Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Thoughts On The Airplane Without Research

  • They used to be a lot more fun, kids.
  • For most of human history, they didn’t exist.
  • Then for the first 50 years that they did, they were awful and dangerous and only for rich people or armies.
  • But for a little while–the years in between Pan Am’s stewardesses and September 11th–airplanes were just great.
  • We should start at the beginning.
  • Wait, no: we should start with a definition.
  • An airplane is not a glider, nor a helicopter, nor a lighter-than-air craft: an airplane has an engine and fixed wings.
  • Now we can start at the beginning.
  • In the beginning, there were no airplanes at all; this state of affairs went on for quite some time.
  • You think you’ve been waiting a long time to hear what the new Dave’s Pick is going to be?
  • People waited much longer than that for airplanes.
  • It’s not like the idea hadn’t occurred to them: they had seen birds.
  • Perhaps one of our cavemen ancestors watched a happy little bluebird fly, maybe over a rainbow, and he thought, “Why, oh why, can’t I?”
  • And then was immediately eaten by a sabretooth moose.
  • I do a lot of generalizing about humanity, Enthusiasts, sometimes fairly and other times not, but I believe that people have been trying to figure out how to fly since “figuring things out” began.
  • The second humans realized they could build stuff, some jackass started work on his wings.
  • Greeks, Chinese, everybody had some inventors that drew up plans, or actually built a contraption that they strapped their assistant into and chucked off the highest roof in town. (Luckily, it was the past, so roofs were of modest height.)
  • The 1800’s got closer to flight: hot air balloons and gliders, but an airplane requires something the 1800’s didn’t quite have yet: the internal combustion engine.
  • The internal combustion engine was the prime mover (pun semi-intended) of the 20th century: they powered planes, trains, and automobiles; motorcycles and helicopters and boats; tanks and jet fighters, too.
  • The internal combustion engine necessitated the roads, which rebuilt the cities to accommodate themselves, and urged us to dig into the ground in some of the worst places.
  • Everything good and bad about the modern world is a result of the internal combustion engine.
  • And in the very first years of the 20th century, two brothers in a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, slapped one onto a canvas-and-wood frame and for the first time in human history, man flew under his own power.
  • But it wasn’t really the flying that was the impressive part.
  • Orville and Wilbur Wright had figured out how to control the plane. (Kinda, sorta, mostly.)
  • Here, look:
  • screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-1-45-16-am
  • This is the actual, honest-to-God first flight: I didn’t know that there were pictures.
  • I now realize I have revealed myself to have cheated on the tenets of Without Research.
  • Ah, fuck it: it’s a cool picture.
  • Anyway, you see how there’s no tail on the plane?
  • Yeah, that’s not optimal.
  • Wilbur and Orville controlled the first Flyer by literally bending the whole frame to steer, and they were the only ones who could manage to keep the thing in the air.
  • And they weren’t exactly doing Mach 2: the Flyer topped out at 30 mph.
  • But, still: flight!
  • Finally, humanity had a second thing to compare Superman to.
  • For years, people had said, “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird!” and then stopped talking.
  • Over the next few years, the basic design took hold after someone slapped a tail on; most of the early models were bi-planes (the added lift prevented stalling at the low speeds the first planes were going) but besides that, they’ve looked generally the same since then.
  • The tail was important: the wings provide the lift, the engine provides the thrust, but the tail lets you steer.
  • Steering is important, except for trains.
  • You don’t steer a train.
  • The aviation industry got a lift (FUCK YOU I LOVE PUNS) from World War I: those daring young men in their flying machines plummeted into fields all over France for a few years.
  • Early warplanes were death machines, but not like today’s warplanes are: back then, your plane would kill you instead of the other guy.
  • They were canvas stretched over wooden frames–by the end of the war, the technology had advanced to tin sheeting on metal frames–with open cockpits, and sometimes they just stopped working halfway through the sky.
  • Plus, they couldn’t figure out how to attach a gun for a few years.
  • There was no way to sight a gun back then other than looking down the barrel, so they had to put it right in front of the pilot, but that’s where the propeller goes.
  • Even in the past, which was chockfull of moron, they knew better than to shoot their own propellers; luckily, someone invented a synchrogear device that let pilots shoot in between the blades as they rotated.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, and people truly needed to kill one another during World War I.
  • Following the war, though, aviation cooled: the technology spread–cropdusting and mail service and barnstorming, among other things–but the planes of the times weren’t good for passengers (too noisy, small, and dangerous) plus they didn’t have much range and none of the instruments you would assume one would need to fly a plane existed: there was the window, and you looked out of it.
  • Aviation between the World Wars: Rich guys offered prizes for long-distance flights, especially a trans-Atlantic run; Charles Lindbergh succeeded, flying from Long Island to France in 1927 and becoming the most famous man in America even though he was a thoroughly unpleasant weirdo who loved Hitler; planes got bigger, more reliable, and faster; commercial service began in America and Europe (but only for rich people, but all technology is only for rich people at first).
  • Suddenly: Hitler.
  • Like the first one, the Second World War II sped up development in aviation.
  • The jet fighter made its debut over Europe and the Pacific powered, obviously, by jet engines, which suck air in by the megagallon, mix it with fuel, compress the mixture until it explodes, and then shoot it out the back.
  • A jet plane is different than a prop plane in that you can kill a whole lot more motherfuckers with it.
  • You can get to where the motherfuckers are much faster, and then kill them much harder with a jet than with a prop plane.
  • After the war, flying took off.
  • BOOO.
  • There were tons of surplus planes left over (for the Americans, at least: most of the rest of the world was utterly fucked), and thousands of pilots and mechanics, and the infrastructure, and the economy was booming, and so America built herself some airports and airplanes.
  • The rest of the world, too, and suddenly the rest of the world didn’t require sitting on a boat for a month to get to.
  • Flying was glamorous.
  • Sexist as fuck, but it was the past and everything was sexist as fuck.
  • The pilots were all dudes (white dudes, obviously) and there were no flight attendants: there were stewardesses–sexy stews–and they were all stone-cold foxes.
  • I am confident in making this generalization because they were specifically hired for their looks, and airlines all advertised (subtly or explicitly) how hot their stewardesses were.
  • In the past’s defense: you used to get a meal.
  • And then you could enjoy a tasty Chesterfield cigarette afterwards, because you were allowed to smoke on the plane.
  • While we were kicking back on the Eastern Airlines Newark-Orlando flight, the military–specifically Lockheed Martin’s secret Skunk Works lab–was pushing the boundaries of what a plane could be and do.
  • The U2 flew at the boundary of space, right up until the moment it didn’t; it turns out that however high a plane can go, Russians can build a missile that also goes that high.
  • So Kelly Johnson and the Skunk Works changed course: instead of flying over surface-to-air missiles, what if the plane could outrun them?
  • Well, you’d get this:
  • image-result-for-sr-71
  • Which is the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, and it may be the single coolest thing ever built.
  • Les Pauls are cool.
  • Sydney Opera House is bitchin’.
  • Neither of those things can do Mach 3.
  • You know of my love for the Plymouth Suberbird, and its preposterous tail.
  • A Plymouth Superbird cannot do L.A. to D.C. in an hour.
  • At those extreme speeds, you generate tremendous heat even in the thin atmosphere where the SR-71 flew, and so they built the thing out of titanium, but even titanium expands so much at those temperatures that the plane had to be built with ill-fitting seams: on the ground, it leaked fuel like a colander; once at speed, the fuselage snapped into place.
  • It took a V8 engine from a damn Buick just to start the engines.
  • I don’t know where the X-Men got theirs.
  • Civilians couldn’t buy a ticket, obviously, but they could ride Concorde.
  • image-result-for-corde
  • London or Paris to New York or D.C. in three hours, plus: just look at her.
  • I like a fucked-up nose.
  • Concorde was the only commercial supersonic plane ever put into service (I think the Soviets might have had one, too); SST’s never caught on for a few reasons: the slender body necessitated by the shape limited the number of seats, so prices had to be high; also limited were the routes, as supersonic planes announce their presence via sonic boom, which no one wants over their house, so Concorde could only fly over water.
  • Not the Concorde.
  • Concorde.
  • It had cachet, and it did London to New York in three hours, so rich people were glad to get someone else to pay for their tickets, until one crashed in France, killing everyone aboard, and soon thereafter there was no more Concorde.
  • But while it was here, it was a feat: Concorde launched in 1969, only 66 years after those two brothers with the funny names puttered into the air on a beach in North Carolina.
  • The things we can do when we try.


  1. Nothing about Grace Slick?

  2. Yay, rich weirdos!!


    Especially for the SR-71 nod . . . . See list at end of this article:

    The Eastern Airlines name drop is classy too. But was there a Newark to Orlando run back when them and their Whisperjets ruled the skies over the Eastern Seaboard?

    I was on the DC National to Charlotte one, and then the LaGuardia to Charlotte one regularly, going to see the Gramps.

    While CLT is big and glam now (I was there on Sunday), back in Eastern’s day when they rolled the stairs out and you strolled around the tarmac and stretched before entering a single smoke-fillee room where all the greeters and the greeteds met, now, sir, that was just an all round class experience.

  4. Tuesday Jackson

    October 18, 2016 at 8:33 am

    My favorite airplane is Marty Balin.

  5. There was a Russian SST, the Tupolev TU-144 ( Didn’t have the sexy nose, and indeed not the sound operational history.

    There was also a Boeing SST Project ( picture of which can be seen here ( I believe it never flew. Still, the 1967 NBA expansion team was called The Seattle Supersonics in its honor. They at least won the 1979 title, behind Jack Sikma and Dennis Johnson, so there’s that.

  6. Ahem. Airplanes have been around longer than computers, i.e., for all of human history, and then some.

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