Back to the future

flying-wing

Northrop’s Flying Wing

In 1949 the aircraft designer and engineer, John Northrop, gave a lecture on aviation history at the Library of Congress and finished by looking forward to developments in the next decade. After predicting that guided missiles would come into military use within two years and “form the backbone of the Air Force’s offence and defence by 1960”, he went on to say this –

If our development of atomic power plants for aircraft is vigorously pursued, we can probably have large aircraft driven by nuclear energy in service well before 1960. They will have unlimited range and very high speeds, but will be enormously expensive and therefore comparitively few in number. Except for specialised service they will be inferior to the guided missile in their ability to deliver a warhead to enemy territory at the lowest cost to our country’s economy.

Source: ‘New Zealand Flying’ magazine May 14, 1949.

doc-brownIt could have worked, with the right development team, but Doc Brown wasn’t available.

“You want to put a nuclear reactor in a flying wing? Great Scott, Jack! Do you realize what this means?!”

Beating the Big Drum

A blatantly aggressive spirit in a nation, as in many individuals, is frequently the product of a deep-rooted inferiority complex. By beating the big drum, by feverish window-dressing, it strives to convince both its own people and foreigners that here is a force to be reckoned with. It makes a parade of arrogance to impress the world. On the other hand, a people who, despite differences of opinion on many important points, are conscious of a fundamental unity, do not feel compelled to indulge in perpetual heroics.

In an autocracy or dictatorship the rulers aim always to link the power of the State with the dogma of their own indispensability…….. To provide an animate link between the emotions of the herd and the abstract entity of the State, the leader emerges and on him is concentrated the frenzied adulation of the people.

Linked with this combative instinct is the emotion of fear. When people are afraid the foundations of the social order are crumbling, they willingly surrender the right to decide their own destinies. The strong hand is welcome and if the minority rebels the strong hand is ruthless. Later, if the mutterings of revolt become ominously loud, the orthodox solution is to unearth a new terror beyond the frontiers. This point is too obvious, has been too frequently illustrated, to require emphasis. The psychology of the nursery has time and again been utilised by the propagandist to cow a restive people. They are hushed: the bogey-man is near.

‘Propaganda Boom’, A.J. MacKenzie, The Right Book Club, London. 1938.

Cape Town Pier unearthed

A section of Cape Town’s elaborate Edwardian pier was uncovered during construction work recently and is now being preserved as an historic artifact. It was, during its lifetime, a magnificent structure by any standard. The five images below are from a set of twelve booklet postcards taken not long after it was completed in 1910.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

pier-concert

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Sadly, most of the pier was demolished in 1939 and the remains buried under the huge land reclamation that supports Cape Town’s business area today. You can see a photo of that work, and other images from Cape Town’s past on this Biznews page.

In a world of their own

Captain Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, reached the Cape of Good Hope in the last week of December 1897 and, soon afterwards, met a politician in denial.

cape-good-hope

…..the Spray ran into a calm under Table Mountain, where she lay quietly till the generous sun rose over the land and drew a breeze in from the sea.

The steam-tug Alert, then out looking for ships, came to the Spray off the Lion’s Rump, and in lieu of a larger ship towed her into port. The sea being smooth, she came to anchor in the bay off the city of Cape Town, where she remained a day, simply to rest clear of the bustle of commerce. The good harbour-master sent his steam-launch to bring the sloop to a berth in dock at once, but I preferred to remain for one day alone, in the quiet of a smooth sea, enjoying the retrospect of the passage of the two great capes. On the following morning the Spray sailed into the Alfred Dry Docks, where she remained for about three months in the care of the port authorities, while I travelled the country over, from Simons Town to Pretoria, being accorded by the colonial government a free railroad pass over all the land.

Kerk Straat, Pretoria, around 1900, from a vintage postcard.

The trip to Kimberley, Johannesburg, and Pretoria was a pleasant one. At the last-named place I met Mr. Kruger, the Transvaal president. His Excellency received me cordially enough; but my friend Judge Beyers, the gentleman who presented me, by mentioning that I was on a voyage around the world, unwittingly gave great offence to the venerable statesman, which we both regretted deeply. Mr. Kruger corrected the judge rather sharply, reminding him that the world is flat. “You don’t mean round the world,” said the president; “it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible!” he said, “impossible!” and not another word did he utter either to the judge or to me.

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Oom (uncle) Paul Kruger and his wife Tante (auntie) Senna.

The judge looked at me and I looked at the judge, who should have known his ground, so to speak, and Mr. Kruger glowered at us both. My friend the judge seemed embarrassed, but I was delighted; the incident pleased me more than anything else that could have happened. It was a nugget of information quarried out of Oom Paul, some of whose sayings are famous. Of the English he said, “They took first my coat and then my trousers.” He also said, “Dynamite is the corner-stone of the South African Republic.” Only unthinking people call President Kruger dull.

‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, Capt. Jushua Slocum. Rupert Hart-Davis. 1948.
Original edition published 1900.

It seems incredible that, as recently as 120 years ago, a man who achieved the presidency of his country still believed, in spite of the evidence, that the world was flat. In 120 years from now, what will people think of a president who believed, in spite of the evidence, that the idea of global warming and climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese as an act of industrial sabotage against his country? Assuming, of course, there are any people left to think about anything.

 

The Good Old Days

folkestone

There are many misconceptions about the [Edwardian] period. It is often looked upon with romantic nostalgia as an age of elegance and security. Even the weather is said to have been better then, though this idea seems to have been dispelled by study of the meteorological records and to have been based on one or two memorably fine summers.

Was it a golden age? Nobody at the time seemed to think so, but it was natural, after the shocks and sufferings of the Great War, for older people to look back and imagine that it had been. This was particularly true of the upper and middle classes, whose supremacy had been shattered for ever. For many of the working-class population the pre-war years had been not only “the good old days” but also, in many respects, “the bad old days”. ……..

……Closer study shows that these bygone Edwardians faced, in an earlier form, most of the problems we ourselves have to cope with today.

Unemployment, bad housing and malnutrition were rife. There were strikes and violent demonstrations. There was the struggle for sex-equality – won today so far as Parliamentary voting is concerned, but still unfinished in several other fields. There was bitter controversy over Ireland, though that country was still part of the United Kingdom and the “Irish question” was different in form. There was fierce argument over the powers of the House of Lords. There were “immigrants” – especially Russian and Polish Jews fleeing from persecution under the Tsar and settling mainly in London’s East End – and there were “emigrants”, who saw a poor future for themselves at home in Britain and sought better opportunities in the United States or the developing dominions of the Empire. And there was the fear of a coming war, very real to a thoughtful minority, though it seldom troubled the mass of the nation, who were surprised and indignant when it overwhelmed them in 1914. In all these matters there are informative comparisons and contrasts that help us to understand our own time.

‘The Edwardian Era’, Geoffrey Trease, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1986.

A choice of legs

From ‘For Ever England’, J.E.B. Seeley, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1932.

I have named Bron Herbert as one of my most intimate friends. He had a leg shot off in the South African War but that did not prevent him from raising and commanding a troop of Yeomanry, formed from the men of the New Forest, where he had a house and spent much of his time. During this period he succeeded to an old title and became Lord Lucas [1905].

I happened to be in command of the Regiment during the whole period that Bron was with his New Forest men. He would come to me of a morning, when we were at our annual training, and say to me : “I want to ask you a very confidential question. At to-day’s manoeuvres, had I better wear my walking leg or my riding leg? Because, as you know, I cannot walk with my riding leg and I cannot ride with my walking leg.” Then I would tell him, so far as I could foretell, which leg he would want. If I had guessed wrong, and told him the wrong leg, he would be hopelessly crippled, and suffer great pain, but this never stopped him going on with the manoeuvre. I have often begged him to get on his pony and ride home, when he found himself commanding a dismounted troop, with his riding leg, but always he steadfastly refused. The only real row we ever had in all these years of friendship was when I tried to insist, on one of these occasions.

Meantime, he was immersed in political work as a Liberal…..

When the World War broke out he tried by every means to get accepted for some combatant force, but of course no doctor would pass a one-legged man. So, when Asquith invited him to join his Cabinet as Minister for Agriculture, he accepted. Thus the crown seemed to be set on his political career, and one would have expected him to decide to devote his whole energies in that direction. Not so Bron in time of war.

He was doing very well in his post, but all the time he was learning to fly. One day he came to the Prime Minister and astonished him by saying that he had qualified as a pilot, and had reason to believe that he would be accepted for service in the Flying Corps at the Eastern theatre of war. He therefore tended his resignation, and off to war he went.

Herbert later transferred to the Western Front, having acquired a “flying leg…. a further addition to his equipment”, and on 3rd November 1916 was shot down and killed.