Recently I've had cause to write about new communication developments advanced by what used to be Aeronautical Radio Incorporated and the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques.
These two companies usually sit quietly in aviation's background but are essential to its operation. The history of ARINC and SITA is the history of commercial air transport.
ARINC was set up in the USA in 1929, SITA in Europe in 1949.
The two telecommunications companies were formed when air transport operators (I won't call them airlines yet) realised that as soon as their aeroplane had disappeared over the horizon they had no simple means to track it and stay in touch with the crew and their progress - and their needs. For a French carrier operating into French West African territories between the wars this was even more of a chancy business than a US carrier setting off from the east to the west coast.
In my RAF Herc during the early 1970s when we landed somewhere in the world that wasn't an RAF base (ie: usually) we used the local ARINC or SITA telecomms service to report our arrival and serviceability state back to base via a clattering machine.
I find the history of telecommunications incredibly romantic. It's easy to forget just how cut off people used to be less than a human lifetime ago, but we thought nothing of it at the time. Telecommunications took over from preceding forms of communication like the original Wells Fargo.
A century ago you'd wait weeks or even months for a letter. Fifty years ago my parents, who had a telephone, would book a Christmas call to relatives in Australia three months in advance. The operator gave you three minutes and it cost my father a week's professional wage. People stumbled over words because there was too much to say in the time. It was mostly about hearing a voice.
In 1976 when I was an instructor at RAF Linton on Ouse my son, just two, would grab the phone when it rang and state confidently "Linton four-one-nine"- just the name of the exchange and three digits. He had no idea what it meant, he just knew that was what you said to the phone.
As I often do, I define my mental imagery in songs that evoke the time and the medium: Glen Campbell singing Wichita Lineman, with that morse-code motif in the music; Chuck Berry singing Memphis Tennessee ("Long distance information get me Memphis Tennessee etc"), Dr Hook singing Sylvia's Mother ... "and the operator said 40 cents more for the next three minutes, please"...