Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
Flying high, against the odds
Early aviators race across Atlantic Ocean
By Diane Makovsky
For The Free Lance-Star
CHARLES Lindbergh figures prominently in the history of aviation, but author Joe Jackson also includes many of the lesser-known major contributors in his interesting account of early aviation, “Atlantic Fever.”
Jackson evokes the frenzied excitement of 1920s aeronautic development, as the world awakened to the potential for long-distance and commercial flight.
This early era of aviation was challenging and risky; it was a time of trial and error. Miscalculations, flawed designs and limited weather predictions were often deadly. And yet, as Jackson skillfully relates, the aviators and their financial supporters were drawn like moths to a flame.
The challenge of flight was irresistible; the early aviators were explorers, heroes and adventurers. They included such famous names as Adm. Byrd, Fonck, Sikorsky, Bellanca, Chamberlin, Bennett and Acosta.
As the possibility of long-distance flight gained credibility, the potential for fame and fortune challenged reason, resulting in great leaps of advancement as well as tragic loss.
In fact, Charles Lindbergh’s record of the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic was the result of a contest. He was one of many entrants vying to win a $25,000 prize offered in 1919 by hotelier Raymond Orteig for the first successful nonstop flight between New York and Paris.
It was truly a race; the early aviators or would-be aviators of the 1920s competed to find backers, aircraft and engine designers, and manufacturers. In addition, finding a crew of experienced pilots and navigators before the industry even existed was truly a challenge.
Every element of the plane, cargo and equipment needed to be customized and tested for the grueling flight. Issues of fuel supply, loaded weight, runway length, weather and even sleep deprivation had to be assessed.
Many who were driven to compete were injured or killed, or simply disappeared over the Atlantic.
Lindbergh, who flew alone, succeeded in 1927 flying a single-engine plane, called the Spirit of St. Louis, nonstop for 33 hours and 30 minutes.
It wasn’t the beginning of aviation history, but the world treated Lindbergh as a hero; he was a young man from the Midwest who embodied the Everyman.
Jackson notes that “in multiple forms and media, one heard of Lindbergh that ‘He could be Me.’”
Modern travelers owe a debt of gratitude to these early aviation pioneers.
Diane Makovsky is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.
By Joe Jackson
(FS&G, $30, 544 pp.)
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