of Britain, 42,348 gross tons. Construction started 1928, launched 1931. Carried 1,195 passengers (in two classes) in the summer, converted to 700 all-first-class berths in the winter. Torpedoed and sunk by U-32 off Northern Ireland on October 26th, 1940.

I don't think anyone has ever had as much fun on a Great Lakes tour as this woman appears to be having.

I don't think anyone has ever had as much fun on a Great Lakes tour as this woman appears to be having. Also, don't slip.

They may have been the world's greatest travel system then.  Today we would settle for an airline aspiring to be world's greatest at something other than frustration and delays.

They may have been the world's greatest travel system then. Today we would settle for an airline aspiring to be world's greatest at something other than frustration and delays.

CP would have been the third airline to operate Comets, and actually lost one in service—albiet not on the Pacific routes, and not due to the famous problem with metal fatigue.  On March 3rd, 1953, a CP Air's second Comet 1A crashed on takeoff from Karachi on March 3rd, 1953, killing all 11 passengers and crew.  It was in the process of being delivered to the airline; CP's other Comet was subsequently sold to BOAC.

CP would have been the third airline to operate Comets, and actually lost one in service—albiet not on the Pacific routes, and not due to the famous problem with metal fatigue. On March 3rd, 1953, a CP Air's second Comet 1A crashed on takeoff from Karachi on March 3rd, 1953, killing all 11 passengers and crew. It was in the process of being delivered to the airline; CP's first Comet was subsequently sold to BOAC.

Canadian Pacific’s railway business still survives, of course, while the airline (sold to Pacific Western in 1987, merged with Air Canada in 2000) and steamship line (merged with Hapag-Lloyd in 2005) were not so lucky.  The CP Hotels chain, however, was wildly successful—to the point where it bought up American competitor Fairmont in 2001 and operates under that name today.

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Canadian Pacific “Empress” #2816

Although the era of the steam locomotive is long since past, it is nice to know that the Canadian Pacific Railway has one 80-year-old legend still on active duty hauling passenger cars through the Rockies.

The Empress is a Hudson 4-6-4 steam locomotive; some of her sisters (2820 through 2864) later gained the moniker Royal Hudson after one of their class hauled King George VI’s train throughout the Dominion in 1939 without any breakdowns.

See more of Empress at CPR’s photo gallery.

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British Airways “Landor” livery, 1984-1997

Designed by the New York firm Landor Associates, this livery helped transform the British Airways brand into a byword for sophistication and luxury in the mid-Eighties.  BA’s previous colour scheme (1, 2) was not ugly, but it was bland.  The Landor scheme oozed understated British elegance and savoir faire; from the red Speedmarque along the lower fuselage to BA’s aristocratic coat of arms tastefully displayed above the Union Flag on the tail.

Alas, BA dumped the Landor scheme in 1997 for its at-the-time controversial World Tails livery (PM Thatcher detested them).  I do think many of the World Tail schemes are beautiful, but there are also many that are overly busy, or are not particularly evocative of the nations they are supposed to represent.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the World Tails effort was that it was a counter-intuitive step away from BA’s corporate culture, not to mention the explicitly British image the company had strenuously emphasised over the previous decade.  But BA forged ahead with World Tails as a sort of global outreach, in order to solidify its position as the undisputed market leader in world travel.

Not surprisingly, wiping the Union flag from its tails sent the subliminal message that being British was bad for business; and that created a consumer backlash at home. Eventually, in 2001 BA abandoned the World Tails entirely and repainted them all in a stylised Union Flag (known as Chatham Dockyard).

Ticking off its home market (plus slashed services and increased competition on long-haul routes from low-cost and charter carriers) caused BA to lose ground and market share; today a more accurate advertising tagline would be “formerly the world’s favourite airline.”

And while British Airways’ present livery is not bad, it once again verges on the boring.  It says “we’re British,” but not much else.  Unlike the Landor scheme, there are no subtle references to an aristocracy of the air; a journey of class and refinement.

Concorde, originally uploaded by Merlin_1.

British Airways 747-136 G-AWNF, originally uploaded by caribb.

2197410068_17f28b2f39G-BIKG, originally uploaded by Martin Third Av’n.

G-BUSB, originally uploaded by Zippy’s Revenge.

Barra, 1997, originally uploaded by Neil F King.

“To Fly, To Serve”, originally uploaded by euphbass.

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Imperial Airways Empire Terminal

Imperial Airways Building SW1, originally uploaded by Jamie Barras.

Designed in 1938 by architect Albert Lakeman, the Empire Terminal is a rather striking Art Moderne structure built to facilitate intermodal passenger and freight transport for Imperial’s C-Class flying boat services around the globe.  The main entrance features the statue Speed Wings Over The World, by Eric R. Broadbent, as well as the winged insignia of Imperial Airways in bas-relief.

The terminal is a lengthy facility stretching from 157-197 Buckingham Palace Road (Westminster SW1), and was completed in 1939.  It is strategically located adjacent to major road and rail connections, lying across the street from Victoria Coach Station and backing onto the railheads leading into London Victoria train station.  This ideal situation allowed mail, freight and passengers to congregate at the Empire Terminal, then be shipped to Southampton via rail, where they would be loaded into the flying boats and dispatched to the far corners of the earth.

Despite the general decline of flying boats in the postwar era, Imperial’s successor companies—BOAC and British Airways—continued to operate the terminal into the late 20th century.  In this 1978 image, the British Airways tail flash is visible atop the terminal’s central clock tower. At some point, BA management sold off the terminal and consolidated its offices elsewhere.  I am a little hard-pressed to comprehend how BA could easily surrender such priceless architectural and corporate heritage—with its predecessor’s logo painstakingly wrought from the very stone above the entrance—to any other body, regardless of how worthy.  Although given the state of Ford’s original Model T plant in Highland Park, Detroit, I suppose I should not be surprised by a company’s tone-deafness to their own rich history.

Today, the Empire Terminal is home to the UK’s National Audit Office, an independent parliamentary body that reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Marketing the Mystique

70011The Smithsonian Institution has long had a superb collection of aircraft throughout aviation history; what is less well-known is that it also has a fine collection of over 1,300 airline and air force posters spanning many decades.  The majority of that collection has remained in storage, but an intrepid team of interns and volunteers has begun the process of photographing and scanning the collection, which is now available online.

Amelia Brakeman Kile describes the effort in the National Air and Space Museum’s blog, AirSpace:

This marks the first time the poster collection, which includes graphic art published from as early as 1827 up to the twenty-first century, has been accessible to the public as an archive, since the majority of it has remained in storage in Suitland, Maryland. The collection provides a wealth of information related to balloons, early flight, military and commercial aviation, and space flight, documenting aerospace history and technology while providing a window into popular culture. As a student of art history, I found the collection visually engaging and historically significant. As a young museum professional, I gained experience physically working with the objects, recording and organizing information, photographing, identifying methods used to print the posters, and even had a lot of fun!

Now that the collection is online, scholars will be able to contribute to knowledge, study and discussion of this valuable resource. Working hands-on within a collection that was not accessible to many people, the group working on the project developed the feeling that this was “our” collection in a sense, and it is a thrill to now be able to share it. It is a diverse collection, wide-ranging in terms of subject, country of origin and time period, and thus it will make an excellent educational tool. Photographing and documenting the posters was part of a larger, ongoing effort to provide images and relevant information about the National Air and Space Museum’s art collection to the public, all while preparing the collections to move to the new Phase Two Collection Storage Facility at the Steve F. Udvar-Hazy Center.  So, take a look at the collection and tell us what you think!

— Brakeman Kile, Amelia.  “Fly Now! Making the National Air and Space Museum’s Poster Collection Accessible, Online.” AirSpace, 17 October 2009.

I have quite a few favourites from the collection, mostly advertising from Imperial Airways—many of which already appear on this site re-tooled as Taylor Empire Airways ads in the first sidebar to the right.

Something I find fascinating is the different focii of the various airlines when advertising their services and capabilities.  Pan American tends to zero in how great it will be to arrive at their exotic and fun destinations, with a lesser (but still prominent) focus on PAA’s  hardware, the famous Clipper flying boats.  Imperial’s ads centre on the luxuriousness of their service, their aircraft fleet, and the sheer volume of their destinations and routes across the far-flung British Empire.  KLM takes pride in its speed and efficiency;  noting that their total trip times are generally shorter than  everyone else’s.  The French airlines are all about the wonders of discovery in exotic locales, tending to shy away from promoting the particulars of their fleet.  In contrast Hamburg-Amerika’s posters are all about the awe-inspiring bulk of their monstrous zeppelins, saying little about cabin accommodation and absolutely nothing about any fun to be had once you’ve arrived at your destination.

I’ll discuss some of these contrasts with more detail in later posts, but for now I’d just like to say thanks to the interns and volunteers at NASM; without their hard work these treasures wouldn’t be online.

a19860323000cp03

The Flappettes

Once again ‘the Internet’ proves the adage that whatever you can think of already exists one Google-search away. So I should not be surprised to learn (although I am) that an all-female Toronto dance company—known as The Flappettes—specialises in keeping the Jazz Age flapper stylings of our great-grandparents alive.

Flappettes, originally uploaded by luluhop.

P1030540-USM, originally uploaded by Salsavaders.

P1030539-USM, originally uploaded by Salsavaders.

P1030541-USM, originally uploaded by Salsavaders.

Category: Ars Gratia Artis  Tags: ,  Comments off

Martin Mars firefighting on Mount Wilson

The Martin JRM Mars you see here is a re-purposed maritime patrol aircraft, meant to hunt down enemy subs and shipping during the Second World War.  It has since been converted to a firefighting tanker, which is one of the few applications where flying boats still find themselves useful.  If you wanted to find work piloting these majestic craft today, your career would almost certainly be centered around firefighting work.

There aren’t too many opportunities to see enormous flying boats in action, mostly because there are very few flying boat airframes that didn’t get sent to the breakers. The flying boat’s primary advantage was that any place with calm water could be used as a base or refuelling stop. But after the Second World War, advances in engine technology and efficiency gave land-based planes much improved range and speed, so fewer refuelling stops were required.  Very few of the flying boats that survived the postwar purge are still airworthy.

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Langley AFB’s historic wind tunnel closes

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. – An X-48C experimental aircraft is mounted in a full-scale wind tunnel here Aug. 31. Old Dominion University operates the tunnel, which was built in 1930, for clients including NASA, Boeing Co. and the U.S. Air Force. The tunnel measures 30x60 feet and is the largest university operated wind tunnel in the world. The tunnel provides a controlled test environment to measure aerodynamic forces on vehicles. ODU will cease wind tunnel testing on Sept. 4, and NASA's Langley Research Center will later dismantle the building because it is no longer strategically important to NASA’s aeronautical research. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Barry Loo)

An X-48C experimental aircraft is mounted in a full-scale wind tunnel at Langley AFB on Aug. 31st. Old Dominion University operates the tunnel, which was built in 1930. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Barry Loo)

9/8/2009 – LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. — After 78 years of operation, the Langley full-scale wind tunnel finally took its last breath.

The tunnel, built by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, served a vital role in aerodynamic testing and research, from biplanes to X-planes.

Originally designed to test full-sized aircraft and models, the tunnel was built in 1930 for approximately $1 million. At 30-by-60 feet, it was the largest in the world from 1931 to 1944 and is currently the third largest in the United States.

…Over the course of history, the wind tunnel has been used to test P-51 aircraft, the Mercury entry capsule, NASCAR vehicles and even submarines.

— Loo, Barry (Staff Sgt., USAF).  “Historic wind tunnel closes at Langley.”  1st Fighter Wing public affairs, 08 September 2009.

In 1995, Old Dominion University started leasing the tunnel from NASA, and would actually like to continue using it for streamlining truck designs.  But NASA’s Langley Research Center will be dismantling the facility after its final tests are completed on September 4th.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Barry Newman has put together a superb report on this pioneering tool of aerospace design.

SEMI-RELATED: The Athletics Department of Old Dominion University (based in Virginia, whose state motto is “The Old Dominion”) has a neat emblem that is both evocative of the state’s colonial past and kicks an higher percentage of ass* than pretty well any other post-secondary institution’s athletics department logo.

* With apologies to Mr. Packwood.

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