The Front Office

Every pilot needs a place to work.

Eric Long and Mark Avino

THE VOLUPTUOUS CURVES OF THE Senior Albatross sailplane are the work of William Hawley Bowlus, who got his start in aviation when he hired on at the Ryan Airlines plant in San Diego, California, in 1916 and helped design and build the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis. Later, he taught both Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to fly sailplanes and designed a series of craft inspired by high-performance sailplanes that were then being produced in Germany.

He crossed paths with Richard C. duPont, a young glider enthusiast who soon joined him in setting up a small sailplane manufacturing facility in San Fernando, California. When duPont began to set records with the Bowlus sailplane, one onlooker, Warren E. Eaton, became determined to buy one and commissioned Bowlus to build it with a unique mahogany plywood skin. Eaton named it Falcon and set records of his own with it.

Embraced in its cabinet-like panel are basic flight instruments, (from the top) airspeed indicator, vertical speed indicator, (bottom, left to right) turn-and-bank indicator, altimeter, and magnetic compass.

The photograph on this page and the ones that follow appear in a new National Air and Space Museum book, At the Controls (Boston Mills Press), featuring 70 photographs by Eric F. Long and Mark A. Avino, including details of the cockpits of many aircraft in the Museum’s collection. Bowlus Albatross

—The editors


View images of the cockpits in Eric F. Long and Mark A. Avino's At the Controls in the gallery at right.




Embraced in the Senior Albatross sailplane cabinet-like panel are basic flight instruments (from the top): airspeed indicator, vertical speed indicator; (bottom, left to right) turn-and-bank indicator, altimeter, and magnetic compass. Eric Long and Mark Avino
Arado Ar 234B-2 Blitz: Startling in both appearance and performance, this Luftwaffe bomber, the world’s first powered by turbojets, entered combat service flying a photo-recon mission over the Normandy beaches in August 1944, well after the invasion of Europe was under way. Here in the tight but amply glazed business end, neatly laid out systems include a folding control column that swung out of the way so that the pilot, the lone crewman, could take on the additional role of bombardier, aided by a Lotfe 7K bombsight in the floor. An overhead periscope provided a bombing sight for shallow attack dives and doubled as a gunsight for cannon that fired to the rear in the event any pursuer ever got close enough. Primary flight instruments (in the ochre cluster above the control stick) are grouped in a T-shaped arrangement, much the way they are in today’s light airplanes. Eric Long and Mark Avino
Northrop N-1M: The bright yellow enamel on the control column of the Northrop N-1M, the first flying-wing aircraft built and flown in the United States, extends the canary-like motif of the little experimental airplane’s exterior paint scheme. The N-1M was the first pure expression of John Northrop’s obsession: to create the ideal airplane—the “flying wing”—by doing away with its fuselage and tail. As the first of its kind, the N-1M was designed to investigate the flying qualities of flying wings, so the configuration of its wing could be changed; wing sweep, dihedral (the angle the wing is canted upward from the horizontal) and control surfaces could be adjusted on the ground. Compared to the unorthodox airframe, the cockpit is fairly conventional, if austere. The control wheel looks suspiciously automotive in origin. Eric Long and Mark Avino
Pitts Special S-1C: Aerobatic pilot Betty Skelton named her first Pitts Special, a compact biplane designed by Curtis Pitts in 1945, Little Stinker. She also added some personal touches: a bubble indicator mounted upside down for turn coordination during inverted flight (it’s in the middle, just below the compass) and a red button marked SPIN CRASH BURN, about which she wrote: “Actually, it was an engine feather button taken from a [B-17] bomber. It did absolutely nothing, but never failed to bring a quizzical look to the faces of people peeking into my cockpit at air shows.” There’s also a G-meter to measure the loads on the airplane during strenuous maneuvers (it’s the round dial with red markers on its rim). Eric Long and Mark Avino
Space Shuttle Columbia: The flight deck of the space shuttle Columbia is bathed in a cool electronic glow where the old electro-mechanical flight instruments in the panel have been replaced with flat-panel displays similar to those for computers. The flight crew can configure the displays to present the information they need, and if one should fail, the others can pick up the load. Eric Long and Mark Avino

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