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Book Review: A Two-Book Introduction to Aviation

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

As an enterprising scientist and future aerospace engineer myself, I found this book to be highly personal. Usually, when I take a plane, I favor sitting by the wing. Others prefer this area because it is convenient for deplaning or because they think this area is more stable during moments of turbulence. I, however, prefer this area because I personally enjoy spectating the large engines, flaps, and ailerons on the wing especially during takeoff and landing. Watching the magnificence of the engine that is responsible for lifting the plane into the air and propelling it forward reminds me of how I have a long way to go before I find myself designing my own jet engines in the future.

Although I am studying the physics behind these in my aerospace engineering classes, I still have much to learn about aviation. This book offered me a refreshing break from my theory-heavy studies by allowing me to relive the first steps of aviation together with the Wright family. The biography helped me better appreciate the capacity for flight and not take it for granted. With commercial flight, it’s so easy to be focused on the destination when there is so much wonder held in the journey!

From the first few pages of the biography, what continually impressed me was how the Wright brothers did not only begin human aviation and flight. They were also incredibly influential in the physics, aerodynamics, and engineering behind it. Their wind tunnel experiments studying the fluid mechanics of airfoils were more accurate than the calculations of the scientists of that time. Their keen observations of the flight, control, and maneuvering techniques of birds (this technique of taking inspiration from nature nowadays referred to as biomimicry) were also unparalleled in that era and greatly influenced their first flying machines. More subtly and perhaps one of the largest factors of their success was their understanding and value for control. Though other scientists such as Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian were also making progress in aviation by catapulting aerodromes, they did not develop a reliable means of controlling the aircraft. Meanwhile, the Wright brothers were able to achieve control through their wing-warping mechanism. After getting this right, it was simply a matter of installing an engine. These many contributions, I believe, were alluded to in the book but not given too much focus so as not to detract from the narrative. Yet, they were highlighted enough such that having some modest knowledge in the subject, I was able to greatly appreciate the discover of these concepts and the success of their experiments.

My favorite characteristic of the Wright brothers was their modesty. They simply had a raw and pure desire to build an aircraft. When their aircraft and engine business took off later on, they were not swayed by money or fame; they wanted to receive what they believed they deserved. My second favorite characteristic of the brothers was their genius – in their physics, their engineering capacity, and their firmness in doing business. I admired their steadfastness and maturity in plans and decisions. When the two would butt heads, Wilbur and Orville seemed to complement each other perfectly and make up for the other’s occasional shortcomings. Finally, my third favorite thing about the Wright brothers was their perseverance. Two people building an airplane is not easy and is infinitely more difficult if you are the first to do it!

All in all, I found the biography incredibly cohesive, rich with detail, and craftily spun in a way that makes the reader feel like they are right there with the Wright family in their journey towards achieving flight. From the first chapter, one can immediately see the author McCullough’s talent that makes him one of America’s most celebrated historians.

It was nice to read this visual encyclopedia of naval aircraft of World War I and II directly after reading the biography of the Wright brothers. It gave me insight into the rapid exponential development of aviation and engine technology in the years following the Wright brothers’ success. It also gave me important understanding of how naval aircraft technology turned out to be integral to the success of the Allied forces in World War II. The visual encyclopedia was meticulously prepared, and though some parts felt repetitive and dull (not surprising considering it was an encyclopedia), I very much appreciated the description of the various features in each aircraft model.

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