Way back on March 3, 1915, the US government realized that as World War I was turning into a much larger confrontation than first estimated, it was still inadequately prepared to fight both on the ground and in the air, so on that date, NACA was formed. Unlike NASA, NACA began with a committee of 12 members representing the government, military, and industry, an executive committee with 7 members, chosen from the main committee. Later on in the 1930’s and 40’s, three new aviation laboratories, the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, and the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland laboratory (later renamed the Lewis Research Center and eventually Glenn Research Center.) where NACA developed advanced airfoil shapes for wings and propellers. This is about the time that a NACA aerial engineer from the Langley laboratory took his camera and flew to Hong Kong via the Hawaii Clipper. The aeronautical engineer was Richard V. Rhode (March 2, 1904–November 13, 1994) who researched aerodynamic loading. He was awarded the Wright Brothers Medal in 1937 for this work. He continued doing secret aerodynamics-related research work duringWorld War II, the results of which were later declassified. Rhode received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1925 and upon graduation, joined NACA at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. In 1945 he became chief of the aircraft loads division and later, transfer to the NACA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1949. As Assistant Director for research (aircraft construction and operating problems, which is why he captured the performance of the Hawaii Clipper’s engines on long-endurance missions). When NASA came into existence in 1958, he became assistant director for advanced design criteria in the space vehicle technology division. There, he was responsible for advanced technology supporting the development of space vehicles.
I’m excited that as I continue to write the definitive book on the Hawaii Clipper and finish the companion documentary, that I would secure this still unseen film outside the Pan Am Archive is nothing short of thrilling. Inside the twenty-minute film is rare glimpses into the reality of life in the skies on board one of these massive flying boats as it crossed the Pacific Ocean. From passengers getting sick, to bumpy turbulence and relief as it came back to earth in an exotic destination, new insight is all around. As for Mr. Rhode, he retired in early 1967 and was awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. He died on 13 November 1994 in North Carolina. I’m grateful for this discovery and shedding a rare glimpse into a day in the life of a Pacific bound M-130 China Clipper class flying boat.
I hope to post portions of the film on this bog int he coming weeks so stay tuned and again, thanks for your encouraging words. As a certain Latin lover is fond of saying on TV; “Stay Hungry My Friends.”