On Glorious Wings: The Best Flying Stories of the Century

On Glorious Wings: The Best Flying Stories of the Century

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by Stephen Coonts
     
 

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Since its invention in 1903, the airplane has become the dominant mode of transport, travel, and combat. It has brought the entire planet closer together and changed almost every aspect of how we live today.

Along the way, the airplane has inspired writers in every decade of the twentieth century to celebrate this world-changing creation. From the wild first

Overview

Since its invention in 1903, the airplane has become the dominant mode of transport, travel, and combat. It has brought the entire planet closer together and changed almost every aspect of how we live today.

Along the way, the airplane has inspired writers in every decade of the twentieth century to celebrate this world-changing creation. From the wild first years of aviation when daredevil men challenged each other to set altitude records to the terrible three-dimensional landscape of combat in the air through all the wars of this century, authors from around the world have written of the airplanes and the men and women who fly them.

Now, bestselling author Stephen Coonts has collected some of the finest fiction about flying in one volume. On Glorious Wings contains stories and excerpts from world-renowned authors, including Dale Brown, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Louis L'Amour, James Michener, Joseph Heller, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth, William Faulkner, Ralph Peters and Stephen Coonts himself. From the rickety wire-and-wood contraptions of the 1920s to the possible future of warfare in 2020, this collection invites you to take to the skies with some of today's most acclaimed authors, including:

"Five Weeks in a Balloon" by Jules Verne: Take a fanciful trip through the air as imagined by one of the great authors of the nineteenth century.

"All of the Dead Pilots" by William Faulkner: One of America's greatest storytellers looks at Britain in World War II, where a brash American pilot and an unflappable British officer clash over the same woman.

"Wings over Khabarovsk" by Louis L'Amour: The great Western writer also penned many tales for the pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s, including this classic of the genre about an American pilot framed for spying on the far side of the world.

"An Hour to San Francisco," from The High and the Mighty, by Ernest K. Gann: When a four-engine plane loses an engine over the Pacific Ocean, what had been an uneventful trip becomes a white-knuckle race for survival.

"Corey Ford Buys the Farm," from Flight of the Intruder, by Stephen Coonts: During the Vietnam Conflict, pilots took lightly armed A-6 Intruders on harrowing near-suicide missions against the North Vietnamese army. Here, the master of the military thriller takes you along for the ride inside the cockpit as three Intruders head out to destroy some Russian MiG fighters grounded in Laos.

"Power River MOA," from The Sky Masters, by Dale Brown: At the Powder River weapons-testing site, the jet fighters may fire blanks, but the air combat simulations are as real as can be. Strap yourself in for a ride in the latest in bomber technology-the EB-52 Megafortress.

"Retaliation," from The War in 2020, by Ralph Peters: In the near future, America is threatened by a joint Iran-Japan military force that threatens the Middle East and Europe. Saddle up with the high-tech, hard-hitting cavalry soldiers of the future and their armored, fire-breathing future flying machines as they take to the air to raid on an enemy base.

With an introduction and story notes written by Stephen Coonts, On Glorious Wings is a must-have for any aviation enthusiast.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Coonts] celebrates the centenary of the Wright brothers' invention with...some buckle your seat belts and open your mind flying fiction."—-The Dallas Morning News

 

"This book will undoubtedly attract readers."—-Booklist

 

" For armchair pilots, love at first sight." —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The flyboy talespinner takes a break between bouts of aerial combat (Liberty, 2003, etc.) to assemble 23 novel excerpts, stories, and pop fragments for those with their hearts in the clouds. The "one tangible symbol" of the last century, Coonts says, is the "airplane. No invention in the history of our species has had a greater impact on human life." We can forgive some preaching diverted in this companion to Coonts’s nonfiction War in the Air: True Accounts of the 20th Century’s Most Dramatic Air Battles (1996). Few of the selections are concerned with the "impact" of the airplane on life because Coonts has excluded science-fictionists, who wrote so much about the effect of early flight technology on society. We do get Jules Verne, whose "Five Days in a Balloon" is a lackluster choice considering the more interesting events that occurred on a vast papier-mâché airplane Verne prophesied in Master of the World. The rest here offer superior accounts of flight or aerial warfare (the best from John Hersey’s The War Hunter, Jack Hunter’s The Blue Max, Ernest Gann’s The High and The Mighty, and Coonts’s own excerpt from Flight of the Intruder) as opposed to tales that use the new powered flight to retell old stories: the horrors of war (a morsel from Catch-22 as well as Faulkner’s "All the Dead Pilots") and the nobility of combat (Dale Brown, Ralph Peters, and others). Snippets from Kipling, Michener, Len Deighton, and Louis L’Amour indicate that they, too, wrote about flying. Most embarrassing is Conan Doyle’s deathless "Horror of the Heights," about monsters lurking in the clouds. Most interesting are three marvelous pop-culture fragments: "Bill’s First Airplane Ride," by Major Henry Arnold;an unattributed glimpse of the adventures of pulp magazine superspy G-8; and Edgar Allan Poe’s fabricated account of a transatlantic balloon race, a story that was believed—for a while—when published in 1844. For armchair pilots, love at first flight. Agent: Robert Gottlieb/Trident Media
The Dallas Morning News
"[Coonts] celebrates the centenary of the Wright brothers' invention with...some buckle your seat belts and open your mind flying fiction."
Booklist
"This book will undoubtedly attract readers."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312877248
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
10/01/2003
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
464
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.49(d)

Read an Excerpt

On Glorious Wings

The Best Flying Stories Of The Century


By Stephen Coonts

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2003 Stephen Coonts
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-87724-8



CHAPTER 1

THE BALLOON HOAX

by EDGAR ALLAN POE


We begin this volume with two tales written before the dawn of the age of powered flight — one by the great American writer Edgar Allan Poe, the other by the Frenchman Jules Verne.

Like the legions of scribblers who would follow him, Poe was usually desperate for money. In 1844 he wrote and submitted to the New York Sun a story he assured them was absolute fact, and in their haste to be the first to break the story, they paid him and ran the tale as news. Two days later they sheepishly published a retraction. In the interim, of course, they sold a lot of newspapers.

Poe wisely played on the public's fascination with balloons and the widespread sense that someday, perhaps soon, man would conquer the air in the same way he had conquered the sea. If it wasn't true ... well, it ought to be!


Astounding News by Express, via Norfolk! — The Atlantic crossed in Three Days! Signal Triumph of Mr. Monck Mason's Flying Machine! — Arrival at Sullivan's Island, near Charleston, S.C., of Mr. Mason, Mr. Robert Holland, Mr. Henson, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, and four others, in the Steering Balloon, Victoria, after a passage of Seventy-five Hours from Land to Land! Full Particulars of the Voyage!


The great problem is at length solved! The air, as well as the earth and the ocean, has been subdued by science, and will become a common and convenient highway for mankind. The Atlantic has been actually crossed in a Balloon! and this too without difficulty — without any great apparent danger — with thorough control of the machine — and in the inconceivably brief period of seventy-five hours from shore to shore! By the energy of an agent at Charleston, S.C., we are enabled to be the first to furnish the public with a detailed account of this most extraordinary voyage, which was performed between Saturday, the 6th instant, at 11 A.M., and 2 P.M., on Tuesday, the 9th instant, by Sir Everard Bringhurst; Mr. Osborne, a nephew of Lord Bentinck's; Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Robert Holland, the well-known aeronauts; Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, author of Jack Sheppard, &c.; and Mr. Henson, the projector of the late unsuccessful flying machine — with two seamen from Woolwich — in all, eight persons. The particulars furnished below may be relied on as authentic and accurate in every respect, as, with a slight exception, they are copied verbatim from the joint diaries of Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, to whose politeness our agent is also indebted for much verbal information respecting the balloon itself, its construction, and other matters of interest. The only alteration in the MS. received, has been made for the purpose of throwing the hurried account of our agent, Mr. Forsyth, in a connected and intelligible form.


THE BALLOON

Two very decided failures, of late — those of Mr. Henson and Sir George Cayley — had much weakened the public interest in the subject of aerial navigation. Mr. Henson's scheme (which at first was considered very feasible even by men of science), was founded upon the principle of an inclined plane, started from an eminence by an extrinsic force, applied and continued by the revolution of impinging vanes, in form and number resembling the vanes of a windmill. But, in all the experiments made with models at the Adelaide Gallery, it was found that the operation of these fans not only did not propel the machine, but actually impeded its flight. The only propelling force it ever exhibited, was the mere impetus acquired from the descent of the inclined plane; and this impetus carried the machine farther when the vanes were at rest than when they were in motion — a fact which sufficiently demonstrates their inutility; and in the absence of the propelling, which was also the sustaining power, the whole fabric would necessarily descend. This consideration led Sir George Cayley to think only of adapting a propeller to some machine having of itself an independent power of support — in a word, to a balloon; the idea, however, being novel, or original, with Sir George, only so far as regards the mode of its application to practice. He exhibited a model of his invention at the Polytechnic Institution. The propelling principle, or power, was here, also, applied to interrupted surfaces, or vanes, put in revolution. These vanes were four in number, but were found entirely ineffectual in moving the balloon, or in aiding its ascending power. The whole project was thus a complete failure.

It was at this juncture that Mr. Monck Mason (whose voyage from Dover to Weilburg in the balloon, Nassau, occasioned so much excitement in 1837) conceived the idea of employing the principle of the Archimedean screw for the purpose of propulsion through the air — rightly attributing the failure of Mr. Henson's scheme, and of Sir George Cayley's, to the interruption of surface in the independent vanes. He made the first public experiment at Willis's Rooms, but afterwards removed his model to the Adelaide Gallery.

Like Sir George Cayley's balloon, his own was an ellipsoid. Its length was thirteen feet six inches — height, six feet eight inches. It contained about three hundred and twenty cubic feet of gas, which, if pure hydrogen, would support twenty-one pounds upon its first inflation, before the gas has time to deteriorate or escape. The weight of the whole machine and apparatus was seventeen pounds — leaving about four pounds to spare. Beneath the center of the balloon, was a frame of light wood, about nine feet long, and rigged on to the balloon itself with a network in the customary manner. From this framework was suspended a wicker basket or car.

The screw consists of an axis of hollow brass tube, eighteen inches in length, through which, upon a semi-spiral inclined at fifteen degrees, pass a series of steel wire radii, two feet long, and thus projecting a foot on either side. These radii are connected at the outer extremities by two bands of flattened wire — the whole in this manner forming the framework of the screw, which is completed by a covering of oiled silk cut into gores, and tightened so as to present a tolerably uniform surface. At each end of its axis this screw is supported by pillars of hollow brass tube descending from the hoop. In the lower ends of these tubes are holes in which the pivots of the axis revolve. From the end of the axis which is next the car, proceeds a shaft of steel, connecting the screw with the pinion of a piece of spring machinery fixed in the car. By the operation of this spring, the screw is made to revolve with great rapidity, communicating a progressive motion to the whole. By means of the rudder, the machine was readily turned in any direction. The spring was of great power, compared with its dimensions, being capable of raising forty-five pounds upon a barrel of four inches diameter, after the first turn, and gradually increasing as it was wound up. It weighed, altogether, eight pounds six ounces. The rudder was a light frame of cane covered with silk, shaped somewhat like a battledoor, and was about three feet long, and at the widest, one foot. Its weight was about two ounces. It could be turned flat, and directed upwards or downwards, as well as to the right or left; and thus enabled the aeronaut to transfer the resistance of the air which in an inclined position it must generate in its passage, to any side upon which he might desire to act; thus determining the balloon in the opposite direction.

This model (which, through want of time, we have necessarily described in an imperfect manner) was put in action at the Adelaide Gallery, where it accomplished a velocity of five miles per hour; although, strange to say, it excited very little interest in comparison with the previous complex machine of Mr. Henson — so resolute is the world to despise anything which carries with it an air of simplicity. To accomplish the great desideratum of aerial navigation, it was very generally supposed that some exceedingly complicated application must be made of some unusually profound principle in dynamics.

So well satisfied, however, was Mr. Mason of the ultimate success of his invention, that he determined to construct immediately, if possible, a balloon of sufficient capacity to test the question by a voyage of some extent — the original design being to cross the British Channel, as before, in the Nassau balloon. To carry out his views, he solicited and obtained the patronage of Sir Everard Bringhurst and Mr. Osborne, two gentlemen well known for scientific acquirement, and especially for the interest they have exhibited in the progress of aerostation. The project, at the desire of Mr. Osborne, was kept a profound secret from the public — the only persons entrusted with the design being those actually engaged in the construction of the machine, which was built (under the superintendence of Mr. Mason, Mr. Holland, Sir Everard Bringhurst, and Mr. Osborne) at the seat of the latter gentleman near Penstruthal, in Wales. Mr. Henson, accompanied by his friend Mr. Ainsworth, was admitted to a private view of the balloon, on Saturday last — when the two gentlemen made final arrangements to be included in the adventure. We are not informed for what reason the two seamen were also included in the party — but, in the course of a day or two, we shall put our readers in possession of the minutest particulars respecting this extraordinary voyage.

The balloon is composed of silk, varnished with the liquid gum caoutchouc. It is of vast dimensions, containing more than 40,000 cubic feet of gas; but as coal gas was employed in place of the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen, the supporting power of the machine, when fully inflated, and immediately after inflation, is not more than about 2500 pounds. The coal gas is not only much less costly, but is easily procured and managed.

For its introduction into common use for purposes of aerostation, we are indebted to Mr. Charles Green. Up to his discovery, the process of inflation was not only exceedingly expensive, but uncertain. Two, and even three days, have frequently been wasted in futile attempts to procure a sufficiency of hydrogen to fill a balloon, from which it had great tendency to escape owing to its extreme subtlety, and its affinity for the surrounding atmosphere. In a balloon sufficiently perfect to retain its contents of coal gas unaltered, in quality or amount, for six months, an equal quantity of hydrogen could not be maintained in equal purity for six weeks.

The supporting power being estimated at 2500 pounds, and the united weights of the party amounting only to about 1200, there was left a surplus of 1300, of which again 1200 was exhausted by ballast, arranged in bags of different sizes, with their respective weights marked upon them — by cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water casks, cloaks, carpetbags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slacklime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so. All these articles, with the exception of the ballast, and a few trifles, were suspended from the hoop over head. The car is much smaller and lighter, in proportion, than the one appended to the model. It is formed of a light wicker, and is wonderfully strong for so frail-looking a machine. Its rim is about four feet deep. The rudder is also very much larger, in proportion, than that of the model; and the screw is considerably smaller. The balloon is furnished, besides, with a grapnel and a guide-rope; which latter is of the most indispensable importance. A few words, in explanation, will here be necessary for such of our readers as are not conversant with the details of aerostation.

As soon as the balloon quits the earth, it is subjected to the influence of many circumstances tending to create a difference in its weight; augmenting or diminishing its ascending power. For example, there may be a disposition of dew upon the silk, to the extent, even, of several hundred pounds; ballast has then to be thrown out, or the machine may descend. This ballast being discarded, and a clear sunshine evaporating the dew, and at the same time expanding the gas in the silk, the whole will again rapidly ascend. To check this ascent, the only resource is (or rather was, until Mr. Green's invention of the guide rope) the permission of the escape of gas from the valve; but in the loss of gas is a proportionate general loss of ascending power; so that, in a comparatively brief period, the best constructed balloon must necessarily exhaust all its resources, and come to the earth. This was the great obstacle to voyages of length.

The guide rope remedies the difficulty in the simplest manner conceivable. It is merely a very long rope which is suffered to trail from the car, and the effect of which is to prevent the balloon from changing its level in any material degree. If, for example, there should be a deposition of moisture upon the silk, and the machine begins to descend in consequence, there will be no necessity for discharging ballast to remedy the increase of weight, for it is remedied, or counteracted, in an exactly just proportion, by the deposit on the ground of just so much of the end of the rope as is necessary. If, on the other hand, any circumstances should cause undue levity, and consequent ascent, this levity is immediately counteracted by the additional weight of rope upraised from the earth. Thus, the balloon can neither ascend nor descend, except within very narrow limits, and its resources, either in gas or ballast, remain comparatively unimpaired. When passing over an expanse of water, it becomes necessary to employ small kegs of copper or wood, filled with liquid ballast of a lighter nature than water. These float, and serve all the purposes of a mere rope on land. Another most important office of the guide rope, is to point out the direction of the balloon. The rope drags, either on land or sea, while the balloon is free; the latter, consequently, is always in advance, when any progress whatever is made: a comparison, therefore, by means of the compass, of the relative positions of the two objects, will always indicate the course. In the same way, the angle formed by the rope with the vertical axis of the machine, indicates the velocity. When there is no angle — in other words, when the rope hangs perpendicularly, the whole apparatus is stationary; but the larger the angle, that is to say, the farther the balloon precedes the end of the rope, the greater the velocity; and the converse.

As the original design was to cross the British Channel, and alight as near Paris as possible, the voyagers had taken the precaution to prepare themselves with passports directed to all parts of the Continent, specifying the nature of the expedition, as in the case of the Nassau voyage, and entitling the adventurers to exemption from the usual formalities of office: unexpected events, however, rendered these passports superfluous.

The inflation was commenced very quietly at daybreak, on Saturday morning, the 6th instant, in the Court-Yard of Weal-Vor House, Mr. Osborne's seat, about a mile from Penstruthal, in North Wales; and at 7 minutes past 11, everything being ready for departure, the balloon was set free, rising gently but steadily, in a direction nearly south; no use being made, for the first half hour, of either the screw or the rudder. We proceed now with the journal, as transcribed by Mr. Forsyth from the joint MSS. of Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Ainsworth. The body of the journal, as given, is in the handwriting of Mr. Mason, and a P.S. is appended, each day, by Mr. Ainsworth, who has in preparation, and will shortly give the public, a more minute and, no doubt, a thrillingly interesting account of the voyage.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from On Glorious Wings by Stephen Coonts. Copyright © 2003 Stephen Coonts. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Coonts is the author of thirteen New York Times bestselling novels, the first of which was the classic flying tale, Flight of the Intruder, which spent more than six months at the top of The New York Times bestseller list. His novels have been published around the world and translated into more than a dozen languages. He was honored by the U.S. Naval Institute with its Author of the Year Award in 1986. His latest novel is America. He is also the editor of two anthologies, War in the Air and The New York Times bestselling Combat. He resides with his wife, Deborah, in Nevada.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 19, 1946
Place of Birth:
Morgantown, West Virginia
Education:
B.A., West Virginia University, 1968; J.D., University of Colorado, 1979

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On Glorious Wings 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was actually one of the worst anthologies on aviation that i have read in 45 years. The excerpts from full novels weren't bad. the short stories were insipid This is the 1st Stephen Coonts book that I have been sorry I purchased
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Almost all stories have no conclusions. You have to buy the book the stories were extracted from to see how it ends
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