THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS: A History of Human Flight to 1919 by Phil Scott

THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS: A History of Human Flight to 1919

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Flying in the face of redundancy, aviation journalist and pilot Scott concisely chronicles the history of manned flight from its faltering first steps to its later deadly application above the WW I battlefield. Although readers will recognize such major names in early 20th century aviation as the Wright brothers and their main competitor, Glen Curtiss, as well as some famous predecessors -- da Vinci, Montgolfier, even Icarus -- Scott's often ironically laconic account includes some interesting arcana. The first flying machines were gliders, patterned after birds, bats, and, in one case, the manta ray; the first recorded casualty was an 11th-century monk who leaped from a tower on batlike wings and broke both his legs. Death came easily and often to these early aviators; not until Englishman George Cayley's 1804 flight was a controllable glider demonstrated. The quest for powered flight occupied the rest of the 19th century; readers may be surprised to learn that the first successful heavier-than-air machine (powered by steam) flew in 1848, the first controlled, gasoline-engine venture in 1895. The Wright brothers' landmark manned, powered flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, N.C., opened the portals of modern aviation -- and, Scott notes, a succession of patent suits by which they effectively controlled US airplane manufacture. When America entered WW I, the armed forces possessed not even 400 aircraft. European aviation war technology by this time had led to deadly innovations, some of whose grisly results are depicted vividly here in the author's account of the exploits of war heroes Manfred von Richthofen and Eddie Rickenbacker. Scott's history ends in 1919 with the first transatlantic flight. This account of man's romance with flight doesn't break any new ground but offers a good grounding in the field as well as thoughts to ponder about the impact of aviation on modern life.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley