Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flight pioneers

Over the last year or so, there has been some discussion about the claim that the hang glider was invented by John Dickenson in Grafton, but there now appears to be an international consensus of opinion that he deserves this honor.

Click the photo to access a recently-developed and well-documented website on this question.

When his Dickenson-designed wing soared above the Clarence River on 8 September 1963, the pilot Rod Fuller was in fact being tugged by a speed boat. I've often thought that the presence of this noisy aquatic partner may have diminished the impact of these pioneering flights. Observers tend to associate the mythical dream of Icarus with an aerial and ethereal world of silence, devoid of mechanical monsters such as speedboats. We imagine the god of flight as a giant but quiet bird.

In July 2006, this Japanese aircraft powered by dry-cell batteries took off, ascended to an altitude of five meters, stayed in the air for about a minute and covered a distance of several hundred meters.

In April of this year, the Boeing corporation tested in real flight, in Spain, a tiny plane that runs on hydrogen batteries.

The propeller-driven test aircraft flew at a speed of a hundred kilometers an hour, at an altitude of about a thousand meters, for twenty minutes. Later, a spokesman for the manufacturer suggested that aviation power based upon hydrogen batteries could become a feasible technological and commercial possibility within some twenty years. In my imagination, that would be the authentic dream of Icarus.

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