Learn about Life in the 1920s

First Television Live Broadcast from a Plane 1929

An attempt to transmit to radio-observers on the ground what is seen from a flying airplane is described in Air Travel News (Detroit), by S. R. Winters. This visualization of ground objects for broadcasting from an airplane is being undertaken by C. Francis Jenkins of Washington, D. C., by means of a combination of photographic lens and radio-vision equipment. It is proposed to survey "the lay of the land" during an airplane's flight, and transmit the images by radio to picture-receiving sets in homes and offices or to other airplanes. In a word, television equipment goes aloft. Writes Mr. Winters:

"The usual radio-vision transmitting units employed in laboratories and at other stationary points are being taken aloft for experimental use. The procedure differs only in that objects on the ground are picked up by a photographic lens as the airplane flies, and to accomplish this the camera lens is mounted in the floor of the plane, with its photographic 'eye' pointing toward and encompassing the terrain below as the airplane sweeps on through the sky. The aerial image will be converted into a four-inch picture.

"This aerial image is scanned by a forty-eight-lens disk as the latter is revolved by electric motors, a procedure common to the scanning of objects to be transmitted by radio from a fixt point on land. The second image is conveyed to a light-sensitive cell, interposed between the revolving scanning disk and the radio transmitter. This photo-electric cell transforms picture values into electric values, and the latter, after being amplified, are transmitted into space for interception by suitably equipped picture-receiving sets.

"The radio transmitter in the airplane of the Jenkins Laboratories is a fifty-watt outfit, regarded as sufficient for a coverage of 75 to 100 miles when employing high frequencies.

"The radio transmitter, the scanning disk, photo-electric cell, power supply, and other accessories comprising this radio-vision outfit for air service weigh approximately 125 pounds. The apparatus has been installed in the cabin of the Stinson Junior monoplane of Mr. Jenkins. This is a four-place flying machine—seats for two pilots and two passengers or one pilot and three passengers. The photographic lens placed in the floor of the cabin may be described as the picture transmitter, since it visualizes the ground and objects on the surface of the earth much in the same way that stationary television objects are transmitted now by the light of the sun. A similar venture is the proposal to broadcast baseball games by radio.

"When television takes to the air the attempt is so flighty, metaphorically and literally, as to confound the imagination. Offhand, there is the suggestion of potential use in war as a rapid means of surveying and photographing enemy territory. As an instrument for peace-time service, in the location of a hydro- electric plant, manufacturing enterprise, or in timber prospecting, an official of such development projects may be seated in the comfort of his office viewing photographs transmitted by radio while the surveying airplane is in flight. If these applications seem somewhat far-fetched, the United States Government might employ such a scheme for surveying proposed airways, mapping swamps and isolated regions, taking toll of damage done to agricultural crops by hail or tornado, and estimating our timber wealth in the National Forest."

Source: Literary Digest - October 5, 1929