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C.G. GREY’S 1917 Jane’s summary of “modern” aeronautics seems to predate his political inclinations discussed yesterday here at SimanaitisSays. However, his views were no less outspoken in matters technical and not without wit. Tidbits follow here, excerpted from Jane’s Historical Aircraft From 1902 to 1916, a facsimile reprint by Doubleday in 1973.

A Threepenny Lord’s Prayer. Grey says, “Writing a history of aeronautics within the scope of an introduction to a section of this book is rather like writing the Lord’s Prayer on the back of a threepenny bit. Still one can but do one’s best, and if the result is rather sketchy the blame must fall on ‘exigencies of space.’ ”

Balloonists. “Setting aside the French gentlemen of the early 19th Century who endeavored to paddle their own balloon by hand, the first really successful aerial navigation of a power-driven balloon was Senor Santos Dumont, a Brazilian sportsman, who built and navigated his miniature airships in Paris.”

“In England the late Mr. S.F. Cody produced… a quaint sausage-shaped affair called the ‘Nulli Secundus,’ which blew away in a gale after voyaging from Aldershot over London to the Crystal Palace in 1907. The mishap produced a suggestion in ‘Punch’ that the next effort should be called the ‘Nulli Tertius,’ so anyhow the British tax-payer received a good joke for his money.”

Heavier-Than-Air. “Giving full credit to Daedalus, Icarus, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir George Cayley and his coachman, …. we arrive at the fact that the first person to fly on a machine heavier than air and driven by its own power was Orville Wright, who after numerous gliding experiments without an engine, and after sundry abortive attempts with an engine, actually took the air in a controlled flight on December 17th, 1903, at Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.”

With a nod to Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, see also Grey’s comment cited yesterday about inventing facts as you go along.

Le Mans, August 1908. “The Wrights came to Europe late in 1908, and showed Europeans how to fly…. However, the French mind soon saw where the Wrights scored in their design, and by the middle of 1909 the Wright was already a back number. And, curiously enough, despite American ingenuity and engineering resources, American aeroplanes have never regained that brief lead they held for a few months in 1908.”

The Wright Flyer at Le Mans, 1908.

We could quibble about the 1908 Le Mans exhibition (it was in August, not “late in the year,” and only Wilbur made the trip). However, Grey was spot-on with his assessment of aircraft supremacy.

Aerial Superiority.

“France and England, conjointly or alternatively, have led the world ever since in aeroplane design, and Germany has always been a trifle in front in aero-engine, thanks to the encouragement given by the Emperor and the German Government to German engine designers.”

“It has in fact become a standing joke,” Grey writes, “that England is always six months ahead of Germany in design and twelve months behind in deliveries.”

Grey compiles a chart showing the advances in aircraft performance from 1909 to 1916. Largely attributed to hostilities, aeroplanes rapidly evolved from playthings to combat craft.

Chart from Jane’s Historical Aircraft from 1902 to 1916, a facsimile reprint from Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1917.

A Mid-War Analysis. Grey summarizes World War I, 1914–1916: “Germany began the war with more aeroplanes than all the Allies put together, but though her aeroplanes have improved in quality they have not improved as rapidly as those of France and England. Consequently the Allies are now slightly in the ascendant as regards their aeroplanes.”

“The real ascendancy of the Allies,” says Grey, “is in their pilots, for the German has never been a sportsman or even a decent horseman, whereas the French and British are both, and flying is a game which demands, above all, a sporting temperament.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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