From the December 19 & 26, 1936, issues


Despite the popularity of the familiar red holly berries for Christmas decorations, few of us are familiar with the rare beauty of the holly tree’s flower. The illustration on the front cover of this week’s Science News Letter is one of the superb enlargements in Walter E. Rogers’ book on Tree Flowers.

Prof. Rogers tells us why many holly trees bear no berries at all. The holly flowers are of two sexes; the berry-less trees are those with exclusively staminate flowers. The two flowers are very much alike in general appearance.


A luxurious, 20-passenger transport plane that will safely and economically span any two points in North America overnight—this is Tomorrow’s Airplane

Approximately 20 tons in gross weight, more than twice the size of our present land transport planes, the coming machine will have a total engine power ranging up to 4,000 horsepower, about three times the rated power of today’s common carriers of the air.

Only a little more than half of this tremendous power attains a nonstop range of 1,250 miles in still air at a cruising speed of 225 miles an hour. The reserve power will maintain flying schedules even in the face of strong head winds.

Arrangements for the comfort and safety of passengers will be even more elaborate than those featured by our modern transports. Day and night passenger accommodations will approximate the latest styled Pullman cars, including dressing rooms. A completely equipped galley will eliminate the necessity of landing for meals. In addition, the plane will carry a crew of five, and, of course, the latest radio and navigation equipment.

But most amazing is the fact that improvements already tested can keep the direct operating cost of such service down to approximately 23 cents per ton-mile of pay-load, just about the direct operating cost of today’s smaller and slower transports.

These are the conclusions of 15 aeronautical experts from the United Aircraft Corporation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have just completed a comprehensive study of the trend of transport airplane development. Their results are reported by Prof. Jerome C. Hunsaker, head of MIT’s department of mechanical engineering, in charge of aeronautics, and George J. Mead, chief engineer of the United Aircraft Company.

Tomorrow’s airplane, they emphasize, is not a dream for the distant future or even a theory of what is coming within a few decades. It is rather an airplane that could be designed today of proved components for tomorrow’s use.

Nor is it in any sense a radical departure from the designs of air transports now in service. Tomorrow’s airplane differs from them chiefly in its greater size and range, the use of four rather than two engines, its increased streamlining and higher speed, and the greater comfort which it affords its passengers. Basically, they declare, these improvements are not fundamental alterations but rater refinements of today’s transport.

Take the fuselage, for example. The most desirable shape, it has been found, is the fish-shaped form used by airships. For the airplane, this optimum form must be modified somewhat to give the pilot a clear view and to afford sufficient support at the extreme stern for control surfaces. In cross-section the fuselage is almost a perfect circle.

The wings of tomorrow’s airplane are somewhat smaller than those now in use, with corresponding gains in steadiness of flight and passenger comfort. They retain, however, one highly efficient feature already in use, the trailing edge flap which permits low speed for take-off and landing, and high speed for cruising.

The power plant for tomorrow’s airplane would have four engines since, if one fails, there will still be 75 percent of the total power available instead of the 50 percent available in the present standard twin-engine machine. Tomorrow’s plane needs only 60 percent of its rated power to keep to its schedule. It would be able to do so even if one engine failed completely under this arrangement.

More than four engines, it was found, would not provide a comparable increase in safety and therefore would not justify the additional complication in this size of plane. An uneven number of engines is undesirable because balance demands that one be placed in the nose of the fuselage, to the detriment of pilot vision and passenger comfort. Fourteen-cylinder radial engines of an existing type, normally rated at 900 horsepower, are probably best suited for tomorrow’s airplane because of their small size and weight and the large amount of surplus power readily available.


The name of Gen. John Wheeler, Confederate general and commander of U.S. forces in the Spanish-American War, is now perpetuated in the newest unit of the giant Tennessee Valley Authority recently placed in operation. Wheeler Dam is at the upper end of the 15-1/2-mile-long lake created by Wilson Dam at Muscle Shoals and has the dual function of aiding upstream navigation and furnishing electric power from what will some day be a generating unit of 360,000 horsepower.


Outstanding 1936 achievements in 10 fields of science as selected by Science Service are:

  • Aeronautics—The completion of the world’s largest high-speed wind tunnel at Langley Field, Va.
  • Archaeology—Pronouncement that Peking man, who lived over 500,000 years ago in China, was a direct ancestor of modern man.
  • Astronomy—An unprecedented number of novae, the discovery of titanium gas in interstellar space, and the observation of the total eclipse of June 19.
  • Biology—The causing of first stages of embryonic development of rabbit ova by treatment with chemicals and heat.
  • Chemistry—Production of enzymes by chemical methods and the finding of a chemical compound containing an enzyme. Synthesis of vitamin B1.
  • Earth Sciences—Violent climatic contrasts consisting of the coldest and snowiest winter followed by the hottest summer and worst droughts in the Midwest and Northwest and destructive floods in the East and South.
  • Engineering—Completion of Boulder Dam, the San Francisco-Oakland bridge, Triborough Bridge, and other large engineering projects.
  • Medicine—Development and use of protamine insulin for treatment of diabetes; discovery of a new yellow fever menace in Brazilian jungle fever, necessitating a new approach in yellow fever control, and cultivation of a safer strain of yellow fever virus for vaccination.
  • Physics—First synthesis of a naturally occurring radioactive element.
  • Psychology—Demonstrations that electrical phenomena in the brain and body can chart emotions and learning processes.

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