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November 1913: Flight - It’ll never take off

A decade on from the Wright Brothers’ powered flight landmark The Engineer was unconvinced that aviation had much of a future as a civilian mode of transport.

The uncharacteristically down-beat article  - which can be read in its entirety here - reported that with a few exceptions  - such as the Sikorsky biplane and a French air mail service running between Paris and Nice - most notable aircraft development was targeted at military applications.  ‘A study of recent aeroplane progress and invention seems,’ said The Engineer, ‘to point quite clearly to the deduction that there is a tendency to concentrate attention more and more exclusively on the craft as instruments of war.’

The reporter put this down to a number of imperfections in contemporary aircraft design that made the running costs  too high for civilian operation.


A decade on from the Wright brothers’ pioneering achievement The Engineer was unconvinced by the case for civilian aircraft

But despite admitting that there was still plenty of room for improvement  - in for instance, the control of the wings and the efficiency of the propulsion systems of the day - The Engineer was still unconvinced that aircraft would have much of an impact beyond the battlefield.

‘If we take into consideration the performances of to-day we are bound to admit that before the aeroplane establishes itself as a means of commercial transport the improvements effected will have to show not simply a perceptible reduction in the running expenses, hut one so huge as to be beyond the hopes of the most enthusiastic.

‘It seems certain that there is practically no chance of its becoming a commercial means of transport,’ concludes the article.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Why is it that almost every major development is denigrated by the experts at the start.
    It was my privilege to attend a lecture by Trevor Bayliss in the early days of his 'clock-work' revolution. He started off by showing copies of the many letters and views of the host of experts (some eminent members of our profession) which assured him, and the banks/financial houses/ Government departments to whom he had applied for support that clockwork technology was an absolute non-starter.
    Then he put up a copy of the Bank Statement showing the royalties he had received and data on the financial and social benefit to both the Governments and the inhabitants of those developing countries far-sighted enough to support his efforts.

    Go for it!
    Mike B

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  • Well, it just shows how wrong we can be predicting the future! I bet Marconi never thought that you could do anything with radio other than send morse code, now I type this over a wifi connection using a wireless mouse!

    We need engineers who don't think of why "it" can't be done, (whatever "it" is) but how it could be done and what it might look like if it were done. That's how we will make progress.

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  • This just reaffirms that visionaries are a rare breed indeed, whether among engineers or other walks of life.

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  • It's not quite fair to say that the skeptics rubbished the ideas we all know work today.... but were crudely implemented at the time. I believe we will get (Trekie) faster than light travel and matter transfer, but can't recommend it yet!
    I've been asked to develop a clockwork fan heater in the past.... not an impossibility, but not likely to work in the way the potential client thought it would!

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  • I'\ve experienced this personally with others pointing out that my idea was impossible. This happened with two different ones and now each are industry standards, it just took a lot of work and creativity.

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