The feud between this nation’s great air pioneers, the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, was a collision of unyielding and profoundly American personalities. On one side, a pair of tenacious siblings who together had solved the centuries-old riddle of powered, heavier-than-air flight. On the other, an audacious motorcycle racer whose innovative aircraft became synonymous in the public mind with death-defying stunts. For more than a decade, they battled each other in court, at air shows, and in the newspapers. The outcome of this contest of wills would shape the course of aviation history—and take a fearsome toll on the men involved.
Birdmen sets the engrossing story of the Wrights’ war with Curtiss against the thrilling backdrop of the early years of manned flight, and is rich with period detail and larger-than-life personalities: Thomas Scott Baldwin, or “Cap’t Tom” as he styled himself, who invented the parachute and almost convinced the world that balloons were the future of aviation; John Moisant, the dapper daredevil who took to the skies after three failed attempts to overthrow the government of El Salvador, then quickly emerged as a celebrity flyer; and Harriet Quimby, the statuesque silent-film beauty who became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. And then there is Lincoln Beachey, perhaps the greatest aviator who ever lived, who dazzled crowds with an array of trademark twists and dives—and best embodied the romance with death that fueled so many of aviation’s earliest heroes.
A dramatic story of unimaginable bravery in the air and brutal competition on the ground, Birdmen is at once a thrill ride through flight’s wild early years and a surprising look at the personal clash that fueled America’s race to the skies.
Praise for Birdmen
“A meticulously researched account of the first few hectic, tangled years of aviation and the curious characters who pursued it . . . a worthy companion to Richard Holmes’s marvelous history of ballooning, Falling Upwards.”—Time
“The daredevil scientists and engineers who forged the field of aeronautics spring vividly to life in Lawrence Goldstone’s history.”—Nature
“The history of the development of an integral part of the modern world and a fascinating portrayal of how a group of men and women achieved a dream that had captivated humanity for centuries.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Captivating and wonderfully presented . . . a fine book about these rival pioneers.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] vivid story of invention, vendettas, derring-do, media hype and patent fights [with] modern resonance.”—Financial Times
“A powerful story that contrasts soaring hopes with the anchors of ego and courtroom.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A riveting narrative about the pioneering era of aeronautics in America and beyond . . . Goldstone raises questions of enduring importance regarding innovation and the indefinite exertion of control over ideas that go public.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
From the Hardcover edition.
For years, Wilbur Wright and his younger brother, Orville, experimented in obscurity, supported only by their exceptional family. Meanwhile, the world watched as Samuel Langley, armed with a contract from the US War Department and all the resources of the Smithsonian Institution, sought to create the first manned flying machine. But while Langley saw flight as a problem of power, the Wrights saw a problem of balance. Thus their machines took two very different paths—Langley’s toward oblivion, the Wrights’ toward the heavens—though not before facing countless other obstacles. With a historian’s accuracy and a novelist’s eye, Tobin has captured an extraordinary moment in history. To Conquer the Air is itself a heroic achievement.
Hansen provides an engaging, easily understandable introduction to the role of aerodynamics in the design of such historic American aircraft as the DC-3, X-1, and 747. Recognizing the impact individuals have had on the development of the field, he conveys not only a history of aircraft technology, but also a collective biography of the scientists, engineers, and designers who created the airplanes.
From da Vinci, whose understanding of what it took to fly was three centuries too early for practical use, to the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers, Hansen explores the technological matrix from which aeronautical engineering emerged. He skillfully guides the reader through the development of such critical aerodynamic concepts as streamlining, flutter, laminar-flow airfoils, the mythical “sound barrier,” variable-sweep wing, supersonic cruise, blended body, and much more.
Hansen’s explanation of how vocabulary and specifications were developed to fill the gap between the perceptions of pilots and the system of engineers will fascinate all those interested in how human beings have used aerodynamics to move among, and even beyond, birds on the wing.
But all was not well in Dayton, a city that hummed with industry, producing cash registers, railroad cars, and many other products. The brothers found it hard to transition from running their own bicycle business to being corporate executives responsible for other people’s money. Their dogged pursuit of enforcement of their 1906 patent — especially against Glenn Curtiss and his company — helped hold back the development of the U.S. aviation industry. When Orville Wright sold the company in 1915, more than three years after his brother’s death, he was a comfortable man — but his company had built only 120 airplanes at its Dayton factory and Wright Company products were not in the U.S. arsenal as war continued in Europe.
Edward Roach provides a fascinating window into the legendary Wright Company, its place in Dayton, its management struggles, and its effects on early U.S. aviation.
Michael H. Gorn explores the vital human aspect of the history of flight research, including such well-known figures as James H. Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, and A. Scott Crossfield, as well as the less heralded engineers, pilots, and scientists who also had the "Right Stuff." While the individuals in the cockpit often receive the lion's share of the public's attention, Expanding the Envelope shows flight research to be a collaborative engineering activity, one in which the pilot participates as just one of many team members.
Here is more than a century of flight research, from well before the creation of NACA to its rapid transformation under NASA. Gorn gives a behind the scenes look at the development of groundbreaking vehicles such as the X-1, the D-558, and the X-15, which demonstrated manned flight at speeds up to Mach 6.7 and as high as the edge of space.