The author’s passion for his subject infuses this richly detailed history of the daredevil years in flying.
The introduction opens in 1915 with 50,000 spectators at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition, watching Lincoln Beachey, “the greatest, most celebrated aviator in the world,” attempt his famous Dip of Death maneuver. The narrative then goes back to fill in history about gliders and balloons before moving to its focus, the years from Kitty Hawk in 1903 to the end of this era of exhibition flying in 1915. Set mainly in the United States, the graceful account highlights a steady stream of breathtaking flights, mostly by white men but also a few white women. Fliers continuously broke altitude, speed, and distance records in exhibition contests that took the place of test flights. To make performances more exciting, they eventually added dangerous stunts like spins and corkscrews. Many pilots became celebrities, attracting huge crowds, inspiring newspaper headlines, and competing for cash prizes. Hundreds died while performing, which only made exhibitions more popular. Numerous black-and-white photographs show fliers, feats, and progress in airplane design, while diagrams help explain the physics of flying. Short sidebars add pertinent facts and anecdotes.
For those who love history, aviation, or stories of great daring, this is pure pleasure. (timeline, glossary, notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-15)