A new look at aviation’s first century

“Reconsidering a Century of Flight” is a compilation of a dozen long articles, by an interesting variety of aerospace writers, that takes a new look at aviation’s first century and its effects on society.

Drawing on existing scholarship as well as new research, editors Roger B. Launius and Janet Daly Bednarek have divided the essays into four distinct sections: Innovation and the Technology of Flight, Civil Aeronautics and Government Policy, Aerial Warfare, and – perhaps most interesting of all – Aviation in the American Imagination. The last section includes an intriguing assessment of “Spirit of St. Louis” and its significance to aviation. It is written by Dominick A. Pisano, chairman of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum aeronautics department, who tries to unravel the popular idea of Lindbergh’s airplane as a mere totem of American technological prowess.

The book is one of several that have resulted from research done for North Carolina’s First Flight Centennial Commission, prior to the 2003 celebration of the Wright brothers’ first flight. Editors Launius – another Air and Space Museum stalwart – and Bednarek, chairman of the University of Dayton history department, selected the book’s essays from more than 50 papers presented at a 2001 symposium, “They Taught the World to Fly,” held at North Carolina State University.

Don’t get the idea that these essays are dull because they are scholarly. Quite the contrary, they provide fascinating looks at the complex technical, political and social changes brought about by powered flight, as well as three especially eye-opening characterizations of the technology of flight.

Aviation played a central role in the Twentieth Century. The spirit of innovation and adventure, which defined that century, is excitingly and informatively portrayed in these essays, and points the way for future studies.

“Reconsidering a Century of Flight,” edited by Roger B. Launius and Janet Daly Bednarek; University of North Carolina Press; 320 pages, 38 illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index; paperback, $19.95.

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