Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

The distinguished French writer, Alphonse Berget, in his book, The Conquest of the Air, pays a striking
tribute to our English inventor, and this, coming from a gentleman who is writing from a French point of

view, makes the praise of great value. In alluding to Sir George, M. Berget says: "The inventor, the

incontestable forerunner of aviation, was an Englishman, Sir George Cayley, and it was in 1809 that he

described his project in detail in Nicholson's Journal. . . . His idea embodied 'everything' - the wings

forming an oblique sail, the empennage, the spindle forms to diminish resistance, the screw-propeller, the

'explosion' motor, . . . he even described a means of securing automatic stability. Is not all that

marvellous, and does it not constitute a complete specification for everything in aviation?

"Thus it is necessary to inscribe the name of Sir George Cayley in letters of gold, in the first page of the
aeroplane's history. Besides, the learned Englishman did not confine himself to 'drawing-paper': he built

the first apparatus (without a motor) which gave him results highly promising. Then he built a second

machine, this time with a motor, but unfortunately during the trials it was smashed to pieces."

But were these ideas of any practical value? How is it that he did not succeed in flying, if he had most of
the component parts of an aeroplane as we know it to-day?

The answer to the second question is that Sir George did not fly, simply because there was no light petrol
motor in existence; the crude motors in use were far too heavy, in proportion to the power developed, for

service in a flying machine. It was recognized, not only by Sir George, but by many other English

engineers in the first half of the nineteenth century, that as soon as a sufficiently powerful and light

engine did appear, then half the battle of the conquest of the air would be won.

But his prophetic voice was of the utmost assistance to such inventors as Santos Dumont, the Wright
brothers, M. Bleriot, and others now world-famed. It is quite safe to assume that they gave serious

attention to the views held by Sir George, which were given to the world at large in a number of

highly-interest- ing lectures and magazine articles. "Ideas" are the very foundation-stones of invention -

if we may be allowed the figure of speech - and Englishmen are proud, and rightly proud, to number

within their ranks the original inventor of the heavier-than-air machine.

 

CHAPTER XVI. The "Human Birds"

For many years after the publication of Sir George Cayley's articles and lectures on aviation very little
was done in the way of aerial experiments. True, about midway through the nineteenth century two

clever engineers, Henson and Stringfellow, built a model aeroplane after the design outlined by Sir

George; but though their model was not of much practical value, a little more valuable experience was

accumulated which would be of service when the time should come; in other words, when the motor

engine should arrive. This model can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, at South Kensington.

A few years later Stringfellow designed a tiny steam-engine, which he fitted to an equally tiny
monoplane, and it is said that by its aid he was able to obtain a very short flight through the air. As some

recognition of his enterprise the Aeronautical Society, which was founded in 1866, awarded him a prize

of L100 for his engine.

The idea of producing a practical form of flying machine was never abandoned entirely. Here and there
experiments continued to be carried out, and certain valuable conclusions were arrived at. Many

advanced thinkers and writers of half a century ago set forth their opinions on the possibilities of human

flight. Some of them, like Emerson, not only believed that flight would come, but also stated why it had

not arrived. Thus Emerson, when writing on the subject of air navigation about fifty years ago, remarked:

 

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