CHAPTER XIV. Early Attempts in Aviation

The desire to fly is no new growth in humanity. For countless years men have longed to emulate the birds - "To soar upward and glide, free as a bird, over smiling fields, leafy woods, and mirror-like lakes," as a great pioneer of aviation said. Great scholars and thinkers of old, such as Horace, Homer, Pindar, Tasso, and all the glorious line, dreamt of flight, but it has been left for the present century to see those dreams fulfilled.

Early writers of the fourth century saw the possibility of aerial navigation, but those who tried to put their theories in practice were beset by so many difficulties that they rarely succeeded in leaving the ground.

Most of the early pioneers of aviation believed that if a man wanted to fly he must provide himself with a pair of wings similar to those of a large bird. The story goes that a certain abbot told King James IV of Scotland that he would fly from Stirling Castle to Paris. He made for himself powerful wings of eagles' feathers, which he fixed to his body and launched himself into the air. As might be expected, he fell and broke his legs.

But although the muscles of man are of insufficient strength to bear him in the air, it has been found possible, by using a motor engine, to give to man the power of flight which his natural weakness denied him.

Scientists estimate that to raise a man of about 12 stone in the air and enable him to fly there would be required an immense pair of wings over 20 feet in span. In comparison with the weight of a man a bird's weight is remarkably small - the largest bird does not weigh much more than 20 pounds - but its wing muscles are infinitely stronger in proportion than the shoulder and arm muscles of a man.

As we shall see in a succeeding chapter, the "wing" theory was persevered with for many years some two or three centuries ago, and later on it was of much use in providing data for the gradual development of the modern aeroplane.