Friday, July 23, 2010

Real Flying Dutchmen

The first man who gave really serious thought to flying across the Atlantic – serious in the sense that he actually built a flying-machine to carry out his intentions - was Glenn H. Curtiss. He decided that his machine must have an enormous radius of action, and to obtain it he considered it necessary not only to increase the size of the airplane, but also to improve its efficiency.

The chief obstacle to an increase of its efficiency was the landing gear. The sheer weight and air resistance of that appendage wasted fuel. But when Curtis considered the crew, particulars their comfort and safety, he went to the other extreme, and decided to turn the landing gear into a vessel as big as a sea-going launch.

The boat or launch proved to be so heavy that before the machine could get into the air it was found necessary to leave behind most of the fuel. Later he adopted the “sea-sled” type of boat. While Curtiss was still experimenting the world war broke out. He sold his experimental craft - the America - to the British Government, which used it very successfully in patrolling the waters around the British Isles.

Curtiss gave to the world a craft that had some of the attributes of both airplane and dirigible, alternately flying and resting on the water. Small flying-boats cannot live on the ocean, and to become relatively seaworthy, seaplanes must have sealed catamaran floats, and the men must be raised high above the waves. Only a mammoth craft, something with a huge hull, something that will transform the flying-boat into a flying galleon, can solve the problem.

These huge flying galleons, as war progress has finally shaped them, rival in the beauty the most picturesque old-fashioned ships. With their wings suggesting low-rigged ancient sails, they resemble the pigmy vessels in which the daring pioneer navigators of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries crossed the Atlantic. Every structure become beautiful when once it is perfectly adapted to its purpose. These new flying –boars are beautiful for the very feature that makes them practical - their raised tails. What is it that an oarsman must know before he can safely venture out upon a bid body of water? That he must cut the waves. Our galleons of the air are dirigible floating weather-cocks. From their rounded compact hulls waves dash off rounded compact hulls waves dash off as harmlessly as from the caravels of Columbus or from Hudson’s Half-Moon. They head into the wind as quickly as a high-forecastled, high-pooped ship of old, which was likewise a floating weather-vane. Their high tails, when they rest on the water, head them into the teeth of the wind. If the descent is too steep, the nose may be tilted up, yet the high tail drops clear of the water without splashing and without breakage. Alighting is a more delicate operation in a seaplane than in a landplane. It is only too easy to come down nose first. Let the pilot beware lest the prow be caught in the water and the machine turn a somersault.

It certainly seems a most interesting coincidence that ships that in truth navigate alternately the sea and sky have now assumed the identical and fascinating appearance of the legendary Flying Dutchman.

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