Chasing Icarus: The Seventeen Days in 1910 That Forever Changed American Aviation by Gavin Mortimer | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Chasing Icarus: The Seventeen Days in 1910 That Forever Changed American Aviation

Chasing Icarus: The Seventeen Days in 1910 That Forever Changed American Aviation

by Gavin Mortimer
     
 

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A dramatic chronicle of a pivotal moment in the history of aviation.

By 1910—seven years after the Wright brothers first lifted a plane off the ground at Kitty Hawk—America and the world were transfixed by the danger and challenge of mastering the air. Yet which form of flight would predominate was far from

Overview

A dramatic chronicle of a pivotal moment in the history of aviation.

By 1910—seven years after the Wright brothers first lifted a plane off the ground at Kitty Hawk—America and the world were transfixed by the danger and challenge of mastering the air. Yet which form of flight would predominate was far from clear—dirigibles, balloons, and airplanes all had their passionate advocates. Emblematic of this uncertainty, the precursor of the U .S. Air Force owned one plane and two dirigibles.

During the seventeen days in October 1910 that Gavin Mortimer vividly recounts in Chasing Icarus, the question of primacy in the air was on full display, after which the future of aviation was never in doubt. The great dirigible America, captained by Walter Wellman, lifted off from New Jersey and for several turbulent days attempted to be the first flying machine to cross the Atlantic. From St. Louis, ballooning teams from around the world took off in pursuit of the Gordon Bennett I nternational Balloon Cup, given to the team that traveled the farthest distance, with a denouement featuring Americans Alan Hawley and Augustus Post that would stun the country. And at the famed racetrack at Belmont Park, New Y ork, huge crowds gathered to watch airplane pilots race above the oval and attempt to set speed, altitude, and distance records. Newspapers everywhere, even in the smallest of towns, made headlines of the results, and the public treated all aviators as matinee idols.

Interweaving the dramatic narratives of these three astonishing events, bringing to life powerful personalities (the ruthlessly competitive Wright brothers, the debonair Englishman Claude Grahame-White, the ultra-confident John Moisant), Gavin Mortimer reveals the pioneers of flight as fitting descendants of the legendary Icarus, risking all in pursuit of glory. Chasing Icarus captures both a pivotal moment in the history of aviation and the end of the gilded era that would soon descend into the devastation of World War I ; indeed, within four years dogfights over France had replaced air shows.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

British author Mortimer (The Great Swim) persuasively argues that three aeronautic events in 1910 vouchsafed the primacy of U.S. aviation and the triumph of heavier-than-air flight. Interweaving the events-Walter Wellman's failed attempt to cross the Atlantic in his dirigible, America; the International Balloon Cup Race, which embarked from St. Louis; and the country's first international aircraft contest, held above the Belmont Park racetrack in New York-Mortimer effectively places the reader at the vital center of all three. He enlivens the narrative with interesting details, such as navy department opposition to aviation as a military application and the flying records set and lost daily at Belmont Park. The author excels in depicting both the pilots and the New York City society swells attracted to aerobatic thrills, and he takes a dim view of the Wright Brothers at Belmont Park, portraying them as greedy entrepreneurs who devoted as much time looking for possible patent infringers as offering honest competition to their peers. His evocative final chapter outlines the advances in aviation and its cost in lives. A singular contribution to early aviation history.
—John Carver Edwards

Kirkus Reviews
Mortimer (The Great Swim, 2008, etc.) chronicles a pivotal moment in the history of aviation. Seven years after the Wright brothers' famed Kitty Hawk flight, it was unclear whether the future lay in dirigibles, balloons or airplanes. The author looks at three events in October 1910 that tested the mettle of each technology: Walter Wellman's attempt to fly the America from New Jersey to England; the competition among airplane fliers (the word "pilot" was not yet in use) for the International Aviation Cup, held in Long Island; and the contest to see which balloonist could travel the farthest distance from St. Louis, Mo. The America flew about 1,000 miles, the longest trip ever for a dirigible, before crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, and balloonists Alan Hawley and Augustus Post covered more than 1,200 miles from Missouri to the woods of Quebec. Above Belmont Park, N.Y., however, fliers demonstrated the airplane's superior speed and maneuverability. Flying planes was undeniably dangerous-several men died in accidents during the competition-but the amazing show guaranteed that the airplane would dominate aviation from then on. Mortimer expertly interweaves the three stories, vivifying each event with a riveting combination of historical detail and novelistic suspense. He does especially fine work in rendering Hawley and Post's ordeal after their balloon went down; lost in the Canadian forest, the men were faced with brutal weather and dwindling food supplies. Mortimer also paints an unforgettable portrait of roguish British flier Claude Grahame-White, famed for daredevil exploits and a rakish manner, and deftly portrays the famed Wright brothers as mean, petty and litigious. Enjoyable,accessible technological history, further enlivened by colorful character sketches of some of the most interesting figures in the early days of flying.
From the Publisher

“Mortimer brings to life these early aeronautic pioneers and gives us a unique insight into the public's love affair with aviation at the dawn of it's Golden Age.” —Ballooning magazine

“Mortimer weaves his story among the fates of the America, the balloon racers and the aviators who wowed the crowd at Belmont. The result is a fascinating mix of adventure, friendly competition, bitter rivalry, and even celebrity gossip.” —BookPage

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802719935
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
07/06/2010
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Gavin Mortimer is the author of The Great Swim. He has written for a wide range of publications, from Esquire to the Daily Telegraph, from BBC History to the Observer. A long distance swimmer, he lives in the south of France.

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