Aviation Century Wings of Change
Aviation Century Wings of Change
Aviation Century Wings of Change Aviation Century Wings of Change

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Publisher: Boston Mills Press

Author Statement: by Air Vice-Marshal Ron Dick ; photography by Dan Patterson
Series Name: Aviation Century
Audience: Trade
Specs: 400 color and black and white photographs, bibliography, index
Pages: 288
Trim Size: 9 3/8" x 11 1/4" x 1 1/4"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20050903
Copyright Year: 2005
Price: Select Below

Aviation Century Wings of Change

The fourth in a five volume illustrated history of aviation explores commercial aviation, from it's inception in frail biplanes through to huge jumbo jets. Examines the wider world of aeronautics including personal aviation, helicopters and research.

The gripping story of a rapid-fire period of change in aviation.

The fourth volume in the Aviation Century series is the dramatic story of the worldshrinking developments in commercial aviation through the end of the twentieth century, in which airliners grew from frail biplanes to huge Jumbo jets. In the process, advanced air travel brought with it worldwide political, economic and social change. In 2004 commercial airlines carried an estimated 1.6 billion passengers.

Each new generation of transport aircraft has brought greater reliability, economy and safety, and increased global commerce through technological advances. Each day millions of shipments now travel by air between continents via sophisticated air cargo and air express systems.

Other chapters in Winds of Change examine:

  • the wider world of aeronautics
  • private aircraft (personal planes as well as ultralights, sailplanes, hang gliders and parasails)
  • lighter-than-air flight (Zeppelins, blimps, hot-air balloons)
  • rotary wings (helicopters and related craft)
  • the challenges of research and development (from sketch pad to computers; designers, builders and test pilots).


Ron Dick served with the Royal Air Force for 38 years, where his final assignment was as Defence Attaché and Head of the British Defence Staff in the United States. During his career, he .ew 60 types of aircraft, accumulating over 5,000 hours of flight time. He now lectures and writes about aviation history. In addition to the landmark five-volume Aviation Century series, he has co-authored five other books with Dan Patterson. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Dan Patterson received the first annual Combs Award, presented by the National Aviation Hall of Fame and business aviation legend Harry Combs to honor a photographer's contribution to the photographic preservation of America's air and space heritage. Patterson's images have been featured in 20 books. He lives in Dayton, Ohio.


Photographer's Preface

Dan Patterson

When Ron and I began this project, we started with an outline, lots of ideas, and a three-page typed list of all the locations in the world that we thought had the best options for research, artifacts and icons of aviation history. We decided that we should attempt to go wherever we could, and try to find original sources as well as researching through photo archives for those "treasures" that have rarely been seen or published. Of course, we had no money and the scale of the list was, to say the least, intimidating.

We found support from Boston Mills Press and decided to just whack away at the list a piece at a time, because if you looked at it as a whole it seemed an insurmountable mountain to climb. That was in 1998, and now that we have crossed the mountain, the view from the other side is good. Most of the items on that list have been checked off. There are lots of penciled-in additions, which also eventually were crossed off, but for the most part we accomplished our goal. There are a few places we just didn't make it to. However, our intent is to not give up on those, as we have discovered that we have created an enormous library and resource of aviation history. Ron has written nearly 500,000 words, and the new photographs I have made for this project have become a collection that covers nine countries and well over 50,000 images. We're not going to stop accumulating materials or stories just because this part of our project is approaching a conclusion, with only one more volume to go. The Aviation Century project will continue.

As we talked with the global aviation community, pilots, mechanics, historians, museum directors and staff, famous aviators and regular people simply fascinated by airplanes, I noticed a common thread that crossed over the entire spectrum. Nearly all have had some experience with model airplanes. Models that fly, models that sit on desks and bookshelves. Models that proved a theory in a wind tunnel, or sold a concept that became a full-size airplane that has become a part of this history. Small and not-so-small flying creations made from wood, plastic, foam, paper, metal and all of the combinations of those and other elements that the imagination can combine. This thread is unbroken, from Leonardo da Vinci to Orville and Wilbur Wright, to Francis Rogallo, to Neil Armstrong, and it continues to this day.

I began early with a fascination for flying machines. Not long after that, I discovered the hobby shops, and since I couldn't actually get into a World War II airplane, I figured I could make models of them. The process was bumpy at first, as I discovered that the glue actually did melt the plastic if you put too much on, and the clear pieces for the canopies and windows would be sort of cloudy with the gluey fingerprints of a twelve-year-old boy. I also discovered, to my mother's dismay, what happened when you poured a whole bottle of black enamel paint into the porcelain toilet, and how long it took to scrape it all off with a single-edged razor blade. Something I had time for, since the models and the paints were off limits for a while after that.

Eventually my plastic Air Force expanded beyond the available flat spaces in my room and I started to look upward and imagine my armada in the air. My friend Paul Perkins had suspended his models from a fishing-line web that offered the possibility of formations slowly turning in the air currents. I just had to have that. Our house on Harvard Boulevard, however, did not have moldings around the ceilings like Paul's did to tack the line into. I was crushed. My ever-innovative grandfather came to the rescue, and soon the plaster walls had several eye-bolts securely anchored into them and a triangle of 20-pound-test fishing line ran across the room just a few inches below the ceiling. Soon the B- 17s were in formation with their fighter escorts and fighting off the Luftwaffe on the other line. Young boys have the ability to mimic all of the sounds of guns and machinery heard in the war movies, and I was no exception. In my mind, I was inside my warplanes and it was going to sound right.

Of course, this adventuring also came with some huge aerial tragedies, as I didn't know a lot about tying knots, and one hurried rush to get dressed for school and put on a sweater brought down a whole division of airplanes. This is when I learned about dealing with things that cannot under any circumstances be fixed and when it's best to start over.

I also found, as I became a father, that the opportunity to pass on this fascination to my kids was a great rationalization to go to the hobby shop and continue my enjoyment of model airplanes. We came to find that the Christmas break from school was our time to work on models together, and now, even though they've moved out, I look forward to the holidays when I will have the time to build a model.

I went to the hobby shop today and found one that I've been looking for.

Dan Patterson
Dayton, Ohio
November 2004



Air Vice-Marshal Ron Dick

"The aeroplane is the nearest thing to animate life that man has created. In the air a machine ceases indeed to be a mere piece of mechanism; it becomes animate and is capable not only of primary guidance and control, but actually of expressing a pilot's temperament."
Sir Ross Smith, K.B.E.,
National Geographic magazine, March 1921

The first three volumes of the Aviation Century series deal principally with developments in military and commercial fixed-wing aviation from 1900 to the end of World War II. Chapter 1 of this volume, Aviation Century Wings of Change, takes the story of commercial aviation through the end of the 20th century, completing 100 years in which airliners grew from frail biplanes used by a few daring and hardy passengers to huge Jumbos capable of carrying hundreds of people halfway round the world in air-conditioned comfort. In the process, the airlines brought irrevocable political, economic and social change to the world we live in. Paradoxically, although commercial aircraft affect the lives of everyone on the planet in some way, they are largely taken for granted, their significance obscured by their everyday familiarity.

The remaining chapters of Aviation Century Wings of Change examine the wider world of aeronautics, covering private flying, lighter-than-air flight, rotary wings, and the challenges of research and development.

In the beginning, all aviation was private. Chapter 2 shows that private flyers were always active between the wars, founding flying clubs and offering those who could afford it the chance to experience life in the third dimension. It was not until after WWII, however, that private aviation became truly widespread, military surplus light aircraft igniting a period of explosive growth in the use of flying machines for leisure or as personal transport. The wish for even smaller and cheaper aircraft led to ultralights, and those who yearned for quiet fixed-wing flight produced elegant sailplanes that could ride thermals for hours, covering hundreds of miles and reaching great altitudes. Less ambitious but perhaps more thrilling flight is offered to the pilot who is prepared to strap on a harness and take to the air suspended beneath the simple wing of a hang glider or parasail.

Man first flew with the help of balloons, and in the early years of the 20th century, it seemed that airships (large, steerable balloons, known as dirigibles) would be the most practical means of transporting passengers and freight by air. The great German Zeppelins also appeared to make strategic bombing a practical proposition. Chapter 3 tells how, in both commercial and military terms, large airships failed to live up to their early promise and were discarded after compiling disastrous records in both peace and war. However, their smaller cousins, the "blimps," survived to become common sights at fairs and sporting events, and 21st-century technology may yet resurrect massive airships capable of carrying payloads of thousands of tons. Even as the airships faded, lighter-than-air enthusiasts remained faithful to balloons. Festivals gathering together imaginative creations of every shape and color are now frequent events. Most balloons float quietly over the countryside, giving their passengers the opportunity to observe wildlife or get a different perspective on the world. Others have been developed that are capable of reaching the stratosphere and crossing oceans on spectacular intercontinental flights.

Chapter 4 shows that the complexities of rotary wings proved more difficult to master than those of fixed wings. Inventors recorded failure after failure in rotary flight during the half century after the Wright brothers' achievements at Kittyhawk, and real success only followed from the dogged persistence of such determined men as Igor Sikorsky and Frank Piasecki. In their own way, helicopters have revolutionized many aspects of our daily lives. They have matured into reliable workhorses, taking human flight into regions impossible for conventional aircraft. The roofs of buildings can be airports for businessmen in a hurry, and clearings in jungles or offshore oil rigs can be landing sites. For the military, helicopters revive the cavalry tradition, providing fast-moving units for rapid troop deployment, reconnaissance, airborne attack and rescue. Law enforcement, too, has moved into the third dimension, using helicopters for a variety of tasks, from the pursuit of criminals to traffic control. The versatility of the helicopter in reaching previously inaccessible places makes it particularly valuable in times of disaster. Earthquakes, forest fires and motorway accidents are all events at which rotary wings can prove their worth.

The final chapter of Aviation Century Wings of Change gives a brief introduction to the challenges of aeronautical research and development. These activities are the foundations on which the aeronautical world is built. From the beginning, painstaking preparation has been the key to producing machines capable of flying. The Wright brothers showed the way with their methodical approach to solving the problems of flight. Although the technology has become infinitely more complex, the principle has remained the same. Thorough research and careful development are essential prerequisites to aeronautical success. With the possible exception of Louis Blériot, who was fortunate to survive the crashes that followed his preference for the trial-and-error method, the great names of aviation were individuals well aware of the need to be meticulous in the process of designing and producing aircraft. They also knew that when the designers and builders had done their work, a pilot would have to test their product by taking it into the air. In earlier days, considerable risk was an inherent element in the role of the test pilot. Even now, in the computer age, when most problems can be overcome (or at least predicted) before the machine ever leaves the ground, risk has not been completely eliminated. Test pilots may no longer be the glamorous figures of the early days, but they are the elite of the aviation world -- highly trained, competent professionals who lead the way to the future of flight. Chapter 5 pays tribute to a few of those who have graced this unique profession and made possible the achievements of the Aviation Century.

Ron Dick
Fredericksburg, Virginia
September 2004



    by Fred Smith
    Founder and CEO, FedEx Corporation

    by Michael Oakey
    Editor, Aeroplane Magazine

    Photographer's Preface
    by Dan Patterson

    by Air Vice-Marshal Ron Dick

  1. The Safest Way to Fly
  2. Personal and Private
  3. Lighter than Air
  4. The Wings Rotate
  5. At the Frontier
  6. Bibliography

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