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This book tells the story of the conquest of the Atlantic Ocean—the linking of the New World and the Old—by aircraft. Here is a survey of the many pioneering flights—both successful and failed—that were made by both Americans and Europeans, men and women, even some children (though not themselves at the controls), since the quest to fly across the North Atlantic began in 1873. This presentation hopes to capture, by words and photographs (many previously unpublished), an age when pilots took their wood-and-fabric airplanes into the skies, braving storms and darkness, when 200 miles per hour was considered an amazingly fast speed.
The sailing ship had been in existence for thousands of years before seamen were able to navigate safely across the North Atlantic. Yet, only sixteen years after the invention of the airplane aviators successfully crossed the water from North America to the British Isles. The big push had begun after World War I, as aviators vied with each other to conquer oceans and set new records. During the 1920s, optimism and confidence were in the air, even though the challenge posed by the wide Atlantic was not an easy one. Pilots were the great individualists, ready, willing, and able to strike out on their own to dare the unknown. They were often romantic, brave, headstrong, and, yes, reckless, even slightly mad. But the technology was there: Airplanes were capable—in theory, at least—of flying directly from North America to Europe. Flying the other way, from east to west against often daunting head winds, was a more doubtful proposition.
During this period people, especially Americans, were air-minded, eager to celebrate any new triumph in the skies. So it was that the unswerving determination and singularity of purpose embodied by young Charles Lindbergh fired the public's enthusiasm like nothing else. Lindy's careful planning, skillful navigation, and above all the fact that he did what he set out to do—by himself—was enough to turn him into one of the great heroes of the 20th century. The excitement and hoopla came to Lindbergh—he did not seek it. This book not only captures the thrill of achievement and progress that accompanied his flight, but it also puts the man and his flight into proper historical perspective. He wasn't the first or last to fly across the great ocean, but he was surely the most memorable.
Although this book captures the color, the flavor, and the triumphs of early aviation, its focus is squarely on the North Atlantic. This crossing was the one that had the most impact around the world because it linked the United States and Europe, where the big-city newspapers and other publicity machines were capable of turning unknowns into heroes. Flights across the South Atlantic were not covered nearly as much, and this emphasis, or lack thereof, is echoed on these pages. The availability of photographs has had no small influence on our coverage as well. Flights that took off from New York or London or Paris attracted far more reporters and photographers than those from smaller cities.
By 1939 the pioneering period of Atlantic flight was over. Regular airline service had begun, and the giant, luxurious airliners were attracting passengers in ever greater numbers. Today, over sixty years later, transatlantic air travel is routine. News is made only when something goes wrong with a flight. So, the next time you are sitting in a jumbo jet cruising over the Atlantic at more than 600 miles per hour, give a thought to the Atlantic pioneers—those who made it and those who did not. Their stories are told in these pages. You would not be flying the Atlantic today had so many brave men and women not been determined to be among the first to make the long and perilous journey on their own.
Excerpted from Transatlantic Flight by Joshua Stoff. Copyright © 2000 Joshua Stoff. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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