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Aviation: The Conquest of the Skies by the Mind
I am kept in the air by the application of man's mind to raw bauxite, ironsands and oil, to create a mammoth machine, that can lift hundreds of people into the air, hundreds of tons into the air and propel them all a quarter of the way around the earth without stopping -- in comfort and safety. Again and again, for years and years, safer than travel by road -- lifting hundreds of tons of aluminum into the sky and flying with ease at speed, and bringing it back down slowly enough to stop and within hours do it all again.
A lifetime ago, it would have taken months to travel such distance, now it takes hours. A generation ago it would have cost half a year's salary, now you can fly to Europe for less than NZ$2000. Every second another one of these machines takes off somewhere in the world lifting over a hundred people at least. Thousands of them are in the air at any moment, and for every kilometer traveled by every passenger, it is many, many times safer than travel by road.
This is one of the greatest creations of capitalism, of American entrepreneurship. It was the relatively unregulated US domestic aviation industry that propelled this forward, both with manufacturers and airlines, and it went further due to military expenditure and competition between aircraft manufacturers (all of which have either bowed out of commercial airliner manufacture or been bought out, except Boeing). In thirty years from 1940 through to 1970, airliners went from the DC3, piston powered propeller aircraft, with 30 or so people traveling at a couple of hundred km/h, to the Boeing 747 with almost 400 people at 900 km/h.
Since then the main achievements have been more range, comfort, safety and fuel efficiency. The result has been easier, cheaper and more direct air travel, despite the massive intervention by governments to protect airlines and restrict competition.
For generations man was told that if he were meant to fly, God would have given him wings. Well man has wings, he thumbed his nose at those naysayers and now the haters of capitalism, of science, and of man's mind fly without a second thought. The legends of Daedalus and Icarus, the ambitions of Leonardo Da Vinci, have been achieved -- flight, which only a century or so ago amazed and astounded, is so routine, and has done so much. The benefits, the lifestyle, the trade, the excitement, the lives saved, the careers, the love which aviation has allowed, these are the "externalities" that the pioneers, the creators and inventors don't get the rewards from. So many people around the world have had their lives changed for the better because of controlled human flight, and all one is asked for, to take advantage of something that strikes days, weeks and months out of one's life to travel, to ship goods, is a few hundred or thousand dollars.
When I was a child I looked at the birds and the planes, I wondered why the birds could just takeoff and go anywhere -- they were free. I could run but if I jumped off of anything I'd plummet like a rock. Someone made these big metal things that could fly faster higher and further than a bird, and I could sit in them and relax, without flapping wings. I could stand at airports and watch these gigantic marvels of man's creation, fill with people and cargo and shoot down a runway, and lift off almost like magic, into the air and within minutes gone, far away. Then I'd spy one coming down out of the clouds, a huge behemoth of a thing, but it slows, controlled, down to the ground, stopping and people come out. Man decided he WAS meant to fly, and now he does -- everywhere, all the time.
Few things are more inspirational to me than aviation - it is one of the greatest conquests of man's mind over his environment, it is the destruction of the limitations of man's anatomy in one dimension. Man could always go forward, backward, left and right, but up? All he could do is leap a few feet, climb, or build something. However, to fly, man would equal the birds and exceed them. While man cannot leap up and down over short distances like the birds, he can fly long distances, fast and with little effort - beyond the birds. Aviation enables man to go high, to go far and go fast, and it is taken for granted. That is the nature of the achievement. Like the telephone and television, it does something that two or three generations ago would have, at best, completely amazed, at worst, struck fear in the minds of luddites. Next time you see a plane in the air, think about what it is doing, think about what is keeping it in the sky - not God, not nature, not the government, not wishful thinking, but men's minds.
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