Cumberland Times-News

June 8, 2013

New book chronicles notable early aircraft

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — I’m writing this column at the time when three planets are close together low in the western dusk but cloudy weather is preventing me and others in the Cumberland area from seeing this unusual formation.

I often wish that I had a two seater plane to climb above the clouds that would allow viewing.

So this column will consider a new Dorling Kindersley book, “Aircraft: The Definitive Visual History,” published this year with ISBN 978-1-4654-0212-7. As other DK books, there is large cast of editors; the General Consultant is Phillip Whiteman.

The 320 page book is divided into sections; first is Aircraft before 1920, then Aircraft of the 1920’s, followed by the 30’s, ... the 1990’s and the last section, Beyond 2000.

Just as other DK books, each page of “Aircraft” is beautifully illustrated, balanced with captions and relevant details. I’ve decided to focus on the early days of aircraft, when some aircraft designers actually risked their lives by flying their own creations.

Before the Wright brothers, there was more than a century of lighter than air craft, balloons filled with hot air or hydrogen. The Montgolfier hot air balloon made the first manned flight, on November 1783, lasting 25 minutes.

The next month saw another French balloon, filled with hydrogen that reached 1,800 feet, covering 22 miles during its two-hour flight. During the Prussian Siege of Paris in 1870-1, Eugene Goddard built a number of balloons that carried mail out of Paris.

The most successful balloons in WWI were the Submarine Scout Zero of Britain that were effective in spotting German submarines.

The German Otto Lilienthal at first tried to imitate birds by using strapped on wings. Unsuccessful with this approach, Lilienthal designed hang gliders, taking off from a man made conical hill outside of Berlin.

Otto was able to glide nearly 750 feet. In his final flight in 1896, his glider stalled and he went into a nosedive that broke his back.

The Wright brothers from Dayton, Ohio spent three years in designing their Wright flyer. They developed the first wind tunnel in which they tested hundreds of different kinds of air foils.

The Wright brothers found almost no information on propeller design, requiring them to experiment with different kinds of propellers.

Their propellers are just as efficient as the propellers used on modern light planes. Their Wright Flyer made 4 flights on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Once the news of the Wright’s success spread, European inventors redoubled their efforts; by 1910, about a half dozen aircraft from different inventors were flying. In 1909, Louis Bleriot of France, flew his monoplane (one large wing) across the English channel, a distance of 26 miles.

There were a number of successful aircraft that served in World War I. The Allies had air superiority due to planes such as the the biplane Sopwith Camel (with twin machine guns) and the R.A.F. (Royal Aircraft Factory) S.E. 5a, also a biplane (two big wings).

The best German fighter plane was the Fokker D.VIII; this was the plane flown by the “Red Baron” (Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen) .

The next big advance were the airliners. In 1929, Germany had the Dornier Do-X that could carry 169 passengers! The Beechcraft Model 18 with twin engines could reach a top speed of 264 miles per hour.

In 1934 came the Douglas DC-2, a 14 passenger airplane that offered comfort, safety and reliable transportation.

This was followed by the Douglas DC-3, that was also used for cargo in WWII (called the C-47 by the military).

During the 1950’s, this author had his first plane ride on a passenger DC-3.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: Tomorrow evening, a very slender crescent moon may be sighted in the 9:15 p.m. western dusk. To the right of the moon then will be the brilliant planet Venus and the planet Mercury (above and to the left of Venus). On Wednesday, Mercury will reach its greatest angle from the sun. This Friday, we will have the year’s earliest sunrise at 5:47 a.m.

The Cumberland Astronomy Club will have their June meeting on Friday, June 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the LaVale Public Library. All interested sky observers are welcome.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.