While I've been blogging on about interesting subjects such as France's Icarus Cup festival and John Dickenson's role in the history of free flight, a Swiss guy named Yves Rossy, nicknamed FusionMan, has added a new dimension to this domain by swooping across the English Channel with a jet-powered wing strapped to his back.
The charm of Dickenson resided in the fact that he was an amateur inventor, of a kind that is no doubt becoming extinct. To build his primitive delta wing in 1963, he used plastic film of the kind that was used to protect bananas in plantations to the south of Grafton.
The 49-year-old airline pilot Yves Rossy—who was curiously refused entry to the Coupe Icare, maybe because the organizers thought he might kill himself—is not really the kind of guy who would think about recuperating plastic bags to build his jet-powered kite. He's a pure specimen of 21st century professionalism with a capital P. He used to fly fighter jets. Now he's a regular airline pilot. Imagine him making an announcement to passengers: "This is your commander, Yves Rossy. We are about fly over the English Channel, and shall be touching down in exactly ten minutes." Hearing this, as a passenger, I would start looking around for a parachute under my seat...
Meanwhile, to bring us back down to Earth (metaphorically speaking), a 39-year-old Frenchman named Stéphane Rousson has just announced that he intends to tackle the record-breaking cross-Channel achievement of Louis Blériot by means of a pedal-powered balloon.
To my mind, Rousson looks more like a banana-bag Dickensonian inventor than FusionMan. Doesn't that photo remind you of the closing images from Speilberg's marvelous ET ?
The kind of device to be used by Stéphane Rousson was in fact imagined by a certain Frenchman named Goupil (colloquial term for a sly fox) back in 1885.
Goupil's dirigible airship was to be constructed of a silk sheathing around a wooden carcass. In the original article published in Chronique industrielle, the inventor points out that it will indeed be possible, shortly (?), for a cyclist to rise into the air and ride along a desired itinerary... but "only when the atmosphere is not perturbed by storms". So, you've been warned!
The following image reveals a more stable and compact machine, invented three years later, which made it possible to pedal calmly, keeping your cap on, through even the most violent tempests.
Seasoned fliers have learned that the greatest luxury, on long-distance flights, is to be able to stretch yourself out. This goal was attained in a design of 1889, which might be thought of as a kind of precursor John Dickenson's invention of 1963.
Somebody said in a comment to one of my recent posts about John Dickenson: "People have been successfully hang gliding since the 1800s." I don't know whether the devices illustrated in the above engravings were what you might call successful inventions. In this line of thinking, the thing that impressed me most in my recent face-to-face encounter with John Dickenson is the fact that, not only did he invent and test a free-flying wing, but he also survived his invention! In making that declaration, I feel a little like a joyful Saint Thomas crying out on the clifftops that he has actually poked his fingers through the holes in the blue plastic banana bags.
PS While I was watching the breathtaking Yves Rossy videos, sponsored by the Geneva watchmaker Hublot, a lovely but pointless small thought crossed my mind. I imagined my 75-year-old grandmother, Mary Jane Walker née Kennedy, watching the historic Dickenson/Fuller flights back in 1963, during Grafton's Jacaranda Festival. I can't vouch for it, but this possible scenario was perfectly feasible. Maybe my mother drove GrandMa to the banks of the Clarence, to watch the fun and action. Then, in my imagination, I thought of having my reincarnated grandmother seated magically alongside me today, in front of my Macintosh, watching the Yves Rossy videos. How would she react to what is displayed on the screen? Without attempting to answer that unanswerable question, I now see myself, half a century downstream (or upstream, depending upon how you look at time and evolution), in a similar posthumous role to that of my grandmother. I fear greatly that the reincarnated (virtual) William won't have the least idea of what seems to happening around him. To put it bluntly, the encounter will surely be so disastrous, so utterly meaningless, that I'm glad I won't be there to witness the painful confusion. It's weird to think that the advances of our technological awareness are a little like the evolution of our attitudes towards cigarette smoking. I love history!