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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

The aeroplane is primarily a war machine


Meanwhile,

on February 14th, Lieuts. Masiero and Ferrarin left Rome on S.V.A. Ansaldo V. machines fitted with 220 horse-power S.V.A. motors. On May 30th they arrived at Tokio, having flown by way of Bagdad, Karachi, Canton, Pekin, and Osaka. Several other competitors started, two of whom were shot down by Arabs in Mesopotamia.

Considered in a general way, the first two years after the termination of the Great European War form a period of transition in which the commercial type of aeroplane was gradually evolved from the fighting machine which was perfected in the four preceding years. There was about this period no sense of finality, but it was as experimental, in its own way, as were the years of progressing design which preceded the war period. Such commercial schemes as were inaugurated call for no more note than has been given here; they have been experimental, and, with the possible exception of the United States Government mail service, have not been planned and executed on a sufficiently large scale to furnish reliable data on which to forecast the prospects of commercial aviation. And there is a school rapidly growing up which asserts that the day of aeroplanes is nearly over. The construction of the giant airships of to-day and the successful return flight of R34 across the Atlantic seem to point to the eventual triumph, in spite of its disadvantages, of the dirigible airship.

This is a hard saying for such of

the aeroplane industry as survived the War period and consolidated itself, and it is but the saying of a section which bases its belief on the fact that, as was noted in the very early years of the century, the aeroplane is primarily a war machine. Moreover, the experience of the War period tended to discredit the dirigible, since, before the introduction of helium gas, the inflammability of its buoyant factor placed it at an immense disadvantage beside the machine dependent on the atmosphere itself for its lift.

As life runs to-day, it is a long time since Kipling wrote his story of the airways of a future world and thrust out a prophecy that the bulk of the world's air traffic would be carried by gas-bag vessels. If the school which inclines to belief in the dirigible is right in its belief, as it well may be, then the foresight was uncannily correct, not only in the matter of the main assumption, but in the detail with which the writer embroidered it.

On the constructional side, the history of the aeroplane is still so much in the making that any attempt at a critical history would be unwise, and it is possible only to record fact, leaving it to the future for judgment to be passed. But, in a general way, criticism may be advanced with regard to the place that aeronautics takes in civilisation. In the past hundred years, the world has made miraculously rapid strides materially, but moral development has not kept abreast. Conception of the responsibilities of humanity remains virtually in a position of a hundred years ago; given a higher conception of life and its responsibilities, the aeroplane becomes the crowning achievement of that long series which James Watt inaugurated, the last step in intercommunication, the chain with which all nations are bound in a growing prosperity, surely based on moral wellbeing. Without such conception of the duties as well as the rights of life, this last achievement of science may yet prove the weapon that shall end civilisation as men know it to-day, and bring this ultra-material age to a phase of ruin on which saner people can build a world more reasonable and less given to groping after purely material advancement.


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