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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On this day in 1919…

John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew non-stop across the Atlantic in a modified Vickers Vimy, taking off in Newfoundland, Canada and making an incommodious but non-fatal landing in Connemara, Ireland.

17 comments to On this day in 1919…

  • Julie near Chicago

    Perry … Awesome! I wouldn’t have had the guts to fly that thing for more than 119′, or more than 3′ off the ground.

    Thanks for posting.

  • bobby b

    The things people will do to get out of Canada.

  • Eric

    From the wiki page:

    It was not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft had difficulty taking off the rough field and only barely missed the tops of the trees. At 17:20 the wind-driven electrical generator failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating. An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterwards, causing a frightening noise which made conversation impossible without the failed intercom.

    At 5.00 p.m., they had to fly through thick fog. This was serious because it prevented Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they did not have. Alcock twice lost control of the aircraft and nearly hit the sea after a spiral dive. He also had to deal with a broken trim control that made the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel was consumed.

    At 12:15 a.m., Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, and found that they were on course.
    Their electric heating suits had failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit.

    That’s crazy.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b

    It wasn’t Canada until 1949, they were even more visionary than first appears, getting out whilst ahead. 🙂

    The Rutan Voyager made it all the way around the Earth in one flight in 1986, a feat that still astonishes me, but with better engines, weather info and materials etc. Two people in a cabin the size of a phone box, for 9 days.

    In both cases, the Hitchhikers’ Guide comes to mind, and the informational illusion of the Krikkit One spacecraft, as Douglas Adams put it:

    ‘Extremely rickety’ was one phrase that came to mind, ‘Please may I get out?’ was another.

  • Guy Montag

    Remarkable but in some ways a little sad too. It took just 50 years from Alcock and Brown sputtering across the Atlantic to landing human beings on the moon. In the 50 years since Armstrong & Co walked on the moon? Well, not much really.

  • In the 50 years since Armstrong & Co walked on the moon? Well, not much really.

    Really?

  • Guy Montag

    Yes, really. So Space X are building rockets. Good for them. But isn’t just this a tarted-up version of what the Germans were doing in the 1940s? Oh sure, we have plenty of satellites up there and a space station or two but we’re still just pootling around in our own orbit.

    I am also aware that we have sent probes out into the solar system. But us humans are still stuck on earth. I suspect that there are simply physical limitations to our puny, vulnerable bodies and that may be the reason for it.

    Nonetheless it does seem to me that, in the last 50 years, we’ve gone from staring up at the stars to staring down at our phones.

  • But isn’t just this a tarted-up version of what the Germans were doing in the 1940s?

    Nope. This is to rockets what the printing press was to illuminated manuscripts produced by a tiny number of monks. We are seing space flight’s ‘Gutenberg moment’ unfold before our very eyes.

    we’ve gone from staring up at the stars to staring down at our phones.

    And that is a revolution the like of which the world has never seen, because of what those phones are connected to. I looked up the menu & closing time of a cafe in Istanbul, plus directions & a street map to get there a few days ago. I also despammed this blog using my phone whilst having a Turkish coffee.

  • But isn’t just this a tarted-up version of what the Germans were doing in the 1940s?

    Not sure that the evolution of the printing industry is comparable with the development of space technology, but if you want to follow that analogy then surely von Braun’s development was the Guttenberg moment and the Apollo program was the advent of the “Hot metal press” era.

    What SpaceX has done with rapid prototyping using computer designed 3D printing is like the switchover from hot metal to digital production. It is literally that groundbreaking.

    Perry’s illustration of the point using the synchronised landings of the Falcon 9 Heavy boosters is the perfect example of this and still gives me goosebumps despite having watched it live and seen the replay time-and-again.

    For all Elon Musk’s personal and professional failings, what he has achieved with SpaceX is groundbreaking and puts institutions like NASA and the ESA to shame with it’s graceful simplicity.

    Patrick Moore met both Orville Wright and Neil Armstrong during his long life and I have every suspicion that the first person to land on Mars is already walking around somewhere. That will be more because of SpaceX than NASA.

    At 51, I’m too old to buy a ticket to the moon, but my 18 year old daughter will probably be able to, if she wants.

    Excelsior!

  • Guy Montag

    Perry de Havilland, yes I am aware of the great leaps and bounds that have been made in communications and media technology but I was more referring to the process of pushing out the spatial frontiers. Perhaps there are now more worlds to conquer other than those that are well beyond our reach.

  • then surely von Braun’s development was the Guttenberg moment and the Apollo program was the advent of the “Hot metal press” era.

    No, absolutely positively not.

    What makes what SpaceX more analogous to Gutenberg is the dramatic lowering of cost, and the two state-run rocketry programmes you mention, V-2 & Apollo, were the expensive ‘illuminated manuscripts’ of their day, ever more spectacular but so expensive they were only within the purview of the few.

    SpaceX (et al) are bringing space flight within the price range of everyday companies the way the printing press brought books within the price range of the many. The cost per kg to orbit coming down dramatically is a true game changer.

  • No, absolutely positively not.

    Meh. Arguing over the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead really.

    The point is that SpaceX is a revolution in terms of access to space and it is only the beginning. I think we can both agree on that.

  • Ellen

    But isn’t just this a tarted-up version of what the Germans were doing in the 1940s?

    Note well: the SpaceX rockets land much more gently. And when they land, what’s left is still quite useful.

    Books are a good example, but I’d prefer another. The V-2 and Apollo were the product of one-at-a-time artificers, somewhat on the order of monks from very large abbeys. SpaceX is the beginning of the production line, or at the very least, the industrial age.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Sounds like the customer services were terrible! But I’ll bet the price was cheap.

  • Meh. Arguing over the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead really.

    It is a fundamental change, not an arcane matter at all. We are seeing space flight moving into an era when it will be accessible by entrepreneurs, people who have innovative idea will soon be able to take affordable risks involving space flight, and that has fascinating implications.

  • Paul Garnier

    Deep space exploration may well require one critical innovation that we have yet to come up with:
    Besides the new drive systems that can efficiently and quickly take us to the outer reaches of the solar system and beyond, there remains the (probably more important) creation of post-human versions of space explorers that will be both low-mass and far more robust and adaptable than our current Homo sapiens version.

  • Paul Marks

    A great achievement.

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