Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity through the First World War

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The invention of flight represents the culmination of centuries of thought and desire. Kites and rockets sparked our collective imagination. Then the balloon gave humanity its first experience aloft, though at the mercy of the winds. The steerable airship that followed had more practicality, yet a number of insurmountable limitations. But the airplane truly launched the Aerial Age, and its subsequent impact--from the vantage of a century after the Wright Brother's historic ...
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The invention of flight represents the culmination of centuries of thought and desire. Kites and rockets sparked our collective imagination. Then the balloon gave humanity its first experience aloft, though at the mercy of the winds. The steerable airship that followed had more practicality, yet a number of insurmountable limitations. But the airplane truly launched the Aerial Age, and its subsequent impact--from the vantage of a century after the Wright Brother's historic flight on December 17, 1903--has been extraordinary.
Richard Hallion, a distinguished international authority on aviation, offers a bold new examination of aircraft history, stressing its global roots. The result is an interpretive history of uncommon sweep, complexity, and warmth. Taking care to place each technological advance in the context of its own period as well as that of the evolving era of air travel, this ground-breaking work follows the pre-history of flight, the work of balloon and airship advocates, fruitless early attempts to invent the airplane, the Wright brothers and other pioneers, the impact of air power on the outcome of World War I, and finally the transfer of prophecy into practice as flight came to play an ever-more important role in world affairs, both military and civil.
Making extensive use of extracts from the journals, diaries, and memoirs of the pioneers themselves, and interspersing them with a wide range or rare photographs and drawings, Taking Flight leads readers to the laboratories and airfields where aircraft were conceived and tested. Forcefully yet gracefully written in rich detail and with thorough documentation, this book is certain to be the standard reference for years to come on how humanity came to take to the sky, and what the Aerial Age has meant to the world since da Vinci's first fantastical designs.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Comprehensive and balanced... Hallion's account offers convincing support for his conclusion 'that had the Wrights never lived, the airplaine would have been invented in Europe, in all likelihood France, by the year 1910. It seems probably that many other technological breakthroughs are similarly characterized by a limited scope of contingency--an aspect worth remembering during celebrations of their anniversaries."--Science

"One of those truly wonderful historical studies that is not only thorough, informed, and completely reliable, but also a joy to read. Richard Hallion has made an important contribution to aviation history while offering a rare gift to readers everywhere."--Reeve Lindbergh

"A singular accomplishment in the study of the history of aviation, and technology in general. This wonderfully insightful book from our foremost historian of flight should be required reading for all students of aerospace engineering, the history of technology, and those who are simply enamored with the notion of flight."--Mark Lewis, A. J. Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland

"Masterful.... Dick Hallion is the best."--Michael Collins, astronaut and former Director, National Air & Space Museum

"Anyone who has ever tried to defy gravity--whether as an aerospace engineer or as a passenger in seat 36B on a commercial airliner--will find this extraordinary book exciting and uplifting. It proves once again that truth is more fascinating than fiction. It is a must read."--Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation

"Any reader of Taking Flight is in good hands. Hallion writes with a confidence born of long labor in the vineyard, and the result is a tour of the years that encompasses the beginnings of human flight narrated by the best guide imaginable. Prepare to shed your biases and watch as myths explode before you, one by one."--George C. Larson, Editor, Air & Space Magazine

"Quality writing and solid research combine to make Hallion's study a major contribution to the centennial of the Wright brothers' landmark achievement."--Library Journal

"Hallion, an international authority on aviation, draws on journals, diaries, and memoirs of aviation pioneers.... Filled with rare photographs and drawings, a decisive work on the history of flying."--Booklist

"Comprehensive and balanced."--Science

The Los Angeles Times
Tales of the exploits of the Wrights, Sikorsky and their many competitors form the fascinating core of Taking Flight, a comprehensive history of the Aerial Age by Richard P. Hallion, a professor of aerospace history formerly associated with the U.S. Army War College and the Smithsonian Institution. Hallion's command of his material is as breathtaking as the feats of the early jumpers, gliders and aviators he writes about, and his book is enlivened by an argosy of great stories and colorful, pithy quotes culled from a lifetime's study. — Jamie James
Publishers Weekly
Flight author and former Air Force Historian Hallion has produced an expertly written single-volume history of flight, from Icarus and Daedalus to England's twin-engine "Bloody Paralyser" of WWI, that has the potential to become the standard work on the subject. The book's strength comes from its deft reconsideration of flight within a much broader context than other historians placed it-i.e., "the context of prevailing social, cultural, technological, scientific, political, and military history." Aided by numerous illustrations and archival photographs, Hallion's analysis is artful, and his writing consistently clear, whether the subject is the Chinese kite of the second century, the technical accomplishments of Enlightenment designers, the dominance of balloons and airships in the 18th and 19th centuries, the development of American and European aeronautics, or the crucial incorporation of flight technology by the military. Along with profiles of major figures such as the Wright Brothers and Octave Chanute, Hallion takes care to bring to light lesser-known figures such as Sir George Cayley, "the first of the modern pioneers" of aviation, whose airships and the publicity surrounding them, Hallion expertly notes, were the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe's "Balloon Hoax." Hallion's efforts to debunk some of flight history's myths occasionally seem unnecessary, such as his explanation that the Wright Brothers did not work in isolation from their contemporaries (a notion already deflated by T. A. Heppenheimer's First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane). But the bulk of this valuable work should stand the test of time. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hallion, a former Air Force historian and one of the founding curators of the National Air & Space Museum, posits that there are seven distinct phases to the invention of flight, and he frames this broad and highly interpretative survey around them, moving from the prehistory of human flight in antiquity through the Enlightenment to the Wrights' initial success at Kitty Hawk and, ultimately, the predominant role of the airplane in current world affairs. A persuasive afterword explores the continuing history of flight in a post-9/11 world of terrorism and the airplane's awesome capacity for good or evil. Quality writing and solid research combine to make Hallion's study a major contribution to the centennial of the Wright brothers' landmark achievement. Of recent centennial histories, Hallion's takes pretty much the same approach as T.A. Heppenheimer's First Flight, James Tobin's To Conquer the Air, and Tom D. Crouch and Peter L. Jakabs's The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age: Basically, all four books show that the Wrights were not flash-in-the-pan yokels who simply stumbled on the mystery of flight but instead owed some of their success to the research of others. In particular, they show that the brothers understood the dynamics of aeronautical control as a result of their work as bicycle builders. Heppenheimer, Tobin, and Hallion further argue (correctly) that the Wrights' forerunners and contemporary airmen lacked appreciation for this dimension of flight, instead attempting to muscle their craft through the sky with powerful engines (for the day). While Heppenheimer and Tobin dig deeply into the Wrights' background and unusual family atmosphere, Hallion is distinctive in providing extensive historical context. A fine introduction to the history of flight, his work is recommended for all aeronautical and history of science collections in both public and academic libraries.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195160352
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Pages: 531
  • Product dimensions: 9.90 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 1.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Author of numerous award-winning books and formerly the Air Force Historian, Richard Hallion teaches widely at American and foreign universities and defense colleges. He has gained flying experience as a mission observer in a wide range of civil and military aircraft, served as a NASA historian, and in 1974, joined the Smithsonian Institution as one of the founding curators of the National Air and Space Museum.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: From Myth to Machine
Pt. 1 Preparing the Way: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment
Ch. 1 Of Dreams and Desires 3
Ch. 2 Conflicting Ideas and Societies 24
Pt. 2 Ethereal Flight: Inventing the Balloon and Airship, 1782-1900
Ch. 3 The Astonishing Year 47
Ch. 4 Exploiting the Balloon 61
Ch. 5 The Quest for Steerable Flight 81
Pt. 3 Winged Flight: Early Conceptions of the Airplane, 1792-1903
Ch. 6 Sir George Cayley and the Birth of Aeronautics 101
Ch. 7 The Frustrated Hopes of French Aeronautics 120
Ch. 8 The Anglo-American School of Power and Lift 138
Pt. 4 The Airmen Triumphant: Lilienthal, Chanute, and the Wrights, 1891-1905
Ch. 9 The Lilienthal Legacy 161
Ch. 10 Enter the Wrights 178
Ch. 11 "They Done It, Done It, Damned If They Ain't Flew!" 193
Pt. 5 Europe Resurgent, 1905-1909
Ch. 12 "L'affaire Wright" 213
Ch. 13 "The Flying Industry Is Already Born" 234
Ch. 14 "The Age of Flight Is the Age We Live In" 250
Pt. 6 Expansion, Incorporation, Maturation: Beginning the Aerial Age, 1910-1914
Ch. 15 Global Expansion 271
Ch. 16 The Loss of Innocence 296
Ch. 17 Triumphs of Speed and Distance 316
Pt. 7 Tennyson Fulfilled: Putting Prophecy into Practice, 1914 and Afterwards
Ch. 18 Into the Whirlwind 335
Ch. 19 Grappling in the Central Blue 349
Ch. 20 Reflections on the Beginning of the Aerial Age 380
Afterword: Technology of Light or Technology of Darkness?: Considering Flight after 9/11/01 405
Acknowledgments 413
References 415
Index 505
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 26, 2010

    Hallion gets it Right!

    I wish to share my thoughts here on Richard Hallion's 2003 book "Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity to the First World War, in the hope that those who wish to continue said debate may read it and draw the same conclusions from it that I have.

    Drawing from numerous sources (nearly one-fifth of the book's 531 pages are bibliographic notes) , Hallion outlines Mankind's quest for flight from the earliest notions (mythological, religious). He then meticulously moves into the scientific explorations, careful to separate the Aerostatic (balloon, airships) from the Aerodynamic (gliders, aircraft), but keeping a well-written chronological pace. Hallion never forgets to introduce us to the individuals responsible for both Aviation's advancement and its regression. Such introductions never fail to be pleasant reading: his description of the embryonic Aeronautical Society (of Great Britain) led me to imagine such distinguished gentlemen feeling most at home contributing to Internet forums.

    Hallion-in it's due time- documents Wilbur and Orville's arrival on the world aviation stage: their eventual success in the manned flight triptych (powered, sustained, controlled), and the legal battle with Glenn Curtiss. Unfortunately, most (though not all) previous reviews of this book tend to dwell heavily on this section, overlooking (in my opinion), the wider scope and overall theme. While every individual should have their due recognition, the epic which is Flight is, and will always be, one of the grandest Human endeavors; transcending nationalities and borders, and continually building on what has gone before.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2008

    Perhaps the best overview of early aviation

    This is the most complete review of early aviation that I have seen. It is written at a high intellectual level and at the same time includes wonderful details of the stories of aviation pioneers. It maintains a perspective and a balance of the significance of each development of powered flight. A joy to read and a satisfying learning experience for the aviation buff.

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