Read CHAPTER IX of Opportunities in Aviation , free online book, by Arthur Sweetser Gordon Lamont, on ReadCentral.com.

THE CALL OF THE SKIES

The day of the air has undoubtedly come. The old order of the world has been entirely changed. A new life is breaking in over the near horizon. Almost in a moment the span of the world has shrunk to a quarter of its former size, so that where before we thought in terms of countries very soon we must think in terms of continents. The world is shortly to be linked up as it never has been before, till the great continents are brought as near as were the near-by nations of the past years.

Any one who doubts the future of aviation should realize the helplessness of the science after the armistice because of the complete lack of international laws to make possible its application in Europe, where it was most highly developed. With men and machines ready, they had to hold to the ground largely because there was in force no treaties assuring them the right to cross frontiers. The broad plans for international routes were held up because aviation itself was so big in its expanse that it could not meet its just fulfilment within national lines.

As a result a new law must be written. The law of the air will be one of the most intricate and the most fascinating in the world. It presents problems never before presented and covers a scope paralleled only by the laws of the sea. Very fortunately, however, aerial international law may be written at the very start of the science by a common international standard and practice, thus obviating the greatest part of the divergences which long years of habit have grafted into the maritime laws of the various nations. The slate is clean so that uniformity may be assured in a law which is soon to come into the most vital touch with the daily lives of the nations.

Who, for instance, owns the air above the various nations? Obviously the individual landowner has rights, especially as to freedom from damage. The nation also has rights, especially for its protection and for police work. How high, however, does this jurisdiction go? Some assert that a maximum altitude should be set, say five thousand feet, above which the air would be as free as the seas; others that each nation must have unqualified control to the limit of the ether.

Then comes the question of passports, customs, registration, safety precautions, and damages. As already shown, the man on the ground is helpless against the airplane which chooses to defy him. People and goods can cross national lines by the air without passports or customs. There will be no main ports of entry as in sea or train commerce, and it is too much to think that any nation can patrol its whole aerial frontier in all its various air strata. Undesirable immigrants or small precious freight can be smuggled in with the greatest ease through the route of the air.

Obviously the most elaborate international rules are necessary. Planes must have some method of international registration and license, just as in a more limited sense ships on the seas have what amounts to an international status. Landing-fields must be established and open to foreign planes, each nation providing some kind of reciprocal landing rights to other nations. Arrangements must be made so that if a monkey-wrench drops out of a plane a mile or two up in the air proper damages can be collected. For such things there is to-day but little precedent in law.

This but sketches the problems. It shows, however, how closely this new science will bind the world together and obliterate national lines and nationalistic feelings. As the sea has been the great civilizer of the past, so the air will be the great civilizer of the future. Through it men will be brought most intimately in touch with one another and forced to learn to live together as they have not been forced to live together before. The artificial barriers that have stood so firm between nations in the past are now swept away and a great common medium of intercommunication opened.

Let it not be understood that all this will take place overnight. Far from it, for the experience of the war has taught only too well that the organization of an air force takes time and patience. Up to date the essential fact is that the science, the value, and the possibilities of flight have been proved in a thousand different ways. Vistas of travel and experience have been opened up which but a few months ago would have seemed fanciful. Everywhere men are dreaming dreams of the future which challenge one’s deepest imagination. Already Caproni, the great Italian inventor, has signed a contract to carry mails from Genoa to Rio Janeiro.

Now comes news of an airplane with room for ninety-two passengers. Engine power and wing space have gone on increasing in a dazzling way till one is almost afraid to guess what the future may hold. But, omitting all prophecy, the actual accomplishments to date are so stupendous that there is no need to speculate as to the future. If all technical development were to stop just where it stands, the factories and workshops of the world could well be occupied for years in turning out the machines necessary for the work awaiting them. Scientific development has gone so infinitely far ahead of actual production that as yet aviation is not being put to a fraction of its use.

Even more serious, however, is the general public failure to realize the gift which is within their reach. Flying was first a circus stunt and later a war wonder. The solid practical accomplishments have been lost sight of in the weird or the spectacular. People who marveled when a British plane climbed up nearly six miles into the air, or 30,000 feet, where its engine refused to run and its observer fainted, failed generally to analyze what the invasion of this new element would mean in the future of mankind.

What is now needed is a big, broad imagination to seize hold of this new thing and galvanize it into actual every-day use. There are many skeptics, of course, many who point out, for instance, that the element of cost is prohibitive. This is both fallacious in reasoning and untrue in fact. A modern two-seated airplane, even to-day, costs not over $5,000, or about the price of a good automobile. Very soon, with manufacturing costs standardized and the elements of newness worn off, this price will fall as sharply as it has already fallen during the war.

But what, after all, is cost in comparison with time? Modern civilization will pay dearly for any invention which will increase ever so little its hours of effectiveness. The great German liners before the war lavished money without stint to save a day or two in crossing the Atlantic. The limited express trains between New York, Boston, Washington, and Chicago have for years made money by carrying busy men a few hours more quickly to their destination. What will not be paid if these times of travel can be reduced practically to half?

The element of danger has been reduced to a minimum and will be still more reduced as emphasis is laid on safety rather than wartime agility. Many men, of course, will meet their death in the air, just as in the early days many men met their death in ships and in railroad trains, but this will not be a deterrent if the goal is worth attaining. There will be accidents in learning to fly, there will be accidents of foolhardiness and of collision or in landing, but they will decrease to the vanishing-point as experience grows. Already the air routes which have been established have a high record of success and freedom from fatalities.

The great need of aviation to-day is faith faith among the people, among the manufacturers, among the men who will give it its being. Its success is as inevitable as that day follows night, but the question of when that success is attained, now or generations from now, is dependent on the vision which men put into it. If they are apathetic and unreasonable, if they chafe at details or expect too much, it will be held back. If, on the other hand, they go to meet it with confidence, with coolness, and with a realization both of its difficulties and its potentialities, its success will be immediate.

The task is one of the greatest, the most vital, and the most promising which mankind has ever faced. With the general theories proved and demonstrated, the great crisis of invention has passed, and the slow, unspectacular process of development and application has set in. Now has come the time for serious, sober thought, for careful, analytical planning, for vision combined with hopefulness. It is well in these early days, when flight is with the general public a very special and occasional event, to remember what has happened since Watt developed the steam-engine only a few generations ago, when Columbus set the first ship westward, or when America’s first train ran over its rough tracks near the Quincy quarries.

The development of aviation will be world-wide and will include all sorts and races of men. The nations all start pretty much abreast. Those which developed war air services have an advantage in material and experience, but this is a matter only for the moment. The main lines of progress are now pretty widely known and the field is wide open to those who have the imagination to enter it. There is practically no handicap at this early stage which cannot be overcome with ease.

There is, of course, an element of individual gamble to those who enter this competition. Undoubtedly there will be many failures, as in all new fields; failures come to those who put in capital as well as those who contribute their scientific knowledge. But by the same token there will be great successes both financially and scientifically. The prize that is being striven for is one of the richest that have ever been offered and the rewards will be in accordance. This has been the case at the birth of every great development in human progress and will undoubtedly be the case with the science of flight. Until a field becomes standardized it offers extremes on both sides rather than a dull, dreary, but safe average.

As aviation runs into every phase of activity it will require every kind of man manufacturer, scientist, mechanic, and flier. It offers problems more interesting and more complex than almost any others in the world. The field is new and virgin, the demand world-wide, and the rewards great. For the flier there is all the joy of life in the air, above the chains of the earth, reaching out to new, unvisited regions, free to come and go for almost any distance at any level desired, a freedom unparalleled. For the manufacturer there is all the lure of a new product destined in a short time to be used as freely as the automobile of to-day; for the scientist there are problems of balance, meteorology, air pressure, engine power, wing spread, altitude effects, and the like in a bewildering variety; for the explorer, the geographer, the map-maker a wholly new field is laid open.

The best men of every type are needed to give aviation its full fruition. In Europe this is realized to a supreme degree. England especially, and also France and Italy, have put their best genius at work to fulfil the conquest of the air. Their progress is astonishing and should be a challenge to the New World. After the natural hiatus which followed the armistice the leading men have set to work with redoubled vigor to take first place in the air.

In twenty years’ time our life of to-day will seem centuries old, just as to-day it is hard to realize that the automobile and motor-truck do not date back much over a generation. No change that has ever come in man’s history will be so great as the change which takes him up off the ground and into the air. This swift and dazzling era that is so close upon us is hardly suspected by the great mass of people. The world will be both new and better for it. Less than the train or the motor-car will the airplane disturb its features. On the blue above white wings will glitter for a moment, a murmuring as of bees will be heard, and the traveler will be gone, the world unstained and pure. Meanwhile high in the clouds, perhaps lost to view of the earth, men will be speeding on at an unparalleled rate, guiding their course by the wireless which alone gives them connection with the world below.

Has there ever in all history been an appeal such as this?