National Air and Space Museum curator Crouch (A Dream of Wings; The Bishop's Boys) exuberantly surveys the entirety of aviation history. Wealthy aristocrat George Cayley progressed from a helicopter toy (1796) and model gliders (1804) to a glider capable of lifting a human (1849). After Cayley came a parade of pioneers, including John Joseph Montgomery, the "first American to leave the ground on wings of his own design" (1884). Otto Lilienthal made 2,000 glider flights, and his 1896 death during an airborne accident piqued the Wright Brothers' interest. At this point, Crouch carries the narrative aloft, taking note of the exhilarating exhibitions by barnstorming "aerial gypsies" after the WWI aircraft production boom. With the Air Mail Act of 1925, "Post Office officials realized that they were laying the foundation for commercial aviation in the United States." The Allies in WWII learned much from downed Messerschmitts and other Nazi rocket secrets, ushering in a new era of high-speed aerodynamics that cued a shift from aviation to aerospace (travel beyond earth's atmosphere). Computers brought change; in-flight movies were introduced in 1961; and weather-beaten hangars were replaced by gleaming terminals. With international tourism came the spread of American commercial culture. The book concludes with September 11 and the airline losses and layoffs that followed. Crouch notes that his history was "30 years in the making," and his exhaustive research is evident in 42 pages of notes and a vast array of sources. Capturing the romance of flight along with successes, failures and many memorable figures from Lindbergh to Yeager, this is a book that soars, a worthy celebration of the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first flight. 125 illus. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The writing isn't bad in this book (nor is it that good), but the real problem with this book is that the scope is too large for the effort. The 100-year history of aviation cannot be compressed into 639 pages. Crouch should have focused on military aviation, commercial aviation, or aviation technology to be able to drill to enough depth in this space to make this a worthwhile expenditure of time. Or he should have expanded the format and writing to a multi-volume set to give each topic the care … more
This should have been a "blockbuster," considering the author's credentials: senior curator of aeronautic at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. But the effort falls far short because of glaring inaccuracies and an apparent political bias that simply has no place in a purported history of flight. Crouch tells of an airship "seven football fields" long. No airshp, literally a Zeppelin, was 2,100 feet long. In another place, Crouch says a B-24 bomber comprised more than 1,500,000 … more