Cover image for The pioneers of flight : a documentary history
The pioneers of flight : a documentary history
Scott, Phil, 1961-
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 234 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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TL507 .P56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The pioneers of flight left a legacy of inventions that changed the world. Unknown to most people, many also left compelling written accounts of their ideas, scientific discoveries, and attempts--both successful and disastrous--to take to the air. Phil Scott presents the first major anthology of these writings. His selections show how humans from Ovid to the Wright brothers and beyond dreamed about flying and puzzled over the principles of physics and aerodynamics that kept birds aloft and men grounded. Their eloquent and incisive writings form a record of scientific curiosity and individual tenacity that will fascinate aviation enthusiasts, historians of technology, and anyone interested in the drama of early flight.

Scott begins with Ovid's story of Icarus, who met his legendary fate by flying too close to the sun and melting the wax that held his wings together. He presents accounts of crude medieval experiments and the beginnings of a scientific approach to flight in Renaissance and early modern Italy. He includes a letter from the Marquis d'Arlandes about being aboard the Montgolfiers' famous balloon for the first ever manned flight. The book's main focus, however, is the development of airplanes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scott presents scientific notes, letters, patent applications, fund-raising proposals, newspaper reports, journal articles, and personal stories by or about such central figures as Sir George Cayley, John Stringfellow, Otto Lilienthal, Clement Ader, Octave Chanute, Louis Blériot, Glenn Curtiss, and, in particular, the Wright brothers. We read about the insights that led to propellers and to the shape of the modern wing, the frustrations and dangers of attempting flight, the Wrights' revolutionary technological innovations and their brilliant successes at Kitty Hawk, technical and commercial disputes, and the experiences of early women aviators and the adventurers who made the first long-distance flights.

Scott includes an extensive introduction that puts the selections in the context of aeronautical history. The Pioneers of Flight is a remarkable resource for anyone who wishes to understand how humans struggled and eventually learned to fly.

Author Notes

Phil Scott is a writer living in Manhattan. He is the author of The Shoulders of Giants: A History of Human Flight to 1919.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Every student of the early years of flight has favorite personalities and stories, and Scott's (The Shoulders of Giants, LJ 6/1/95) compendium of excerpts from articles, letters, and books written by pioneers of aviation or their contemporaries manages to present an enduringly human side to his subjects. From Ovid and the death of Icarus through Langley's careful explanation of his failures, the Wright brothers' methodical progress, Louis Bleriot's trusting his creation to carry him across the English Channel in July 1909 and on until powered flight was a daily occurrence, the impetuousness, courage, intelligence, wonder, and occasional venality of these singular people comes through. We have forgotten that once humanity looked at birds and envied them; these selected readings help us regain that feeling and time. For aviation histories, this is a refreshingly different approach.ÄMel D. Lane, Sacramento, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The documents used in Scott's history lead from the myth of Icarus to a 1783 balloon flight; another section covers the 19th century, and the remainder concentrates on the early 20th. Included are eyewitness reports, letters, and memoirs, from one to five pages long, all interesting and some quite lively. The arrangement of items creates a sense of development while revealing, through detailed description, the frustrating complexity of flight before its principles were understood. The author shows, through short, useful introductions and key documents, that the main obstacle to functional design was the lack of flying experience. Once the Wright brothers and their European competitors achieved basic lift and maneuverability, extended flight and rapid design improvements quickly followed. Most documents focus on design and mechanics, but a concluding section offers fascinating accounts of learning to fly and the sensation of flying in different situations. A few passages may be technically difficult for the general reader, but as a whole, the book is accessible to readers at the high school level and above. It may also be useful for research in the history of flight, as many of the documents are not easily found elsewhere. General readers; undergraduate and graduate students; two-year technical program students. D. H. Porter Western Michigan University

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Origins of the Practical Airplanep. 3
1 Daedalus and Icarusp. 15
2 The Short, Happy Flight of King Bladudp. 18
3 Oliver of Malmesbury, the Flying Monkp. 19
4 The Saracen of Constantinoplep. 20
5 The Aerial Shipp. 21
6 The Flight of Birdsp. 26
7 "Some Fire, My Dear Friend, Some Fire!"p. 29
8 The Flight of the Sycamore Seedp. 35
9 On Aerial Navigationp. 36
10 "Certain Improvements in Locomotive Apparatus and Machinery for Conveying Letters, Goods, and Passengers from Place to Place Through the Air, Part of Which Improvements Are Applicable to Locomotive and Other Machinery to Be Used on Water and on Land."p. 43
11 Proposalp. 45
12 "We Feel Very Sanguine as to the Results of Our Endeavour..."p. 48
13 "Memoir of the Late John Stringfellow"p. 50
14 The Artificial Bird of Captain Le Brisp. 56
15 "My Apparatus, No. 3, the Light, Imperfect One"p. 62
16 "My Late Brother Otto"p. 67
17 The Trials of the Eolep. 76
18 Progress in Flying Machines: Introductionp. 77
19 Progress in Flying Machines: Conclusionp. 79
20 "I Have Been Afflicted With the Belief That Flight Is Possible to Man"p. 85
21 The First Journey to Kitty Hawkp. 88
22 Life at Kitty Hawk, 1900p. 90
23 Life at Kitty Hawk, 1901p. 94
24 Life at Kitty Hawk, 1902p. 98
25 Mr. Chanute in Parisp. 100
26 Experiments With the Langley Aerodromep. 104
27 Life at Kitty Hawk, 1903p. 117
28 "We Tossed a Coin to Decide..."p. 120
29 "Success Assured Keep Quiet"p. 122
30 "Mr. Daniels Took a Picture Just as It Left the Tracks"p. 123
31 "Success Four Flights Thursday Morning"p. 126
32 "Two Ohio Brothers Crowned With Success"p. 127
33 The Wright Boys Are Coming Homep. 131
34 Statement to the Associated Pressp. 132
35 Fall Wrecks Airshipp. 134
36 What Hath God Wrought?p. 135
37 "We Are Prepared to Furnish a Machine on Contract..."p. 137
38 "Like Everybody Else, I Cried: 'Bravo! Bravo!'"p. 143
39 Competitionp. 146
40 Beginning to Flyp. 151
41 The June Bugp. 158
42 "We Would Be Glad to Take Up the Matter of a License..."p. 161
43 The Pioneers of Flightp. 165
44 Bleriot Tells of His Flight - Dropped Crutches to Do Itp. 168
45 The First Air Meetp. 172
46 An Exchange Between Two Old Friendsp. 175
47 "The Cheering Subsided to a Silent Prayer..."p. 181
48 Down the Hudson Riverp. 182
49 Finding His Wingsp. 189
50 How a Woman Learns to Flyp. 195
51 "Canvas, Steel, and Wire"p. 207
52 The Sensation of Flyingp. 209
53 Why I Looped the Loopp. 215
54 Johannisthal Daysp. 217
55 "A Short Life, Full of Consequences"p. 227
56 The Credulous Farmerp. 228
Indexp. 229