Dreams of flight

Sometimes you see a headline that makes you want to mow down your family and pets with a rifle, secateur the phone wires, and barricade yourself in a hutch with the article in question, only coming out when the police’s megaphone yelling makes it impossible to read any longer.

Headlines like Trapped boy cut from washing machine and The dentist who claimed emotional powers might elicit this kind of reaction.

What about Steam-driven flying boat to cross Atlantic?

Ah, God bless Popular Mechanics, the finest centenarian science magazine that took dreams made of hay in days of yore, and explained why they could be possible if we all concentrated hard enough.

In 1913, a French lad wanted to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a steam-powered aero-boat, or skiffoplane, he’d built himself. It would be manned by a crew of six and the journey was going to take them 31 hours.

You get an idea of the kind of Willy Wonka skittle-heads that worked on Popular Mechanics circa 1913, when you compare the magazine’s graphic department’s imaginary rendering of the craft with the actual work in progress.

One looks like George Jetson’s chuckle-powered pedal whizz-ship; the other’s like a murmuring, wooden great grandfather of Knight Rider.

Anyway, this is what dreams were made of in 1913. The age of exploration was fizzling into extinction and, if there were still great gorged out clefts of earthly distance to be conquered, it had to be by flying steamboat or not at all.

As far as the internet will tell me, the French guy’s heavy-duty clinker goose, never did cross the Atlantic. I can’t tell even whether it got to the stage of test flights over lake Michigan.

Perhaps I’ve ruined the dream by telling you that. Apologies to anyone who’s even now driving the last nail into the barred-up door of their Police-proof bunker.

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~ by David Thorley on December 2, 2010.

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