William J. Claxton

by William J. Claxton

Hitherto we have traced the gradual development of the balloon right from the early days of aeronautics, when the brothers Montgolfier constructed their hot-air balloon, down to the most modern dirigible. It is now our purpose, in this and subsequent chapters, to follow the course of the pioneers of aviation.

In the brief but glorious history of pioneer work in aviation, so far as it applies to this country, there is scarcely a more romantic figure to be found than Colonel Cody. It was the writer's pleasure to come into close contact with Cody during the early years of his experimental work with man-lifting box-kites at the Alexandra Park, London, and never will his genial smile and twinkling eye be forgotten.

Many people still think that if the engine of an aeroplane should stop while the machine was in mid-air, a terrible disaster would happen. All petrol engines may be described as fickle in their behaviour, and so complicated is their structure that the best of them are given to stopping without any warning. Aeroplane engines are far superior in horse-power to those fitted to motorcars, and consequently their structure is more intricate. But if an airman's engine suddenly stopped there would be no reason whatever why he should tumble down head first and break his neck.

This book makes no pretence of going minutely into the technical and scientific sides of human flight: rather does it deal mainly with the real achievements of pioneers who have helped to make aviation what it is to-day.

For many years after the publication of Sir George Cayley's articles and lectures on aviation very little was done in the way of aerial experiments. True, about midway through the nineteenth century two clever engineers, Henson and Stringfellow, built a model aeroplane after the design outlined by Sir George; but though their model was not of much practical value, a little more valuable experience was accumulated which would be of service when the time should come; in other words, when the motor engine should arrive.

When the complete history of aviation comes to be written, there will be three epoch-making events which will doubtless be duly appreciated by the historian, and which may well be described as landmarks in the history of flight. These are the three great contests organized by the proprietors of the Daily Mail, respectively known as the "London to Manchester" flight, the "Round Britain flight in an aeroplane", and the "Water-plane flight round Great Britain."

Though this book cannot pretend to go deeply into the technical side of aviation, there are certain terms and expressions in everyday use by aviators that it is well to know and understand.

First, as to the machines themselves. You are now able to distinguish a monoplane from a biplane, and you have been told the difference between a TRACTOR biplane and a PROPELLER biplane. In the former type the screw is in front of the pilot; in the latter it is to the rear of the pilot's seat.

Of all man's great achievements none is, perhaps, more full of human interest than are those concerned with flight. We regard ourselves as remarkable beings, and our wonderful discoveries in science and invention induce us to believe we are far and away the cleverest of all the living creatures in the great scheme of Creation. And yet in the matter of flight the birds beat us; what has taken us years of education, and vast efforts of intelligence, foresight, and daring to accomplish, is known by the tiny fledglings almost as soon as they come into the world.

We have seen that the inventors of flying machines in the early days of aviation modelled their various craft somewhat in the form of a bird, and that many of them believed that if the conquest of the air was to be achieved man must copy nature and provide himself with wings.

Let us closely examine a modern monoplane and discover in what way it resembles the body of a bird in build.

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