formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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August 11, 2015 Slaves of the Weather

The Liberty Gazette
August 11, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda : Seven young girls sat in a row at the long table in one of the rooms of the historic 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. Representing three different girls’ scouting groups, and one from OBAP (Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals), the 13-17 year olds had come to spend their Saturday at Future Female Aviators, hosted by the museum. Mike and I had prepared our presentations, an introduction and overview of aviation, and a section on reading aeronautical charts. These girls are amazing! Smart, talented, interesting, attentive, and fun, they were born in an era where the doubt, if there be any, as to the future of commercial aviation, is largely due to the pollution of lawyers, politicians, and the TSA. And drones. But they know nothing of the dark side yet.

How silly it might seem to them if they were to read the debate between British Royal Navy Chief, Captain Alfred Dewar, and United States Navy Admiral Richard Byrd that addressed the question of whether there was any future for aviation, and specifically for commercializing aviation. How could these girls even imagine such a world where that was the question?

When Isaac Leopold Rice founded The Forum in 1885, the magazine that would rank as one of the most popular rags of its 65-year run, competing against Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Magazine, he couldn’t have known that specific debate would be played out in his publication 43 years later. How could he even imagine such a world where that was the question?

Rice’s periodical gave space to social and political commentary, fluctuating over the years as the tides of consumer interest would change, with some leanings toward poetry and short fiction for a time. But this issue, August of 1928, came out the year after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean in the "Spirit of St. Louis", making this debate a perfect fit for his journal.

The Brit, Captain Dewar, presented that the airplane could never deliver reliable, efficient transport and would always be, at it’s very best, "an auxiliary to sea transport." Consumers, he thought, wouldn’t go for the high price of air travel. He’d be blown away by consumers’ reactions to today’s electronic devices. But then again, he totally nailed the Apple crowd: "Every new instrument of man’s invention attracts around it a ring of ardent passionate enthusiasts who paint its future in roseate optimistic hues."

Dewar perceived the economic limitations equal to the limits of natural law, e.g., gravity. That planes must be able to lift their weight plus their load he said was a staggering handicap because ships and trains only had to rely on their engines for propulsion, whereas airplanes were "slaves of the weather" that would have some place in our lives, but not an important place. So the pioneering flights such as Lindbergh’s were, to Dewar, "merely a token of the stern limitations which beset them."

"There is no large and growing future for commercial aviation," he insisted, "because the future will never be much more than the present."

But consider this: Dewar’s own visionary limitations were his real issue. His own myopic handicap limited him to consider only 1,155 horsepower, capable of traveling two hundred miles with fourteen passengers and seven hundred pounds of freight: approximately three pounds of paying load to the horsepower. No wonder he believed air travel was inferior and would never be more than an emergency or supplementary means of movement. His opponents he labeled partisans and the airplane, he said, was well within sight of its zenith; it would carry mail and "those few passengers whom necessity impels to save time at the expense of comfort." Well, he got that last part right at least, when it comes to airlines.

And then there’s Admiral Byrd’s rebuttal. We’ll have that for you next week, but here’s a tease: "When American business joins hands with American aviation, the future of flying is assured." Til then, blue skies.

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