Reflecting the Glow of Flight’s Golden Age

Page through these vintage magazine covers and return to a time when the world was vast and air travel was grand.

Aeronautics, May 1930. NASM Library

THE YEARS BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD WARS MADE for a particularly fertile period of aviation history, filled with invention and record-setting flights, yet few people ever set foot in an airplane. Still, the public was curious about flying, and magazine publishers responded with such titles as Flight, The Slipstream, and Airways. Most of the publications were heavily supported by industry advertisements. Magazine covers served as advertisements too, pitching the idea that flying was liberating and glamorous. Of these, the covers that best express the spirit of aviation’s Golden Age were those of Popular Aviation, a Chicago, Illinois monthly. Its covers convey not just the speed of flight but the freedom from Earthly concerns that only the airplane could afford.

Take a look through the photo gallery (right) of memorable magazine covers


Aeronautics, May 1930. This single-engine monoplane is similar in design to the Spirit of St. Louis, the Ryan aircraft that Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in 1927. In the aftermath of Lindbergh’s historic flight—the first solo, nonstop aerial crossing of the Atlantic—aviation industry stocks rose and interest in flying soared. People began to accept the idea that airplanes were safe, though Lindbergh’s steady 33.5-hour flight across the Atlantic was nothing like the bold aerobatics portrayed on this modernist cover. NASM Library
Popular Aviation, July 1932. An airplane evocative of a Granville Gee Bee puts on a dazzling aerobatic display. The Gee Bee’s fame, though, came from its success as a brutish little racer; flying a Gee Bee Z, Lowell Bayles won the 1931 National Air Race Thompson Trophy in Cleveland, Ohio, and Jimmy Doolittle scored a victory the next year in a Gee Bee R-1. Built purely for speed, the Gee Bee was dangerously difficult to control. Three months after his win, Bayles died when his Gee Bee crashed during his attempt to set a world speed record. NASM Library
National Power Glider, February 1931. In his monthly column, Editor E. Stieri informed readers that his publication had “pledged itself to give to the youth of America first hand authoritative and instructive information on this, the fastest growing industry in the world, Aviation.” Stieri’s expectation of a youthful audience finds expression in his cover choice. NASM Library
Popular Aviation, November 1928. Three-engine, or tri-motor, transport airplanes, such as those manufactured by Ford and Fokker, helped equip the fledgling airline industry of the late 1920s. Early airline travelers flew in unpressurized cabins and experienced deafening noise, bumpy rides, and, frequently, airsickness. The passengers of the two aircraft depicted in this cover seem untroubled by such discomforts, though in reality, they would have fainted from hypoxia, flying as they were in the thin air above snow-covered mountains. NASM Library
Popular Flying, January 1933. Editor W.E. Johns had a strong interest in World War I aviation history, as evidenced by this cover, which portrays an engagement between British and German fighters. NASM Library
Flight, July 10, 1931. London-based Palmer Tyre Limited frequently advertised its wares on the cover of Flight, a journal that described itself as “devoted to the interests, practice, and progress of aerial locomotion.” NASM Library
Popular Aviation, August 1928. The aircraft depicted on this cover bears a striking resemblance to the Dornier Do.J Wal (whale), a 10-passenger, twin-engine flying boat with a 74-foot wingspan. In 1927 the German airline Deutsche Luft Hansa (now Lufthansa) began using Wals to transport travelers across the Atlantic to Brazil. By the early 1930s, Wals had made more than 300 Atlantic crossings at a then-swift average speed of 87 mph. NASM Library

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