Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

who has made hundreds of flights in various parts of the country, and has aroused the greatest enthusiasm
wherever he has flown.

The progress of aviation undoubtedly owes a great deal to the Press, for the newspaper has succeeded in
bringing home to most people the fact that the possession of air-craft is a matter of national importance.

It was of little use for airmen to make thrilling flights up and down an aerodrome, with the object of

interesting the general public, if the newspapers did not record such flights, and though in the very early

days of aviation some newspapers adopted an unfriendly attitude towards the possibilities of practical

aviation, nearly all the Press has since come to recognize the aeroplane as a valuable means of national

defence. Right from the start the Daily Mail foresaw the importance of promoting the new science of

flight by the award of prizes, and its public-spirited enterprise has done much to break up the prevailing

apathy towards aviation among the British nation.

If these three great events had been mere spectacles and nothing else - such as, for instance, that great
horse-race known as "The Derby" - this chapter would never have been written. But they are most

worthy of record because all three have marked clearly-defined stepping-stones in the progress of flight;

they have proved conclusively that aviation is practicable, and that its ultimate entry into the busy life of

the world is no more than a matter of perfecting details.

The first L10,000 prize was offered in November, 1906, for a flight by aeroplane from London to
Manchester in twenty-four hours, with not more than two stoppages en route. In 1910 two competitors

entered the lists for the flight; one, an Englishman, Mr. Claude Grahame-White; the other, a Frenchman,

M. Paulhan.

Mr. Grahame-White made the first attempt, and he flew remarkably well too, but he was forced to
descend at Lichfield - about 113 miles on the journey - owing to the high and gusty winds which

prevailed in the Trent valley. The plucky pilot intended to continue the flight early the next morning, but

during the night his biplane was blown over in a gale while it stood in a field, and it was so badly

damaged that the machine had to be sent back to London to be repaired.

This took so long that his French rival, M. Paulhan, was able to complete his plans and start from
Hendon, on 27th April. So rapidly had Paulhan's machine been transported from Dover, and "assembled"

at Hendon, that Mr. White, whose biplane was standing ready at Wormwood Scrubbs, was taken by

surprise when he heard that his rival had started on the journey and "stolen a march on him", so to speak.

Nothing daunted, however, the plucky British aviator had his machine brought out, and he went in

pursuit of Paulhan late in the afternoon. When darkness set in Mr. White had reached Roade, but the

French pilot was several miles ahead.

Now came one of the most thrilling feats in the history of aviation. Mr. White knew that his only chance
of catching Paulhan was to make a flight in the darkness, and though this was extremely hazardous he

arose from a small field in the early morning, some hours before daybreak arrived, and flew to the north.

His friends had planned ingenious devices to guide him on his way: thus it was proposed to send fast

motor-cars, bearing very powerful lights, along the route, and huge flares were lighted on the railway;

but the airman kept to his course chiefly by the help of the lights from the railway stations.

Over hill and valley, forest and meadow, sleeping town and slumbering village, the airman flew, and
when dawn arrived he had nearly overhauled his rival, who, in complete ignorance of Mr. White's daring

pursuit, had not yet started.

 

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