Century-Old Flying Lessons Still Relevant
While we didn’t stop there on a fall 2021 visit to the Outer Banks, I have fond memories of an earlier stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which pays tribute to Ohio brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Their legendary 1903 flights touched off the wave of aviation that is now part of global existence. Since I grew up 75 miles north of where they conducted their first flying experiments, I’ve long been aware of the famed pair.
However, I learned something new in a recent column about The Wright Brothers, the 2015 biography by historian David McCullough: in their day, the pair were considered crackpots.
The story that especially interested me was them investing $1,000 into building and testing the early versions of their airplane. Only a handful of fishermen watched their early flights at Kitty Hawk.
By contrast, around the same time the Smithsonian Institution—with the help of $70,000 in grants from the War Department—funded a catapult-powered flying machine. With thousands looking on, the contraption took off before splashing down into the Potomac.
Lessons for Today
That amusing story offers modern-day lessons that we would be wise to heed. Particularly that mammoth bureaucracies aren’t any more likely to help us conquer today’s problems with any greater success than a century ago.
Recently, as were discussing the issue of global warming, I told my wife, “I agree there is something going on, but the solutions won’t come from governments dictating what everyone should do. They will come from technology.”
I developed this view while working on a research article recently about the water supply problems facing the world.
It’s a serious situation. Domestically, that’s spotlighted by the fact that last August the federal government declared the first-ever water shortage on Lake Mead, a main reservoir for the Colorado River.
Until working on this story, I didn’t know that in addition to seven states drawing water from the river for drinking, irrigation and hydroelectric power, so do two states in northern Mexico.
With growing population, increased development, and the threat of global warming, the knee-jerk reaction is to call for government fiats restricting water use so we don’t run out.
However, I don’t think that will be effective. Better for governments to fund technology grants and research to resolve water and other global-warming-related problems than declaring top-down solutions as we hunker down.
Among the reasons I feel that way are these examples:
- An Israeli company named Watergen, which has come up with air-to-water technology. It can filter water vapor out of the air and has been used in the Gaza Strip and villages in Africa.
- Another system to extract moisture from the atmosphere was devised by engineers at two universities. It uses carbon paper evaporators and condensers that can reduce the temperature below the dew point to achieve vapor condensation.
- Books, one developed by a chemist and the other by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, which contain tear-out pages that are water filters and can provide germ-free water for several years.
There are many such creative endeavors. They remind me of an historical fact I discovered last year while researching the ill-fated presidential candidacy of Wendell Willkie.
A delegate to the 1924 Democratic Convention, as Willkie watched the New Deal unfold, he became convinced that business could do a better job of resolving our economic troubles than Uncle Sam. By 1940, he became the Republican candidate.
As we watch our national deficit rise ever higher amid roaring inflation, Willkie’s wisdom becomes more apparent. If we don’t right the plane, it will crash into the Potomac again.