Then & Now Explains Present With Past

By Scott Spangler on February 21st, 2012

If there’s a poster child for the public’s misunderstanding of the physics of flight, it has to be the stall. Every time some poor reporter in print or on TV, who hasn’t dug deep enough, relates it to the airplane’s powerplant, haven’t we all shaken our heads and thought less than nice things.

So, my smug aeronautical compatriots, let me ask you this. Who first used stall in an aerodynamic sense, when was it first used,  and whose flying inspired it? If you know the answer, you’re either a dedicated aero-trivia geek without a life, or you’ve read Then & Now: How airplanes got this way, Phil Scott’s new book, published by Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

It’s a quick, enjoyable, and enlightening read without being oppressively didactic. Its 94 pages are divided into 13 chapters and three “Literary Intermissions” that consider 1911’s take on “The Aeroplane—Past, Present, Future,” the life of an aviator’s wife in 1920, and Harriet Quimby on “How a Woman Learns to Fly.”

Scott’s student pilot days, when he was a college student in Kansas, are a thread that unites the chapters that reveal the genesis of the airplane’s physical structure, from wings and their stacking, wheels that found a hiding place, the cockpit and its fuselage home, how airports and flight training happened, and how the aeronautical lexicon grew.

It’s a read any pilot is sure to enjoy, but I’m biased. Phil is one of my favorite writers. From his first book, The Shoulders of Giants, about those pioneers, like Sir George Cayley, whose work led to the Wrights’ Kitty Hawk success, his captivating prose never fails to elicit smiles.

Oh, if you’re still wondering about the stall, it is on page 11, in Chapter Three, “Speaking our Language.” Wilbur used it in a 1904 letter to Octave Chanute. Discussing one of Orville’s flights, Wilbur wrote “after about 200 ft. he allowed the machine to turn up a little too much and it stalled.”

I could go on about the stall-spin accident, auguring in, and buying the farm, and all the other  fascinating bits in the book, but I don’t want to spoil your fun of discovery. –Scott Spangler

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One Response to “Then & Now Explains Present With Past”

  1. Ryan Spinks Says:

    Even before I learnt how become a plane driver I too believed aircraft ‘stalls’ were power plant related…I may have to read ‘Then & now’

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