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The Development of Aviation
2010-03-18

The Development of Aviation Progress in aviation has been a dynamic proof of the Chaos theory. Government in all its forms as perceived by the individual as a financial source, a leading force, or negatively regulation entity has played a major role in the growth of aviation. The higher education has been primarily directed toward practical engineering. The great leaps forward have been by the dreamers who have scorned the limits of the universities. Radical innovations have been resisted mostly because of cost. Individuals with limited resources have initiated innovation. Once initiated, then and only then, do the financing, time and facilities become available. More often than not the originator gets little recognition as the second or third facilitator wins all the marbles.

Innovation has pauses, spurts failures and successes. Innovation requires considerable luck, faith, persistence, patience and leadership. Major aeronautical achievements very often had to wait while a related field played catch-up. The Wrights had to wait for an engine, engines had to wait for anti-knock fuel, communications had to wait for vacuum tubes, radar had to wait for the magnetron, navigation had to wait for the chronometer and GPS. Materials were improved and made possible better reciprocating engines and eventually via turbo-charging the jet engines as we know them.

The irrationality of government and military to resist change often resulted in blockages that took twenty years to remove. The Congress passed a bill in 1926 that prevented the funds of the government to be used for airport improvements. It was not until 1938 with the threat of universal war that the law was revoked. The antagonism between the major divisions of the U.S. military would prevent development that might benefit another service. That improvements were made often required interpersonal alliances between disparate personalities, institutional alliances between traditional opponents, and invisible infrastructure of materials and testing.

Of the visible infrastructure the most evident would be airports. The creation of airports in the U.S. is a mix of all the best and worst in what is America. As mentioned before Congress withheld federal funds. Little by little local communities found space near town that could be used. 1923 Pittsburgh wanted an airport but the selected area brought the very first resistance group of an Academy and a Country Club. The post office wanted to institute airmail service and were prepared to pay for it if only the cities would create airports. Cities, anxious to get into the game bent the rules to buy or lease airport space. Any field could be called an airport.

The military and postal service wanted airports throughout the U.S. It was Lindbergh who did for aviation what Tiger Woods has done for golf. When Lindbergh made a tour of the country every city wanted to have an airport for him to visit. An entire memorabilia industry grew up around Lindbergh. I recently visited a private home in Illinois that had an entire study made up such memorabilia. Museum quality and quantity. States passed enabling acts that allowed cities to build and support airports. Evasions around congressional restrictions made reclamation funds available to build airports where water existed. Lawsuits against city owned and built airports failed to halt development. The use of federal funds gave the power to regulate. Depression fed WPA projects built bridges and airports. By 1939 airports were a war preparation priority. Today, all major airports are owned and operated by cities.

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