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Aviation Industry
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Bygones but not forgotten

In view of the current interest in the start of aviation I am reprinting by permission of myself, the original author, an article written for the RAF Officers’ Club newsletter.
An extract from the neat little booklet “Pioneers of the Air”, given to me by my mate, Brian.
It opens with a statement – “The Modern Air Traveller can today feel comfortable (obviously the author has never travelled in a SAA Airbus A600 in steerage class) in the knowledge that the plane they board will take them to their planned destination (never flown KLM from the Caribbean with previously unannounced diversions to fancy islands for an hour or two overstay, and the resulting several hour overshoot t’other end, resulting in missed connections) etc. Some say that if God wanted man to fly by airlines He would have given us more than 24 hours in a day.”
Aviation started, as did most things worthwhile, with the Greeks. In ancient days, before even Madiba was born, a couple of Greek entrepreneurs, named Daedalus, and his son Icarus, clearly bored with the corner café business, built their own wings to nip about. The story was given out that Icarus, ignoring his Dad’s warnings (Dad knew exactly how he had put this lot together and what ingredients had been skimped), flew too near the sun and the wax that held the feathers together melted and he made an early entry to Hades. Today, of course, there would be major enquiries lasting twenty odd years into the standard of the wax used and whether the whole thing was FAA approved. The FAA would deny that they had control over the Greeks, even though Greece was the centre of the civilised world and America was still in its pure infancy, yet to be discovered for a few thousand years. The products liability claim would still be being fought by Greek attorneys with the help of Ed Fagan.
Then in the 15th Century (As you know, due to some moronic mathematician or politician, the first year is nought, the second is one and so on. Therefore the 15th Century starts with 1600. No wonder Napoleon got confused, and this accounts for the reason that historians are all so bad tempered) an Italian, Leo Da Vinci (famous for his Mum’s statement on his birth “Veni, vidi, Vinci” – which translates as “Look what the little sod’s done to my varicose veins”) doodled his way through university and sketched the first helicopter, glider and a tank. The fact is that no-one could have flown the glider as it required about 6 000kg of thrust to move the wings, and even the overweight Medici’s couldn’t hack that much. Leo very cleverly wrote all his stuff in a mirror so it came out backwards. This is much the same technique used by NASA in designing the space vehicles that go to Mars, but the problem is that NASA failed to tell the construction manne about this, and that is why the Mars Debris Removal Agency is so bad tempered.
After Da Vinci, everyone got quite bamboozled so nothing much happened until 1783, when a politician found a use for hot air and the balloon boys got going. The brothers Montgolfier watched paper wafting up the chimney in their Dad’s paper factory and came up with Montgolfier Gas which was produced by burning a mixture of wool and straw. It didn’t do much for the factory production and naturally such distraction led to the first human off the earth (if you discount the Greeks, but then they have never been on solid ground anyway) being not themselves but another Frenchman, Francois ‘the Pilot’ de Rosier, on 21st November 1783. He himself was beaten to the punch by a sheep, a duck and a cockerel who nipped up in a Montgolfier Balloon on 19th September that year. There is no reason to suppose that this led to aviation being described for many years as a ‘cock-up’. Ballooning became very popular and they organised races and all that. The French were very enlightened and when Jacques Charles released an unmanned balloon, which flew 15 miles into the village of Gonosse, the peasants wisely beat it to death with pitchforks.
Getting bored with getting on board and not knowing where they were going (have you tried United recently?) the locals turned their hand to other forms of air transport, which developed into a wright old war, with Wilbur and Orville claiming that they done it first on 17th December 1903, and Gustave Whitehead, screaming foul and that he had flown miles further and earlier in 1901. The Nose of The World was not present so no one believed him. Gustave was in fact an Austrian, which is why the Austrians are so bad tempered (and if you don’t believe me, ask Churchill). Gliders played a large role in all this and Sir George Cayley (1773 – 1857), known as the Father of Aerial Navigation, proved something when he built a glider in 1804 that was able to carry his gardener several feet. When he tried it again with his coachman (note that Cayley was clever enough not to risk himself on this). The coachman flew right across a valley and immediately handed in his notice. That is why coachmen are so bad tempered and why they call it Coachman’s Cross-ing in Sandton).
That’s enough of that. By Henry Tours, Aviation Consultant, the Author Himself
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Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:18.1 1st February, 2005
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