Kevin’s History of Aviation, Part Une…
February 2, 2008 § 1 Comment
Aviation history is a lot like cities on the west coast. During one layover in Ontario, California a few years ago I asked our hotel van driver if there were any historical buildings in the area. He answered with: “Yeah, some of buildings around here are over thirty years old!”
The history of flying is much the same. Most of it is contained the past hundred years and a lot of the important stuff has happened during our life times. Still, many of our readers are youngish, good looking kids with bright futures in front of them. Many of these kids have trouble picking Canada out on a map of Europe so they’ll need a quick and dirty review. I am just the person to write a dirty history of Aviation, so let’s get started.
The Early Years
Many attempts at airline flight were made in prehistoric times. Many civilizations began their aviation attempts by flinging various virgin females off of cliffs. “FLY VIRGIN” was a slogan long before Richard Branson came up with the concept and put it on jets.
There are cave painting depictions of unruly and angry people crowding some sort of stone countertop demanding to know why their flinging off of the cliff is running three hours late. The answer given to them was probably a lame excuse about the weather.
Time went on and as we got closer to the modern era not only was it more difficult to find virgins, it was even harder to convince them that cliff flinging was a good thing (unless they were blonde). Something had to be done to move aviation along so this column could end in the normal two pages.
Quite a bit of time went by and before we knew it the Crusades were over, plagues had come and gone and the French had given up their government sponsored “discover bath soap” research for a more exciting “hot air balloon” initiative. This was based on the fact that the normal French person was constantly speaking English to their friends, saying: “Man, that king puts out so much hot air we should capture it in some sort of bag and see if it’ll fly.”
Once the French discovered they could fly using the bodily gaseous emissions of their populace not only was the future wide open for random, uncontrolled flight, it also permanently killed off the idea of bath soap.
The Spanish say “Goodbye, Columbus…”
Slightly before the French had discovered the “Formage of Flight,” the United States of America was discovered on Columbus Day of 1492 by a guy with a funny Italian accent named Chris. This fact has nothing much do to with aviation except that it was a bird, yes, a seagull named Jonathan, who flew out from shore to the ship telling Chris that it was almost time to unload the boat and repopulate the world using the millions of pairs of animals that the Lord had commanded that he take with him. He also brought the first Spanish speaking illegal immigrants to this country.
Chris looked up at Jonathan soaring so majestically above him, took aim and shot the bird dead with a new Renaissance invention called “the assault blunderbuss”. Columbus already had two seagulls on board and was hungry. As he cleaned the bird for dinner, Columbus noticed that the wings had the same shape as the airplanes he had been dreaming about during the voyage. “Hey,” he said, “maybe someday somebody will ussa this to make-a-the-flight.”
It is more than a coincidence that modern flight was born only a short distance from Columbus in Dayton Ohio in the early part of the late section of the nineteenth or twentieth century.
Why Dayton Ohio? You might ask. Why indeed.
Dayton was a marvelous combination of a place with very few natural blondes and a total lack of cliffs to fling them from. It was either invent the airplane or give up on flying forever. All that was needed was the “right” sort of brothers to devote their lives to the miracle of flight.
Orville and Wilbur were just such brothers. In the years just before their world-changing invention they were spending their time building bicycles, not dating girls and wishing that the comic book had been invented so they would have something to talk about.
They took their research materials and went off with a bunch of burley men for some isolated research on a deserted beach. In the early 1900s this wasn’t considered gay at all. MTV even did a special on it that year titled: Spring Break with the Aeronauts – Whoooooo!
If there was one thing the Wright brothers knew from experience and history they knew that their experimental aircraft must have blonde wings. They had spent many winter nights making Revel models of B-52s and Spitfires so they knew the basics of aircraft design and the joys of airplane glue. Combine this knowledge and love of chemistry and you were bound to get an aircraft that looked and flew like the Wright Flyer.
It is no coincidence that their airplane had no canopy to enclose the pilot. During the construction of their models the boys had discovered that it is almost impossible to put the canopy on without messing it up with extra glue.
Their use of glue also explains why the propellers on their first airplane are in the back and not in the front as planned.
The development of aviation probably would have ended right there on the beach if it weren’t for a wonderful thing. World War One broke out in Europe after the Hatsfield royal family totally dissed the McCoy family. Sure, tens of millions of the best of a generation were senselessly killed, but it did advance flying a little.
You’ve got your French Spads and Neuports. These airplanes were powered like earlier French balloons with methane, but they also used french fry grease to boost power and give their power plants just the right crispiness.
It was during this tragic war that Germany’s Led Zeppelin came into being and began drifting above the battlefield dropping huge guitar riffs that they had stolen from other bands. Almost sixty years later, Led Zeppelin bombed in Wembly Stadium in England, but that story will be included in my “History of Bands that Suck” coming out later this year.
The war finally ended, leaving only two groups left alive; disaffected “lost generation” writers and barnstormers.
VFR Near the Barns – Not Recommended
Barn storming was a flying technique much like tipping cows, but a lot more like criminal trespassing. The pilot in question would land unannounced in a farmer’s field somewhere near Columbus Ohio and ask if he could use the area as an international airport.
The farmer would normally answer that he would have to check with the community’s noise pollution committee, but would then happily agree to allow his field to be used after seeing that the pilot had a gun and smelled like he had just flown in from France.
Children who had been deemed “naughty” by Santa were driven to the field on buckboard carriages, blindfolded and put on the airplane. Many of these youngsters tried to climb of the plane while it was in flight, leading to the first “wing walkers.”
Other records were made and broken during the time of barn storming. For example, Emelia Earhart, the first non-blonde female pilot set aviation records, and came out with a great set of luggage. Jimmy Doolittle, when he wasn’t talking with the animals, was inventing instrument flight, or as we now call it: “having a good excuse for getting lost in the clouds.”
The Thirty Somethings of Aviation
Prohibition happened around these years, which meant that most pilots were flying sober during a time when this was clearly a bad idea. Hair dye was also invented during this depressing era, which made being blonde easy and could have meant a return to flinging virgins off of cliffs. Unfortunately, by then, people were too busy eating gold fish, losing their fortunes in the stock market, and dreaming of a world filled with VORs and mini bar bottles of booze for less than a dollar a drink.
It was during this time in our aviation history that Dick Tracy married Tess (a blonde) and met the moon people while talking into his watch. Once Tracy got the professional mental help he needed the population of the United States awaited the next huge breakthrough for aviation.
Hurray! World War II!
Thank goodness World War Two was right around the corner. Sure, it would kill over sixty million people, but how else were we ever going to develop a plane with flush toilets and the ability to bomb Iraq un-refueled from our Midwestern Air Force bases?
A lot of other aviation history happened during the period I covered in this column and a lot more will be in my “Aviation History, Part Deux” which is coming to a magazine near your mailbox soon.
For now, rest assured that aviation has a rich history full of cads and heroes and that there is absolutely no pop quiz after this month’s column.