Aviators of Tomorrow, A pulp rediscovery
Seth Kallen Deitch
When Hugo Gernsback began running occasional fiction in his magazine Science and Invention the idea was an immediate success that he followed up with the world’s first dedicated Science Fiction magazine, Amazing Stories that spawned countless imitations. One such imitation was with great enthusiasm released upon the general public with the title Aviators of Tomorrow. This expansive series of short novels was written by no less than fifteen authors under the house name of Charles Allen Westerleigh in one hundred and one semi-weekly issues all appearing in 1926. These are by no means the finest example of the pulp genre, but they are without a doubt among the most difficult to find. By great good fortune, an almost complete set was found in an abandoned country outhouse near Cosgrove, Indiana in 1946 and were preserved carefully in an attic by their discoverer, Miles Wright who alerted the world to the existence of the magazines in a letter to a fan publication in 1961. Since that time, only three complete copies of an issue of Aviators of Tomorrow have come to light. I have a Xerox copy of one of these.
This mag is some wild stuff. I do not have the space to reproduce the entire novel, but the following sample chapter should provide evidence enough of the vibrancy of writing that went into this obscure publication.
After the airliners started falling from the sky throughout Europe, Colonel Rawlings thought it was a good idea to make his way to headquarters as swiftly as the autogyro could carry him. That was the place to start, he was certain of that.
The young Aviators of Tomorrow kept their European base of operations in a network of tunnels within the Rock of Gibraltar. As he sped over southern Spain, Rawlings spotted yet another downed Zeppelin. With a quick and practiced hand on the cockpit telegraph key, he inquired as to the well being of the survivors. Receiving a confirmation that they had already been assured of their impending rescue, the colonel continued onward.
It wasn’t long before the monolith of the Pillars of Hercules appeared on the horizon. He signaled ahead and the upper tip of the rock slid soundlessly aside to reveal Rawlings’ personal gyropad. The rotors spun him down to a perfect landing.
Standing close at hand was Flight Lieutenant Johnny Ames, the tow-headed Indiana farm boy who at the age of thirteen was the finest pilot of his age on this or any other planet! “Colonel Rawlings!”, he called out in greeting. Rawlings climbed out of the cockpit and shook Johnny’s hand warmly. “What’s going on, Sir? I heard about the falling Zeppelins, what could be causing it?”
“Johnny, I’m afraid we have a grave problem on our hands here.” Said Rawlings.
“I won’t mince words Lieutenant, it may be the greatest challenge we have ever faced!”
Blood drained from the youngster’s face. “You mean greater than the invasion of the Lunar Spider People?”1
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Worse than the maniacal machinations of the Magnet Master?”2
“Worse than that.”
“More alarming than the super-storms of the Chinese Weather
“Oh my, far more serious than even that!”
Rawlings stooped a little to bring himself eye to eye with the youthful flyer and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Don’t you worry, Johnny, Don’t you worry! Has there ever been a challenge too great for the Aviators of Tomorrow to meet and conquer?”
The boy lifted his chin and shot the cuffs of his smart uniform. “Never!” he exclaimed.
Rawlings nodded sagely. “That’s right, Johnny, never.” With that, the pair turned and walked into bowels of the labyrinthine headquarters.
Within minutes a meeting of the entire Aviators of Tomorrow corps was underway in the super scientific situation room. As well as Johnny and the Colonel, in attendance were Tex, Morris, Smilin' Brady, Betsy, Eveready Rob, Newton and Norton the twins, Milo and, of course, Martian Bobbi.
Colonel Rawlings removed a glass slide from his pouch and inserted it into the projector where it threw a map of Europe on the screen. In several places there were red marks. Rawlings said “Each mark represents the location of an airship that has crashed within the last three weeks. The heads of the pan-European Aero-Defense Command believe these not to be mere accidents, but the result of villainy utilizing super-science!”
Almost in perfect synchronization, the young Aviators of Tomorrow said “Gosh!”, of course with the exception of Martian Bobbi who said “Bobbi!”
The Colonel continued “There is evidence, based on the work of Professor Caldwell of Yale University, that these crashes are the result of applied gravity control!”
“But that’s impossible!” Cried Betsy. “Even with super-science, no one has ever been able to control gravity!”
“If only it were so, Betsy. Worse yet, Professor Caldwell has disappeared. We suspect that he may have been kidnapped. This leaves us without the expertise of the only person who would have any chance of understanding this diabolical phenomenon. This may well be the worst situation we have ever faced!”
Tex stood up. “Now wait thar just a stretch, Colonel, yew mean that it’s worse than the Mystery Robots thet attacked Paris?”4
“Oh yes, Tex, far worse than that!”
Milo spoke up. “Surely not worse than the super cannons of the Bird Soldiers?”5
“I’m sorry, Milo, it is.”
“Bobbi?” Inquired Martian Bobbi.6
“That was almost as great a challenge, Martian Bobbi, but this one is greater still.”
The Aviators were indeed stymied by the seeming magnitude of the difficulty they now faced. Gravity control! Nature's most intractable force bent to the will of humanity, and the most callously criminal of humanity at that! The crashes had all been identical in nature as well as the subsequent robberies. Helm control would be lost in a luxury zeppelin that would then come slowly to earth in a remote area. The back of the ship would break as if under a great weight once it had touched down driving the crew and the passengers into the open. That is when the flying disc pirates would show up in their strange aeroplanes. These sky pirates spoke an unknown language, but there was no mistaking the coarseness of their character or the lewd tone of their comments. They were brutally thorough taking anything of value, money, jewelry, clothing as well as any stocks or bonds that the gentlemen aboard might have. In a matter of minutes the disabled ship was abandoned along with its occupants who were left only in their underclothes. In one of these incidents the chairman of one of America's most important textile concerns was relieved of some hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. In another, the crown jewels of Belgium were stolen. Who could be behind these crimes?
Rawlings decided to take Johnny and Tex with him to seek the aid of the British Intelligence Service. Rawlings was owed a favor by the head of the Service, Sir Geoffrey Waddington-Smythe.7 Sir Geoffrey had it in his power to make available all manner of exotic aircraft. The three got into the autogyro and instantly set off for London. Our intrepid heroes followed the coast until they reached the city of Lisbon and the headed northwest for the British isles and it was at that point in their journey that Tex cried out “Ya’ll look!” The Colonel and Johnny both looked where Tex was pointing, exactly to their rear as it happened. They were being followed by one of the flying disc aeroplanes of the Sky Pirates!
“Man the rear guns, Johnny!” said Rawlings, “I’ll see if I can shake them off our tail!”
Johnny crawled back to the gun bubble and strapped himself in. The gun was quite unusual and quite powerful being one of the vibratotron weapons captured from Doctor Walter Crane, the notorious Earthquake Maker.8 Johnny carefully set the complicated controls of the device to the narrowest focus possible and then pressed the activation key. The disc shaped craft started to vibrate but held its position. “Gosh, Colonel! It’s staying in one piece! What could it be made of?”
“Try broadening the focus, Lieutenant, but be careful! Don’t let the beam fall below the horizon!”
The broader beam was held steady on the pursuing aeroplane and the vibration became more pronounced. Finally, the aircraft pulled away, apparently without damage. Johnny asked, “How could they survive the vibratotron? No aircraft that we have or know how to build can last a second in that beam!”
Rawlings smiled. “At least, not without Martian Bobbi’s help.”9
“That’s for sure, but what are we going to do about the disc ship?”
“There isn’t much we can do with only the gear aboard the autogyro. We’ll see how Sir Geoffrey can help.”
British Sky command occupied a two-mile high skyscraper in the heart of London where all manner of aircraft could be seen coming and going from landing strips on its high parapets. The autogyro scooted into an opening about three quarters up the lofty structure.
They were met by Sir Geoffrey even before they had exited the aircraft. Sir Geoffrey energetically pumped Colonel Rawlings' hand and said, “By Jove! It's good to see you old man! Good to see you! When I got your message I was appalled at the statistics, appalled, I tell you! Think of it the rich and noble being victimized by the crass and lowly! Something must be done at once, we'll see to that!"
Sir Geoffrey spoke a little bit more quickly than Tex was used to. He asked, "Whut'sit he said?"
Johnny said. "He's glad we're here."
"Wail, he should've just said thet then!"
Sir Geoffrey led Rawlings and the two lads to his office where he saw to it that everyone was seated comfortably and supplied with a cup of hot tea. Johnny and the colonel sipped happily. Tex sniffed at his cup suspiciously and quietly put it aside.
Rawlings wasted no time getting to the point. "Sir Geoffrey," he said, "We face a most daunting challenge, perhaps the greatest we have ever faced!"
Sir Geoffrey gripped the arms of his chair and leaned forward. "Good Lord! I'm stunned, old man, truly stunned! Are you insisting that I believe that this is greater threat than the Cloud Army?"10
"It barely compares, Sir Geoffrey."
"Oh, come now, surely it cannot be greater than the Underground Empire!"11
"I'm compelled to say that it is!"
"I'm sorry, please forgive the language old scout, but this is most distressing! Do you mean to tell me, that this exceeds the sheer, mind crushing horror of the Polar Demons?!?"12
"I beg that you attempt to calm down, Sir Geoffrey, but, yes, in fact it does!"
"Then I fear that this is beyond even the power of your brilliant young flyers! I believe that providence alone can aid us now!"
"But you haven't even heard what the problem is yet!"
"RIGHT! Righto. Well, perhaps you had best fill me in then!"
And Rawlings proceeded to tell Sir Geoffrey Waddington-Smythe of the sky pirates who seemed to control gravity and how even their most terrifying weapon failed to destroy one of their aircraft.
After the recitation, Sir Geoffrey sat and stroked his neat mustache and nodded his head slightly. "Perhaps...just perhaps mind you, the British Aeroforces may have something to help you!"
1. As told of in Aviators of Tomorrow book #1, The Adventures of the Young
Aviators of Tomorrow.
2. Who's story is related in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 12, The Aviators of Tomorrow face the Magnetic Monster.
3. The tale of which is rousingly recounted in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 4, The Aviators of Tomorrow against the Ill Wind from the East.
4. Which the alert reader will recall from Aviators of Tomorrow book # 16, The Aviators of Tomorrow vs. The Metal Menace.
5. The story of which can be found in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 8, Aviators of Tomorrow- Curse of the Bird Men.
6. Indeed, as you will recall from Aviators of Tomorrow book #5, The Young Aviators of Tomorrow Journey to Mars!
7. The nature of said favor is explained in gripping detail in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 19 Aviators of Tomorrow- Desperate Days.
8. This amazing weapon’s history is dynamically described in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 22, The Aviators of Tomorrow- The Man who Shook the World!
10. How the threat of the Cloud Army was overcome is illuminated in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 13, The Aviators of Tomorrow and the Mystery at Fifty-Thousand Feet!
11. The rise and fall of which is delineated in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 25, Aviators of Tomorrow against the Underworld Dictator!
12. The story of which unfolds in Aviators of Tomorrow book # 9, Aviators of Tomorrow- Peril at the Pole!