GE Aviation is celebrating its 100th year in business. All year, we’ll be taking a look back at some of the engines and technology featured in our advertisements and the stories behind them. To read more stories about GE’s 100 years in Aviation, visit our celebration page.
Make no mistake about it – GE’s turbosupercharger was its best-selling aviation product leading up to its work on the first jet engine. However, nearly two decades passed between GE’s public announcement of its first successful tubosupercharged flight (1919) and the big breakthrough contract from the Army Air Corps to install GE’s product in the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (1937).
In these lean years while Sanford Moss and his engineers continued to manufacture and improve the turbosupercharger, GE used its engineering prowess and technical strength to pursue business and breakthrough with other aviation-related products.
One of these products was GE’s magneto compass — a simpler, more accurate upgrade from the widely-used earth inductor compass. The new compass, which was developed in the 1920s with collaboration between the Army laboratory at Wright Field and Dr. J.D. Tear of GE’s research lab, weighed only two pounds — one-fifth of the standard earth-indicator compass.
According to Dr. Tear in 1929, it occurred to him that the earth’s magnetic field might be intensified or concentrated by means of some magnetic material. This consideration led him to use nickel-iron alloys, particularly Permalloy, which had the desired properties he needed.
The GE compass guided Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to a U.S. coast-to-coast speed record in 1930 in a Lockheed Sirius. Again, guided by GE’s compass, the Lindberghs used this plane in 1931 and 1933 to conduct survey flights around the world to determine where commercial air routes and airports might be located.
Today, this aircraft can be found at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.