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STEPS NECESSARY FOR PROGRESS IN AVIATION
W. IRVING CHAMBERS
Captain, U. S. Nar'y
The recent death of Wilbur Wright deprives aviation of one of its safest guides. His sterling qualities distinguished him, not only as a pioneer, but also as one endowed with the sane characteristics that should predominate among those upon whom we rely for counsel in developing the art of Aving. He impressed me from the first as one whose judgment and intuition would never lead him astray in flying. This head was not turned by the prophesies of those whose inclination was to get ahead of the art, - those, for example, who proclaimed that the only thing necessary to make a board or machine without wings fly was to give it sufficient speed.
To those who based their hopes and their prophesies on the rapid development of high speed, he did not hesitate, at the risk of popular disapproval, to point out the limits of safety and to advocate moderation, caution, and conservatism. His intuition and his experience taught him that sane progress depended greatly, not alone upon the improvement of the fundamental parts of the machine, but upon such mechanical accessories as might be used in the automatic preservation of balance.
From a conversation with him last winter, I know that, although he deplored the tendency to place aviation in the category of gymnastics, he had ubounded faith in the future usefulness of aviation, and that he based his hopes greatly upon the general use of such mechanical devices for the automatic preservation of balance as the one he was engaged in perfecting. In my recent endeavors to focus attention upon this phase of aviation, I have quoted freely from certain French 'articles, for 1 find that the subject of safety in flight very properly continues to be a live issue in France.
The following extracts from a recent article by “A Superior Officer" in "La Technique Aeronautique," seem to vindicate the foresight of Wilbur Wright and serve to show that these leaders in aviation are not altogether lacking in conservatism:
Much comment has been made on the projected military aeronautic laws and their application, and the use of the sums voted. The respective merits of the biplane and the monoplane have been discussed and the work that a general in command may confide to aeroplanes has been established.
To some, the conquest of the air appears as a decoy; others apparently believe that it is destined to anniliilate all previous conceptions, and even to revolutionize all means of activity.
We propose here to depart from the extreme views, which are always interesting and often authentic, and to
focus our attention upon several specific points of importance.
First: What number of aeroplanes is regarded as indispensable to military aviation, and on what number of pilots can we count? Those who see in aviation a fourthi or a fifth arm to rank in importance and be compared with the infantry, the artillery, the cavalry, and the engineers, instead of being regarded for special service only, like the General Staff, do not hesitate to look for thousands. For example, in one of the studies by M. Gabriel Bonvalot, we read that, in order to realize thie fondest hopes based upon military aviation, it will be necessary to have always at hand about fifteen thousand aeroplanes, divided among our army corps, fortified places, colonies, and military posts.
But suppose we have them, who will do the piloting?
Another writer, General Cherfils, justly replies that so long as aviation is not as practicable as boating, as railroading, as motoring, and so long as it entails grave risks in addition to the usual risks of war, just so long it will remain the prerogative of a restricted class, the élite of heroism.
In order to avoid exaggeration, let iis quote the specially authoritative declaration and figures given in the Senate by a notable partisan of aviation, Senator Raymond, who is himself an aviator:
Officially we have only one hundred and thirty-nine pilots, plus eighty-two students. But most of these one hundred and thirty-nine have merely obtained their first license. This does not signify more than that they have not yet passed the military requirements. They will become marvelous aviators, perhaps. To-day no one can define the exact qualities required of an aviation officer. Of the seventy-three pilots who have obtained the brevet of military aviator, four are dead and six are civilians; and of the latter only two are officers of reserves. I think I am not mistaken in attirming that we have actually available for mobilization only fifty military aviators who are able to render the desired service.
This is a far call from the number quoted above. Granting that it is necessary to possess many more machines than pilots, a proportion of fifteen thousand to fifty is inadmissible.
Assuredly, reservist aviators would be able to pilot some of the mobilized war machines, but we should avoid exaggerating the reliance that can be placed on them in time of war.
The duties of an aviator, to-day, require special qualities of the very first order, - coolness, audacity and endurance, combined with skill. There are many officers who possess the normal requirements of physical apti
can be produced, and the military authorities have voluntarily established a post-graduate course or military brevet, open to all civilians as well as military birdmen. The result is such as to require immediate steps for making the requirements more exacting.
But should we not pause in this uncertain path? Is it necessary to increase the difficulties of the aviator in obtaining his license, in order to obtain further progress?
Surely individual courage and strenuous instruction can produce miracles of physical prowess. These miracles have been realized, but all that can be attained in the matter of courage and instruction is to develop to their limits the natural gifts of man.
Now, the natural gifts required of this corps d'élite are too rare to provide us with a sufficient number of pilots, and this is the naked truth.
It is very apparent that we exact too much of the aviator and not enough of the machine and of nature. Our principal efforts should be directed towards perfecting the aeroplane itself. If we wish to conquer the air and to obtain a sufficient number of pilots to be masters in this realm, it is obligatory to improve, at whatever the cost, the stability and the mechanical control of the apparatus, and to do this as soon as possible. Inherent stability and automatic balance are the two vital questions in the present state of aviation. The better the one, the better the other, and all the greater the common result in the end.
We possess aviators who love their art and who never think of danger. It is for us to protect them against themselves. They use such machines as they have, regardless of deficiencies, and whether they have confidence in the mechanism or not. It is for us to assunie some of the responsibility and to assure them at least the minimum of safety.
This is not alone a question of humanity, although that view is sufficient to justify all the initiative recommended; it is also an absolute condition upon which the future progress of aviation depends. It is truly the great question of the future.
-La Technique Aeronautique.
tude for aviation who would, nevertheless, not make good aviators; but we are willing to admit that about fifty out of every one hundred will be able to obtain the military brevet. If, then, we require one thousand pilots in time of war, it will mean the process of instruction for twice that number; or, to obtain two hundred and fifty (a quarter of the requirement), it will be necessary to have five hundred under instruction. Now, an annual contingent of five hundred student aviators seems large enough to constitute a maximum. And of the one thousand pilots breveted, how many will be capable of executing raids of five hundred km. without stopping and with a passenger? How many would be able to make a flight of three hundred km., even in moderate weather?
We should not lose sight of the tremendous effort that is required by a continuous voyage of five or six hours, without a minute of rest.
General Roget says:
During these long hours the pilot will have his nerves in constant tension by his preoccupation with the atmospheric disturbances and with irregularities in the performance of his motor. His muscles will be taxed by the control of the rudders, which will be difficult to manage in proportion to the increase in weight: his eyes will be inflamed by the wind; his ears deafened by the noise; and his body stiffened by the cold. The chances of accident will be augmented by fatigue and by the thought of the serious consequences attendant upon a possible failure in his mission.
What is the remedy? Give the pilot greater security and reduce to a minimum the nervous tension provoked by the present gymnastics added to the constant apprehension of an unknown peril.
Someone has calculated that if the present proportion of accidents is maintained, about fifteen per cent of aviators will pay by their lives for the simple honor of belonging to this corps d'élite, without counting the casualties of war, which should be about the only risks that are necessary.
Our chief aim seems to have been, thus far, to perfect the pilot. We have been concerned mostly with obtaining, by the process of selection, the best men in the greatest numbers, and financial efforts have been directed in
In 1910, the aviation schools were largely devoted to civilians. In the beginning of 1911, there were a few more military men instructed than civilians ; and at the end of the year, the civilian element had become a rarity.
The successful men who have gained their reputation by flying for records constitute the best birdmen that