Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

When we examine carefully the statistics dealing with fatal accidents in aeroplanes we find that the
pioneers of flying, such as the famous Wright Brothers, Bleriot, Farman, Grahame-White, and so on,

were comparatively free from accidents. No doubt, in some cases, defective machines or treacherous

wind gusts caused the craft to collapse in mid-air. But, as a rule, the first men to fly were careful to see

that every part of the machine was in order before going up in it, so that they rarely came to grief through

the planes not being sufficiently tightened up, wires being unduly strained, spars snapping, or bolts

becoming loose.

Mr. Grahame-White admirably expresses this when he says: "It is a melancholy reflection, when one is
going through the lists of aeroplane fatalities, to think how many might have been avoided. Really the

crux of the situation in this connection, as it appears to me, is this: the first men who flew, having had all

the drudgery and danger of pioneer work, were extremely careful in all they did; and this fact accounts

for the comparatively large proportion of these very first airmen who have survived.

"But the men who came next in the path of progress, having a machine ready-made, so to speak, and
having nothing to do but to get into it and fly, did not, in many cases, exercise this saving grace of

caution. And that - at least in my view - is why a good many of what one may call the second flight of

pilots came to grief."


CHAPTER XLVI. Accidents and their Cause (Cont.)

One of the main causes of aeroplane accidents has been the breakage of some part of the machine while
in the air, due to defective work in its construction. There is no doubt that air-craft are far more

trustworthy now than they were two or three years ago. Builders have learned from the mistakes of their

predecessors as well as profited by their own. After every serious accident there is an official enquiry as

to the probable cause of the accident, and information of inestimable value has been obtained from such


The Royal Aero Club of Great Britain has a special "Accidents Investigation Committee" whose duty it
is to issue a full report on every fatal accident which occurs to an aeroplane in this country. As a rule,

representatives of the committee visit the scene of the accident as soon as possible after its occurrence.

Eye-witnesses are called before them to give evidence of the disaster; the remains of the craft are

carefully inspected in order to discover any flaw in its construction; evidence is taken as to the nature and

velocity of the wind on the day of the accident, the approximate height at which the aviator was flying,

and, in fact, everything of value that might bear on the cause of the accident.

As a good example of an official report we may quote that issued by the Accidents Investigation
Committee of the Royal Aero Club on the fatal accident which occurred to Colonel Cody and his

passenger on 7th August, 1913.

"The representatives of the Accidents Committee visited the scene of the accident within a few hours of
its occurrence, and made a careful examination of the wrecked air-craft. Evidence was also taken from

the eye-witnesses of the accident.

"From the consideration of the evidence the Committee regards the following facts as clearly established:

"1. The air-craft was built at Farnborough, by Mr. S. F. Cody, in July, 1913.

"2. It was a new type, designed for the Daily Mail Hydroplane Race round Great Britain, but at the time
of the accident had a land chassis instead of floats.


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