Tom Swift and His Air Scout

or, Uncle Sam's Mastery of the Sky

By Victor Appleton 1919   Book #22

Review by JP Karenko, August 2005

Full-color image from the collection of James D. Keeline

Duotone image from the collection of Mark Snyder 


Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.


No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:

The story opens with Tom spending 4 pages convincing Mary Nestor that it is "safe" to take an extended airplane ride with him. Once she is convinced and they are aloft, he finds that it is impossible to whisper sweet nothings to her over the "racket of the open motor exhaust." A flash of inspiration tells him that a "silent" aeroplane motor would be beneficial in advancing both the War Effort and Tom's Love Life. The craft then breaks down, seriously damaging Tom's credibility with Mary about the safety of air travel...

During the development of the several changes needed to silence a normally noisy aircraft power plant, Tom runs afoul of the Universal Flying Machine Company, a competitor for government contracts. Bribery, intimidation, espionage, threats, theft and kidnapping are all used against Our Hero to try and sabotage his efforts. How and if these threats are overcome you will have to read the story to determine.

This book is available on line at:  Tom Swift and His Air Scout



Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)


Miss Mary Nestor-Love interest of Tom. Plucky, courageous, intelligent and currently engaged to Our Hero. In this tome, she takes a reluctant interest in becoming an aviatrix.

Tom Swift-Intrepid Inventor, Hero, and now, betrothed love interest of Miss Mary Nestor.

Eradicate Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant given over to the ravages of advanced age. Ex-Civil War era slave.  Constant antagonist of Koku. In this episode, he is old and feeble, and he spends so much time antagonizing Koku, Tom actually becomes vexed with him. His faithful mule Boomerang is also getting old and cranky, but has only passing mention in the story.

Jackson-NFN or description given. Ace Swift mechanic and go-fer. (Too young to be Garrett Jackson, the old engineer from episodes 1-5. Perhaps his son?)

Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer and traveling companion of Tom & Ned, whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Short and stout, but spry for his age.

Koku-Giant manservant of Tom. Devoted, loyal, and possessed of great strength, but apparently somewhat limited mental facilities. Antagonist and constant rival of Eradicate. Still massacres the English language after 7 years of living in the US.

Mrs. Baggert-Housekeeper. Kindly, and "loves Tom like a son." Employed by the Swift family for nearly 20 years at the time of this story. She is short of stature and has to stand on a soap box to kiss Tom goodbye on one of his voyages. Apparently starting to show her years, as a "new maid" has been hired to assist in keeping the Swift Household in order.

Peton Gale-Well-dressed, prosperous, pompous, with an insincere laugh. President, Universal Flying Machine Company. (UFMCO) Tries to hire Tom.

Boland Ware-Well-dressed. No other description. Treasurer, Universal Flying Machine Company.

Barton Swift-Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents.  Mr. Swift, has failed in his health of late, and much ado is made of his advanced age and health. Still able to kibitz Tom's ideas.

Ned Newton-Chum & constant companion of Tom. Currently back to clerking at a Shopton bank. Has given up his position as Swifts' financial manager to sell Liberty Bonds in support of the war effort. Now has "an important position" at said bank.

Mr. (Amos) Nestor Mary's father. No description given, except he smokes cigars. His first name is only known because it was mentioned in a previous volume. No character development at all, in spite of having a key role in this tale. Kidnapped by UFMCO agents.

Bower-NFN or description. New Swift Construction mechanic. Quiet & efficient. Actually an employee of UFMCO working as a spy/sneak thief for them.

Lydane, the Gold Tooth Trespasser-NFN or description. An employee of UFMCO working as a spymaster for them. Imprisoned.

Mrs. Nestor-NFN or description, in spite of having a major role in this tale.

Mr. Millard-NFN or description. Supervisor at Shopton hospital.

Mary Nestor's Aunt-No name or description, except "a happy person."

Unnamed Physician-No name or description. Ministers to Mary's Mother.

Farmer Bloise and Son-No names or descriptions. Helps out Tom when he is stranded out in the boondocks after a forced landing.

Blair Terril-No description. USG Agent. Confusion as to whether he is only "War Dept. Army Aviation Agency" or also a Secret Service Agent.

Unidentified Co-Conspirator-Working with Lydane, above, for UFMCO. Imprisoned.



Major Inventions: 

Silent Sam is the generic name given to several aircraft using Tom's new silent power plant. The silencing method consists of a modified propeller, an external muffler and unspecified changes to the engine's cylinder compression. These changes, while unspecified, were probably related to camshaft, valve and ignition timing. The muffler device is a Vanadium Steel tank with "pipes, valves, baffle plates, chambers, cylinders and reducers. These "eat up" the hot exhaust gasses and reduce the "racket" the motor makes. Sam is said to be "quiet as a swooping Owl." (See Errata.)

Barton Swift's gyro stabilizer (finally perfected after many years of development) is also installed to make Sam more easily controlled by the pilot.



Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata


Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of all the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted. It also has given me a grasp of just how technologically and culturally unsophisticated the average reader was in the early 1900's.


Attitudes and Prejudices- The World War is now named as such, rather than as the term "the European Conflict," used previously. "Things are getting pretty hot," is the description of the current level of conflict. The numerous German spies lurking around the Swift premises in the previous episode, all seem to have gone elsewhere or been captured and incarcerated. The bad-guys in this tome are mere All-American industrial espionage agents, working for a rival manufacturing firm. Tom's War Tank is barely mentioned in regard to the effort Swift Construction is making toward the war effort. Liberty Bond sales and Red Cross work is made much of, but Ned (selling the bonds) seems to have plenty of spare time to hang out with Tom. This may be because he is also surveilling and reporting on Tom's activities to the War Department.

The Nestors are sufficiently wealthy that they employ at least one maid.


Errata- After four books in a row in Waterford, NY, the author has now left Mr. Damon in Waterfield, for the second time, making the current tally of his many moves between Waterford and Waterfield stand at 11-Waterfield, 4-not recorded or confused, and 10-Waterford, for 22 volumes, to date.  The numbers don't total, because two volumes have him residing in both places at the same time. Four others either do not specify a town name, or have multiple references that change.

There were no typos or malapropisms noted. One factual error was noted in that Ned was said to go on the Submarine Boat (Vol #4) Ned played only a passing role in that adventure, and did not go on the voyage.

The author still uses "clew" "moor" and "Jove," leading one to conclude that he is at least part English. He is not "The Brit" from War Tank, though. The rest of the language used is 1910-style Modern American. I'd be tempted to nickname this author "The Import."


Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy-

Tom "hits an air pocket" while on a plane ride with Mary, and a control is disabled. Tom replaces it with an auxiliary while in flight, which seems farfetched. Fur-lined leather "flying togs" are now de rigeur for travel in "the cold of the upper reaches."  Previously, flying was  a shirtsleeve event, with goggles being the only required safety equipment. Seat belts are now used, and a well-defined engine starting procedure with switch on contact steps is used.

Having the muffler develop a leak is said to cause a loss of control in the airplane. It is said that "the equilibrium would be upset, causing the craft to turn turtle or loop the loop." No reason why was given, and I'm having a hard time thinking of a justification for this statement.

Automobiles now have foot-operated accelerator pedals and "tonneaus." Technology is advancing rapidly, outside of Shopton, too.

Sam is said to be "quiet as an Owl, swooping down from the upper regions." Owls are mighty quiet, due primarily to the configuration of their wing feathers. Tom's changes don't address mechanical clatter in the engine, motor mount isolation or natural frequency reverberation issues. These would need to be addressed, as would the whine of "wind in the wires" that occurs when guys and stays get above a certain air speed. Except for exaggerated claims, like the one above, I figure this "invention" is the most likely to exist in a real world.

Even with a 50 year jump on technology, today's light aircraft are still noisy enough at anything above cruise power levels to make conversation difficult over the engine (primarily prop) noise.  Today's pilots wear headphones to hear ATC directions clearly.


A Proper Propeller

Below are two illustrations from a patent application filed by one Christian Volf in 1932 for a "silent propeller."  See for info.

Volf Silent Propeller US Pat 1,873,853

Seeing through the rotating prop if it were this style, would be very difficult.


Muffler Magic 

The following is an excerpt from the website

A standard muffler consists of a tube of some specific length and diameter. It is usually a rather large stainless steel tube and may or may not have built-in internal baffles. The practice has long been to construct aircraft mufflers with baffles and with the inlet and outlet tubes staggered. In some mufflers, the exhaust gases are forced to change direction drastically in their pell-mell trip to the free atmosphere.

To construct your own muffler with similar baffles built-in, is a chore of questionable value, unless you have some relentless urge to experiment and to induce forced labor. The practical thing to do would be to omit the baffles completely, as they usually are the first area of failure in the exhaust system. Burned, disintegrated or collapsed baffles in standard category aircraft often obstruct the flow of exhaust gases and have been known to cause serious loss of power or engine failure.

Mufflers are most effective when they are located as close to the exhaust outlet of the cylinder as it is practical to place them. The Cessna 150 provides an example where this concept is effectively practiced. Its individual mufflers are hung on each side of the engine on short exhaust risers. In some Piper models, too, the cross-over system mufflers, are integrated as far upstream as possible.

As for the muffler size, the Cessna muffler is about 10 cm by 25 cm. (It looks bigger with the shroud around it.) These are really the minimum size for the muffling job at hand. Actually, a muffler measuring 15 cm by 25 cm, would be much more effective. With due regard for the extra weight and lack of space under the cowling, your own muffler(s) should be as large as possible - something on the order of at least 4.4 liters, if at all possible.

Forget about internal baffles, as their usefulness is questionable when everything is to be considered. Instead make the diameter as large as you can manage. A good length of tail pipe downstream from the muffler, will increase its effectiveness noticeable and will assist in smoothing out the pulsations of the exhaust gases.


Geography- In this tome, Swift Construction is back to being primarily a prototype shop. Rad's living quarters (humble, but comfortable) are now in a loft over Boomerang's stable. Previously, he had an "apartment" in the Swift Manse. The Nestors' home is said to be about 3 miles from Tom's house, "in a suburb of Shopton." There are only 2 hospitals in the area. The one in Shopton is private. The other is in Waterford. Centerford, (previously spelled Centreford and about 50 miles in the direction of Albany) is the nearest large city. Previously it was Mansburg. The Alexian Brothers are said to maintain a sanatorium, there. In reality, the nearest Alexian facility is a hospital in Elizabeth, NJ.

JP Karenko, 8/30/05


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