The Men Who Gave Us Wings: Britain and the Aeroplane 1796-1914, Peter Reese

The Men Who Gave Us Wings: Britain and the Aeroplane 1796-1914, Peter Reese

The story of British aviation often focuses on the First and Second World War periods, with a 'decline and fall' section in the post-war period. In contrast this book looks at the early pioneering days of flight in Britain, from the earliest glider experiments, through the many failed Victorian experiments and on to the giddy days after the Wright Brother's first flight

One of the most impressive things about many of these pioneers is how quickly they adapted to the world of powered flight. The Short Brothers, A.V. Roe, Geoffrey de Havilland and Sir Thomas Sopwith all appear very early on in the history of powered flight in Britain, and some of them remained important figures within the aviation industry well into the jet age (all of the founding companies that played an important part in both World Wars, in the case of Sir Thomas Sopwith both Sopwith and Hawker.

The speed of progress after the Wright Brother's first flight late in 1903 is startling (at least after a lull before the news really sank in). Within a few years of the Wright Brother's achievement engineers were building viable aircraft all across Britain, major aircraft companies were being formed, and some of the aircraft that had been developed by 1914 were in use well into the 1920s (the Avro 504 is perhaps one of the best examples of this, flying in 1913 and being provided in vast numbers during the war).

There is a slight tendency towards hindsight in the section on the pre-World War One period, with individual contributions judged on how they contributed to the state of British military aviation in 1914. The last part of the book looks at the move to France in 1914, so this is perhaps inevitable. Other than that this is an excellent account of the pioneering period of British aviation, packed with fascinating material.

The Pioneers
1 - The Father of Flight
2 - Shape of Things to Come
3 - Multi-Wings, Wind Tunnels and Tethered Planes
4 - The British Troubadour
5 - Lift off in America

Struggle for Air Consciousness
6 - Rejecting the Wrights Offers
7 - Thumbs Down for the Aeroplane
8 - Challenging the Doubters

The Achievers
9 - Early Flyers - Flying for the Hell of It
10 - First Flyers - Pushing the Margins
11 - The Constructors 1908-1914: Going it Alone
12 - The Constructors 1908-1914: Born Winners
13 - Air Publicists - Practical Visionaries
14 - Air Publicists - Parliamentary Voices

Preparations for War
15 - Emergence of Aviation for War
16 - The Royal Flying Corp's Move to France

Appendix A: Central Flying School Upavon - First Course
Appendix B: Officers and Men of the Royal Flying Corps stationed in France prior to the Battle of Mons

Author: Peter Reese
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2014

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