|One of two Fokker F-32 airliners that served for a short time with Western Air Express.|
The collection, which appears to be the work of just one passionate photographer, centers on the Glendale, Calif., Grand Central Air Terminal, which at the time was the hub of the aviation activities of the glitteratti from nearby Hollywood. Included in the collection are photos showing aviation celebrities such as Amelia Earhart and husband George Putnam, Roscoe Turner, Paul Mantz, Howard Hughes, Art Goebel and Al Wilson, as well as others such as Will Rogers and Eleanor Roosevelt. There are a number of people shown who clearly were VIPs, but who have not yet been identified.
Because the negatives are all of the nitrate type, they require special handling, and are potentially subject to degradation and even, if the conditions are right, spontaneous combustion. Because of this, they have all been carefully digitized at high resolutions, in order to preserve the embedded images.
The identity of the photographer remains a mystery, but the lack of any of the images showing up in public domain databases tends to indicate that he wasn't press, and his access suggests that he instead might have been a hobbiest who hung out with the small group of Hollywood types who indulged in aviation as a pasttime.
Some of the photos will be featured in upcoming Vintage Air blog posts, while others are being saved for inclusion in a very limited-edition high-end collector's book, tentatively titled "Golden Age Air in the Golden State", will be formally announced later this year, at which time pre-publication reservations will be taken.
The photo included with today's announcement shows one of two giant, four-engined Fokker F.32 airliners which served briefly with Western Air Express, taking on some final baggage just before departing the Grand Central Air Terminal. The F.32 was the first four-engine airliner built in America, and was essentially a failure. Only ten were built, and only two actually entered commercial revenue service, both with Western. Initially, Western Air Express had ordered five, as did Universal Air Lines. The prototype, which first flew on September 13, 1929 was even painted in Universal's livery, but it crashed a mere two months after its maiden flight, while attempting to demonstrate a three-engine takeoff.
The problem with the F.32 was that it was woefully underpowered, and the arrangement of having one engine mounted behind the other led to the aft engine having cooling and efficiency problems. In an odd arrangement, the forward engine powered a two-bladed propeller, and the aft engine drove a three-bladed prop which had a smaller diameter compared to the front one. In addition to the technical problems, the plane was just downright expensive, at $110,000 per aircraft, an enormous sum during the Great Depression.
Western Air Express initially operated the F.32s out of Alhambra Airport starting in 1930, but moved to Glendale in 1932, so that gives an indication of when this photo might have been taken.
There are a couple of other informative web resources on the F.32, including this one from the Ed Coates Collection, and this one from the Dutch Aviation website, which has some rare interior shots.