The lure of the sky

I grew up a fan of mechanized flight in San Antonio, Texas. Due in part to multiple Air Force bases active in the area, there was nearly constant activity in the skies overhead. It was hard not to notice when an F4 Phantom came screaming over our house, skimming low above the neighborhood to avoid the flight pattern of the nearby airport.

MIG with flying boat

I was deeply fascinated by the constant overhead display of passing planes as a kid which no doubt led to my habit of jumping off the roof with home-built (flying?) contrivances. Identifying aircraft by the sound they made became a routine sport. My uncle’s service in WW2 as a B17 crew member gave him a special place in my aviation Pantheon. It was certainly a forgone conclusion that I would someday participate in the fraternity of flyers. But, somewhere along the line, procrastination, my height, or the unfashionable nature of military service at the time, intervened and set a more terrestrial course.

The history of avaiation has been heavily influenced by the promotion of flight for military purposes. From the very beginning, people were trying to figure out how to drop things on the enemy, spy on the enemy or keep the enemy from doing the same. Many of the most interesting developments in aeronautical engineering came about from the need to satisfy a military requirement.

A recent trip to the Evergreen Air and Space Museum was thus a nostalgic and yet slightly surreal experience. In a building spacious enough for a dirigible fleet, an arrangement of flying machines designed for rapid motion through the sky sit motionless like wild animals in a zoo display. Many were familiar from that childhood obsession and reminded me of many youthful flights of imagination.  The military presence is palpable and yet there are many splendid examples of planes designed (at least initially) for the pure experience of flight.

In fact, one lingering experience was the opportunity to see an example of a childhood favorite – the Bleriot XI – an airplane as striking for its alarming simpicity as for its elegant construction techniques. Having seen an original at the Smithsonian, the chance to see a more recent example was nontheless still enthralling, so much so that failed to photograph it.

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