"A superb history of flying machines . . . the best one-volume analysis of the subject."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
National Air and Space Museum curator Crouch (A Dream of Wings; The Bishop's Boys) exuberantly surveys the entirety of aviation history. Wealthy aristocrat George Cayley progressed from a helicopter toy (1796) and model gliders (1804) to a glider capable of lifting a human (1849). After Cayley came a parade of pioneers, including John Joseph Montgomery, the "first American to leave the ground on wings of his own design" (1884). Otto Lilienthal made 2,000 glider flights, and his 1896 death during an airborne accident piqued the Wright Brothers' interest. At this point, Crouch carries the narrative aloft, taking note of the exhilarating exhibitions by barnstorming "aerial gypsies" after the WWI aircraft production boom. With the Air Mail Act of 1925, "Post Office officials realized that they were laying the foundation for commercial aviation in the United States." The Allies in WWII learned much from downed Messerschmitts and other Nazi rocket secrets, ushering in a new era of high-speed aerodynamics that cued a shift from aviation to aerospace (travel beyond earth's atmosphere). Computers brought change; in-flight movies were introduced in 1961; and weather-beaten hangars were replaced by gleaming terminals. With international tourism came the spread of American commercial culture. The book concludes with September 11 and the airline losses and layoffs that followed. Crouch notes that his history was "30 years in the making," and his exhaustive research is evident in 42 pages of notes and a vast array of sources. Capturing the romance of flight along with successes, failures and many memorable figures from Lindbergh to Yeager, this is a book that soars, a worthy celebration of the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first flight. 125 illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.