Aeronautics

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."

Three years before the outbreak of the Great War, the Master-General of Ordnance, who was in charge of Aeronautics at the War Office, declared: "We are not yet convinced that either aeroplanes or air-ships will be of any utility in war".

After four years of war, with its ceaseless struggle between the Allies and the Central Powers for supremacy in the air, such a statement makes us rub our eyes as though we had been dreaming.

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.

About a month after Paulhan had won the "London to Manchester" race, the world of aviation, and most of the general public too, were astonished to read the announcement of another enormous prize. This time a much harder task was set, for the conditions of the contest stated that a circuit of Britain had to be made, covering a distance of about 1000 miles in one week, with eleven compulsory stops at fixed controls.

In the year 1782 two young Frenchmen might have been seen one winter night sitting over their cottage fire, performing the curious experiment of filling paper bags with smoke, and letting them rise up towards the ceiling. These young men were brothers, named Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, and their experiments resulted in the invention of the balloon.

Though, as we have seen, most of the early attempts at aerial navigation were made by foreign engineers, yet we are proud to number among the ranks of the early inventors of heavier-than-air machines Sir Hiram Maxim, who, though an American by birth, has spent most of his life in Britain and may therefore be called a British inventor.

One of the most recent developments in aviation is the hydroplane, or water-plane as it is most commonly called. A hydroplane is an aeroplane fitted with floats instead of wheels, so that it will rise from, or alight upon, the surface of the water. Often water-planes have their floats removed and wheels affixed to the chassis, so that they may be used over land.

The safe descent of the three animals, which has already been related, showed the way for man to venture up in a balloon. In our time we marvel at the daring of modern airmen, who ascend to giddy heights, and, as it were, engage in mortal combat with the demons of the air. But, courageous though these deeds are, they are not more so than those of the pioneers of ballooning.

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