Flying the B-314, Trailing Antenna
Pan Am was very advanced in its communications. The B314 had a Professional Radio operator. Some of them even carried their own personal tuning coils, in addition to the ships coils. Same for their Morse code keys. We routinely transmitted directly to our headquarters in the Chrysler building in New York City from anywhere in the world. When the radioman had some spare time, he would transmit passengers personal messages for a very small cost. Crew members would also use that service. Imagine getting the news of your newborn son while in flight! Talk about service. One of the note worthy messages was the one that a B314 received en route to Pearl Harbor, shortly after the attack. The Captain was able to divert to Hilo successfully. Whenever there were lightning storms during flight, the trailing antenna picked up the electrical charge and the radio station had sparks going on. The Radio operator would hang up his earphones and leave. The rest of the crew would also watch to see what would happen. At night it was scary. I believe that there were experiments to leave enough of the antenna out during zero-zero landings, so the pilot could flare before hitting the water. My memory of this is not good. This antenna could be left out at a distance to match the frequency being used. If there was enough of a warning of thunderstorms, it was simply reeled in. If it was left out during a landing, it was torn off. We always had spare wire. The radio operators had special techniques to overcome static. They were eliminated by advanced radios,but our communication were never as reliable again. Modern airliners have radios in duplicate and even triplicate.