Preview #2

This is an excerpt from Chapter 2:

     Each plane had four Wright Aeronautical eighteen-cylinder piston engines of a configuration called twin row radial. The cylinders were arranged like the spokes of a wagon wheel and were divided into two circular banks of nine, sandwiched together in tandem. Both models were massive engines, weighing over one and a half tons and having displacements of 3,350 cubic inches, the latter equivalent to about ten V-8 pickup truck engines. (Each plane had the incredible power of about forty heavy-duty pickup trucks.) Both models were supercharged with intake blowers that forced fresh air into them under pressure for combustion and served the primary purpose of enabling the planes to fly in the thin air at high altitudes, by helping them "breathe." In addition, the DC-7's engines were outfitted with devices called power recovery turbines, which captured some of the waste energy in the blasting exhaust gasses and transferred it to the crankshaft, increasing the power output at the propeller shaft. All of these features lay hidden under engine cowlings, but there was an obvious difference in propulsion between the two planes: the 1049 had three-bladed propellers, and the DC-7's propellers had four blades. This could be spotted immediately and from a distance when the engines weren't running.

     TWA's 1049 Constellation was configured for strictly first-class operation. In this vein it had only sixty-four passenger seats, a modest number considering that Eastern Air Lines had configured theirs for eighty-eight passengers. Modesty of course was hardly the point, which was to make the plane lavishly roomy and comfortable. (See Appendix 1 for a floor plan.)

     The passenger cabin was divided into forward and aft sections, by an intervening galley that was partitioned off and straddled the aisle. The forward compartment accommodated sixteen passengers in five rows of seats and featured a coat closet, an auxiliary entry door, and a shared restroom for men and women. From the rear of the galley all the way back to the last row of seats, the arrangement was consistent four-abreast seating, divided by the central aisle into port and starboard pairs. The rear passenger compartment contained twelve rows, capable of seating forty-eight passengers.

     The seventeen rows of seats on the plane were numbered from one through eighteen; the number thirteen was skipped in obeisance to the superstitious belief that it cursed all those associated with it. TWA was far from alone in observing this quaint tradition ~ many skyscrapers, for instance, had no thirteenth floor, not by number. The prevalence of the belief, however, makes a person wonder if perhaps there was something to it after all. It would not be the first piece of folklore that turned out to be true after long being ridiculed by sophisticated, enlightened society.