The Origin of Aviation


                                                                          1903 --2003

ON DECEMBER 17, WE WILL BE CELEBRATING THE ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF AVIATION. I HOPE THIS LITTLE ESSAY HELPS THE READER TO PAUSE AND REFLECT.


THE ORIGIN OF AVIATION

FROM THE BEGINNING OF RECORDED HISTORY MAN'S MIND HAS ALWAYS ADMIRED, ENVIED, AND WORSHIPED THOSE CAPABLE OF FLIGHT. IT WAS EASY TO LOOK UP AND SEE NO TROUBLES, WHILE BEING AWARE THAT UPON THE GROUND YOU FOUND YOUR ENEMIES, NOT ONLY FROM INSIDE AND OUTSIDE YOUR CULTURE BUT, BEAST, FAMINE AND PESTILENCE WERE UPON YOU. FLIGHT, IF OBTAINABLE, WOULD BE EUPHORIC TO SAY THE LEAST.


PRIESTS IN EARLY CIVILIZATION ATTACHED FEATHERS TO THEIR MAGIC STAFFS, BIRDS WERE WORSHIPED AND GODS EITHER HAD WINGS THEMSELVES OR THEIR ENTOURAGE HAD WINGS e.g. LIKE PEGASUS OR A CHARIOT WITH WINGS ETC. ALMOST ALL EGYPTIAN GODS HAD WINGS AND THE GREEK GODS COULD FLY EVEN THOUGH THEY SEEMED TO LACK A VISIBLE MEANS OF LOCOMOTION. MERCURY WAS THE ONLY "WINGED" EXCEPTION. EVEN THE MONOTHEISTIC HEBREWS CREATED A GOD THAT COULD FLOAT AND HAD WINGED ANGELS ON EVERY HAND.

AS TIME PROGRESSED, LEGENDS OF EARTHLY FLIGHT WERE CREATED BY KINGS AND LORDS TO HELP SUPPRESS AND INTIMIDATE THE MULTITUDES SO THAT THE KINGS WOULD BE PERCEIVED AS GODS.

IN THE MIDDLE AGES, MEN LIKE LEONARDO da VINCI HAD VISIONS OF FLIGHT AND daVINCI MADE A SERIOUS ATTEMPT AT DESIGNING A MACHINE FOR FLIGHT.

MAN'S IMAGINATION FOR FLIGHT WAS ENHANCED WITH THE INVENTION OF THE BALLOON IN 1783. LESS THAN 100 YEARS LATER JULES VERN WAS WRITING OF LIGHTER THAN AIR SHIPS, HELICOPTER LIKE VEHICLES AND EVEN FLASH GORDON TYPE ROCKET RIDES TO THE MOON WITH WEIGHTLESSNESS BEING DESCRIBED IN DETAIL.

AT THIS SAME PERIOD OF HISTORY, WESTERN CIVILIZATION WAS MAKING NEW INROADS INTO TECHNOLOGY. INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS WERE INVENTED BY ELI WHITNEY, PETROLEUM WAS DISCOVERED TO HAVE MANY USABLE PROPERTIES, PROBABLY THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BEING GASOLINE. THUS, THE GROUND WAS PAVED FOR LIGHTER INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES WHICH WAS TRIED ON FLIGHT MACHINES ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS IN THE 19TH CENTURY BUT FAILED ON ALMOST EVERY HAND.

AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY THE STAGE WAS SET. SOME KNOWLEDGE OF THE FLUID NATURE OF AIR HAD BEEN RECORDED BY BALLOONISTS. GASOLINE HELPED MAKE THE LIGHT WEIGHT INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE A REALITY AND GLIDERS WERE BEYOND THE EXPERIMENTAL STAGE. NOW WAS THE TIME FOR SOME CREATIVE GENIUS TO DREAM WHAT FEW HAD NEVER DREAMED BEFORE i.e. TO INTEGRATE ALL THIS KNOWLEDGE INTO ONE MAGNIFICENT, SELF PROPELLED AIR MACHINE.

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS DID IT. THEY WERE NOT THE FIRST BUT THEY WERE THE FIRST TO DO IT ON SOMETHING MORE THAN JUSTA FLUKE. THEY DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN WHILE OTHERS COULD NOT. HOWEVER, IT WAS HALF A DECADE LATER BEFORE THEIR WILD CLAIMS WERE, FOR THE MOST PART, ACCEPTED.

THE YEAR 1900 POSSIBLY INAUGURATED THE MOST EXCITING AND THE MOST CHALLENGING CENTURY THAT MANKIND HAS EVER KNOWN. THE WORLD WAS BEING LIGHTED BY THE HARNESSING OF ELECTRICITY. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELLS TELEPHONE MADE COMMUNICATION A MARVEL. MARCONI'S WIRELESS CHALLENGED THE IMAGINATION IN A WAY THAT IT HAD NEVER BEEN BEFORE. ALSO, THE DREAM OF MANKIND TO SOAR WITH THE EAGLES, TO DANCE WITH THE GODS, TO FLY WAS NOW WITHIN REACH.

THE CHALLENGE WAS THE SAME AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN, BUT IT NOW HAD NEW DIMENSIONS. IN ANCIENT TIMES THE ARMY WITH THE FASTEST HORSES COULD GET THE BEST POSITION OVER ITS FOE. NOW THE CHALLENGE WOULD BE A FASTER AIRPLANE. COMMUNICATION WAS NOW MORE THAN RUNNERS OR SMOKE SIGNALS. NOW, IT WAS HOW HIGH WE COULD FLY AND HOW FAR? THE NEW AIRPLANE COULD OUT DISTANCE THE RUNNER, COULD NEUTRALIZE AN ARMY THROUGH RECONNAISSANCE AND COULD CARRY MESSAGES FARTHER AND FASTER THAN ANY SMOKE SIGNAL COULD BEGIN TO. NO GOD OF THE ANCIENTS WAS EVER IMAGINED TO BE CAPABLE OF DOING WHAT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY PILOT COULD DO. FLYING CERTAINLY AIDED THE ADVANCES MADE BY MARCONI AND NICOLA TESLA.

MANKIND'S INVENTIONS HAD BROUGHT CIVILIZATION TO THE BRINK OF MATURITY. THE AMERICAN INDIANS IDENTIFIED FEATHERS WITH MANHOOD. NOW THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WAS TO OFFER NEW CHALLENGES WHICH MUST BE MET IN A MATURE MANNER OR CIVILIZATION WILL PERISH. WITHOUT THESE NEW FLIGHT MACHINES WOULD HIROSHIMA HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE? WITHOUT ROCKETS, WOULD OUR NUCLEAR WAR HEADS MAKE SENSE? WILL THIS NEW DEVELOPMENT IN HISTORY FIND MANKIND RISING TO THE CHALLENGE IN A MATURE FASHION? ONLY TIME CAN TELL! WILL MANKIND WEATHER THIS ERA AND STAND TALL LIKE THE INDIAN CHIEFS DID IN THEIR FULL HEADDRESS OF FEATHERS?

FLYING IS CERTAINLY EXISTENTIAL AND IS NEITHER GOOD NOR BAD. HOWEVER, IT IS AN INCREDIBLE MACHINE OF WAR AS WELL AS A MARVELOUS TRAVEL MACHINE. COULD SOARING THROUGH THE AIR BE THE BENCHMARK THAT FINDS MAN MARCHING TO EXTINCTION OR LUMBERING TOWARD GREATER CIVILITY?

IN CONCLUSION IT SEEMS TRITE TO SAY IT BUT IT SEEMS GOOD TO RESURRECT SUCH A THOUGHT EVERY NOW AND THEN AND THAT IS AVIATION HAS ALWAYS BEEN IN THE HEART AND MIND OF MAN. TO FLY WAS HIS DREAM. TO FLY, THE PHARAOH WOULD HAVE FILLED A ROOM FULL OF GOLD AND GIVEN THOUSANDS OF SLAVES. YES, THE ORIGIN OF AVIATION IS FOUND IN THE ORIGIN OF CIVILIZATION. FLIGHT WAS THE LONGING OF HIS NATURE, A CHARACTERISTIC OF HIS GODS, AND A DREAM WAITING TO BE FULFILLED. IT WAS MORE THAN MT. EVEREST "CONQUERED BECAUSE ITS THERE." IT WAS MORE THAN A CHALLENGE OF MAN AGAINST NATURE. IT WAS THE ULTIMATE OUTCROPPING OF THE HEART; A DREAM EMBEDDED IN MAN WHICH BECAME ALMOST SECOND NATURE; A DREAM FOUNDED IN THE WRITTEN HISTORY OF MAN; A DREAM ENTWINED WITH THE ORIGINS OF CIVILIZATION. DECEMBER 17th CELEBRATES THAT 100th ANNIVERSARY OF KITTY HAWK, BUT WE MAY NEVER PINPOINT THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE HEART AND MIND TO FLY.


Ross Sloan

2003

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