science: the future is now

   wine of the gods
Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: What more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved.
There was science in each curve of an airfoil, in each angle between strut and wire, in the gap of a spark plug or the color of the exhaust pipe. There was freedom in the unlimited horizon, on the open fields where one landed. A pilot was surrounded by beaty of earth and sky. He brushed treetops with the birds, leapt valleys and rivers, explored the cloud canyons he had gazed at as a child. Adventure lay in each puff of the wind.
I began to feel that I lived on a higher plane than the skeptics of the ground; one that was richer because of its very association with the element of danger they dreaded, because it was free of the earth to which they were bound. In flying I tasted the wine of the gods of which they could know nothing. Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days?
I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwile trade for an ordinary lifetime.

Charles Lindbergh, the Spirit of st. Louis (1953)

more ants: Antoine de saint-Exupéry's version


   we plan to visit the neighbors
So let us raise a cheer (...) for the insatiable spirit of Man eager for all new things! What a tale could have been written by that far off man who first saw a tree trunk roll and made a wheel and cart and harnessed in his mare and cracked his whip and drove away to disappear beyond the hill! Or that first man who made a boat and raised a sail and disappeared hull down to unknown shores!
All this is misty in a distant past. The land and sea are long since named and mapped and parcelled out. Only the air and all beyond, the greatest mystery of all, was still unmastered and unknown when I was young. Now we have learned to shuffle about the house and even plan to visit the neighbours. A million starry mansions wink at us as if they knew our hopes and beckon us abroud. All that I shall not see. But at the start, the little lost beginning, I can say of one small part of it: "Here is a witness from my heart and hand and eye of how it was!

Cecil Lewis in 1965, preface Sagittarius rising (1936)


   future alternatives for landing and take-off
It seems not unlikely, therefore, that the next step in aircraft design will be the elimination of the undercarriage. There are several possible alternatives by which the aicraft could be brought in to land. The development of the 'rubber-deck', which was initiated when the landing speeds of aircraft began to make the size of existing aerodromes and runways inadequate, has been referred to in an earlier chapter. With some means of reverse thrust to slow the aircraft to a suitable speed, landing entirely by parachute, as opposed to the present use of braking parachutes, does not seem beyond the bounds of reason. Hydro skids offer another possible solution to both the problem of undercarriage and aerodromes.

On the other hand, it is quite feasible that a really high-speed aircraft will neither take off from, nor land on, ground or water. The Skyrocket already uses a Superfortress as a "mother" aircraft from which it is launched in flight. Perhaps even a three-stage nest of aircraft will be the answer: a straight-wing, heavy, subsonic aircraft to take-off and launch the swept-back, transonic machine at about 30,000 ft.; and then in turn a light, straight-wing, supersonic plane launched from the transonic aircraft at a height of, say, 60,000ft. and at a speed of Mach 2·0.

Neville Duke, Sound Barrier (1953)

this seems to be true cold war disinformation


   no more moonlight take-offs
...It is about a period in aviation which is now gone, but which was probably more interesting than any the future will bring. As time passes, the perfection of machinery tends to insulate man from contact with the elements in which he lives. The 'stratosphere' planes of the future will cross the ocean without any sense of the water below. Like a train tunneling through a mountain, they will be aloof from both the problems and the beauty of the earth's surface. Only the vibration from the engines will impress the senses of the traveller with his movement through the air. Wind and heat and moonlight take-offs will be of no concern to the transatlantic passenger. His only contact with these elements will lie in accounts such as this.

Charles Lindbergh, foreword to Listen! the wind (1938)

Possibly everyone will travel by air in another fifty years. I'm not sure I like the idea of millions of planes flying around overhead. I love the sky's unbroken solitude. I don't like to think of it cluttered up by aircraft, as roads are cluttered up by cars. I feel like the western pioneer when he saw barbed-wire fence lines encroaching on his open plains. The success of his venture brought the end of the life he loved.

Charles Lindbergh, the Spirit of st. Louis (1953)


Your comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated: e-mail Hanneke Hoogstrate!
or, for the JavaScript-disabled:, please remember to remove [AntiRobot].

This page is from Plane Writing: quotes from early pilots' biographies; please use a JavaScript-enabled browser for best results.