Sunday, July 26, 2009

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

In my former life (that is to say, "pre-downsizing") I had the great pleasure of editing Gavin Mortimer's book on the early aviation pioneers called Chasing Icarus. Now I'm admittedly a little biased, but I think it really is quite a good read. The book details a few weeks in October 1910 when all the various forms of flight (dirigibles, balloons, and aeroplanes) were vying to become the new means of transport and warfare. With races and contests being held all over the world, some of the biggest and most prestigious competitions were taking place in the US.

Consider for a few moments that fewer than 100 years ago there were still questions about what was a better vessel--ballon, blimp or plane. Today it seems incredible that sensible persons would have given any credence whatsoever to the actual viability of dirigibles or balloons for long distance transport, or really, even, most anything else. Yet as a year, 1910 was on the verge of WW1 and the first uses of aviation as part of warfare. And the characters...oh the characters. The glamorous Claude Grahame-White who had socialites on his arm (and in his plane); the dour and generally unpleasant Wright brothers; the fabulously moustachioed Louis Bleriot.

Now I say this as more than a shameless plug for a book I very much enjoyed. (Seriously, I get no commission, it's just a really good read!) I say all this by way of noting that 25 July, 2009 was the 100th anniversary of the first powered flights across the English Channel. Here's the link to the NY Times article on pilots re-enacting the fist powered flights across the English Channel. Fabulous photo as well, it really reminds one how little there was betwixt the pilot and the ground/ocean in those days.

And if you're at all interested, here in Louis Bleriot's own words, is his description of that first Channel flight. There's nothing quite like the over-the-top and hyperbolic vocabulary used in most old newspaper articles, so enjoy the read. And of course, there's youtube video, too. Enjoy!!

Yesterday I wrote about Harry Patch and his compatriot, Mr. Allingham, both WWI vets we've recently lost. They were young men when these devil-may-care pilots were crashing and barnstorming their way through races and dares. Time flies, of that I'm certain. But consider what changes Misters Patch and Allingham witnessed during their lifetimes...and then what we've seen in the past few decades. Rather amazing, all in all.

And I meant to note yesterday that there was an equine connection to Harry Patch as well. Race horse trainer and owner Michael Jarvis named a horse after Patch in 2008. The horse fittingly won at Doncaster racecourse on November 8, 2008, the day before Remembrance Sunday, when Britons celebrate our Veteran's Day.

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