Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 10:46 PM
As a private pilot of both airplanes and helicopters, it doesn't take much to get me thinking about all things aviation. The passing of a major milestone, such as the December 17th anniversary of the Wright brothers' famous first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is certain to fuel those flames. So this past weekend, as I thought about the birth of aviation, I turned to Google Book Search to see what was happening at the time of the Wright brothers' flight and check out some more recent developments.
Looking back to the early development of the airplane, it's clear that man's attempts to achieve flight go back centuries before the Wright brothers. Some of the earliest studies of flight are visible in Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings, which date back to the 15th century, as Robert Kane chronicles in his book Air Transportation. To get some historical perspective on early aviation, I looked at A Short History of Balloons and Flying Machines, published in 1907, just a few years after the Wright brothers first took flight. It attributes the first known mention of flight to the Greek myth "Daedalus and Icarus" and contains a lot of useful information about early attempts to develop flying contraptions, such as human-mounted wings and balloons capable of carrying passengers.
Certainly one of the biggest differences in aviation today is the cost and scale of development. It's interesting to observe the development of the next generation of space flight as accomplished by Burt Rutan and the team heading up SpaceShipOne. Privately funded space flight certainly takes more money than a couple of bicycle shop owners like Orville and Wilbur Wright might have had at their disposal. In fact, SpaceShipOne was funded by the billionaire investor Paul Allen. What I find interesting is the fact that this amazing accomplishment also marks a return of progress at the cutting edge of aviation -- space flight -- to the private sector. Although this milestone occurred only two years ago, there are some interesting chronicles of SpaceShipOne, as well as other new developments in aviation, in Space Tourism: Adventures in Earth's Orbit and Beyond. You can take any one of these titles for a test flight with Google Book Search, then click on one of the retail links to buy the book and begin your own flight of fancy...