CHAPTER XLV. Accidents and their Cause
"Another airman killed!" "There'll soon be none of those flying fellows left!" "Far too risky a game!" "Ought to be stopped by law!"
How many times have we heard these, and similar remarks, when the newspapers relate the account of some fatality in the air! People have come to think that flying is a terribly risky occupation, and that if one wishes to put an end to one's life one has only to go up in a flying machine. For the last twenty years some of our great writers have prophesied that the conquest of the air would be as costly in human life as was that of the sea, but their prophecies have most certainly been wrong, for in the wreck of one single vessel, such as that of the Titanic, more lives were lost than in all the disasters to any form of aerial craft.
Perhaps some of our grandfathers can remember the dread with which many nervous people entered, or saw their friends enter, a train. Travellers by the railway eighty or ninety years ago considered that they took their lives in their hands, so to speak, when they went on a long journey, and a great sigh of relief arose in the members of their families when the news came that the journey was safely ended. In George Stephenson's days there was considerable opposition to the institution of the railway, simply on account of the number of accidents which it was anticipated would take place.
Now we laugh at the fears of our great-grandparents; is it not probable that our grandchildren will laugh in a similar manner at our timidity over the aeroplane?
In the case of all recent new inventions in methods of locomotion there has always been a feeling among certain people that the law ought to prohibit such inventions from being put into practice.
There used to be bitter opposition to the motor-car, and at first every mechanically-driven vehicle had to have a man walking in front with a red flag.
There are risks in all means of transit; indeed, it may be said that the world is a dangerous place to live in. It is true, too, that the demons of the air have taken their toll of life from the young, ambitious, and daring souls. Many of the fatal accidents have been due to defective work in some part of the machinery, some to want of that complete knowledge and control that only experience can give, some even to want of proper care on the part of the pilot. If a pilot takes ordinary care in controlling his machine, and if the mechanics who have built the machine have done their work thoroughly, flying, nowadays, should be practically as safe as motoring.
The French Aero Club find, from a mass or information which has been compiled for them with great care, that for every 92,000 miles actually flown by aeroplane during the year 1912, only one fatal accident had occurred. This, too, in France, where some of the pilots have been notoriously reckless, and where far more airmen have been killed than in Britain.
When we examine carefully the statistics dealing with fatal accidents in aeroplanes we find that the pioneers of flying, such as the famous Wright Brothers, Bleriot, Farman, Grahame-White, and so on, were comparatively free from accidents. No doubt, in some cases, defective machines or treacherous wind gusts caused the craft to collapse in mid-air. But, as a rule, the first men to fly were careful to see that every part of the machine was in order before going up in it, so that they rarely came to grief through the planes not being sufficiently tightened up, wires being unduly strained, spars snapping, or bolts becoming loose.
Mr. Grahame-White admirably expresses this when he says: "It is a melancholy reflection, when one is going through the lists of aeroplane fatalities, to think how many might have been avoided. Really the crux of the situation in this connection, as it appears to me, is this: the first men who flew, having had all the drudgery and danger of pioneer work, were extremely careful in all they did; and this fact accounts for the comparatively large proportion of these very first airmen who have survived.
"But the men who came next in the path of progress, having a machine ready-made, so to speak, and having nothing to do but to get into it and fly, did not, in many cases, exercise this saving grace of caution. And that - at least in my view - is why a good many of what one may call the second flight of pilots came to grief."