Imagining Flight: Aviation and Popular Culture

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The history of the air age has mostly been written from the perspective of aircraft designers, builders, and pilots.

Imagining Flight is a history of the air age as the rest of us have experienced it: on the pages of books, the screens of movie theaters, and the front pages of newspaper—and in airline cabins during peacetime and bomb shelters during wartime. It is a book about the ways in which people outside the aviation business have looked at, dreamed about, and worried over powered flight in the century since the Wright brothers first showed a startled world that it was possible.

Imagining Flight focuses on the United States, but also contrasts American ideas and attitudes with those of other air-minded nations, including Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. Among the topics covered are: dreams of aviation’s future, from the Wright brothers to the space shuttle; pilots as heroes, including Lindbergh, Earhart, Yeager, and the “Red Baron”; the promise (and threat) of aerial bombing; five decades of airline advertising and the changing expectations it created; aviation disasters, and the stories we tell about them; and flight in film and television, stories and songs.

Imagining Flight carries these themes into the twenty-first century and considers them in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Columbia disaster. It is thus the first book to explore the entire first century of flight through the eyes of those who watched it from the ground.

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Editorial Reviews

William Trimble

“Adds to the literature on the social and cultural meaning of technology in the twentieth century . . . fits the external world very well and provides a good sampling of reasons how and why Americans moved away from the idea of progress.”--William Trimble, Auburn University
Technology and Culture
"It is an ambitious project . . . The value of Van Riper's book derives from his ability to cover a wide swath of material succinctly. Imagining Flight will introduce readers new to the field of aviation history to material that has great relevancy for the history of technology in general."
reviewed by Anne Collins Goodyear, assistant curator of prints and drawings at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585443000
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2003
  • Series: Centennial of Flight Series, #7
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

A. Bowdoin Van Riper is a historian of science and technology who teaches at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. He is also the author of Men Among the Mammoths (1993), Science in Popular Culture (2002), as well as numerous articles on the histories of geology, archaeology, and aerospace technology. He took his first airplane ride at the age of five, and has been looking up ever since.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Terminology
Introduction 3
Ch. 1 Imagining the Air Age 11
Ch. 2 Pilots as National Heroes 33
Ch. 3 Death from Above 61
Ch. 4 The Allure of Air Travel 83
Ch. 5 Crashes and Other Catastrophes 109
Ch. 6 Wings into Space 131
Conclusion 153
Notes 159
Bibliographic Essay 189
Index 195
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