( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Less than twenty years ago no practical flying craft had yet been invented. Even after the Wright brothers had succeeded in constructing a machine which made aviation a reality for man, flying was thought too dangerous to be considered seriously as a means of locomotion. It was with the outbreak of the World War that aviation first came into its own. At a time when every available means for deriving information of the actions of the enemy and of one's own widely scattered troops was being sought, aeroplanes manifested their great usefulness. The work done by aviators in reconnaissance and combat brought them into the foreground of public interest. That interest was still at its height when the war ended, and the general public, by now grown used to the idea of flying, began seriously to consider the peace-time aspects of aviation. The fact that flying machines are now being used for commercial purposes, and in the semi-official as well as military service, renders aviation not* merely a branch of the army, as it was formerly to a large degree regarded, but an independent profession of wide scope and opportunity.
The two major divisions of aeronautical work comprise the profession of the engineer and that of the aviator, or pilot. Upon the engineer depends much of the actual progress of aviation. It is his duty to design and construct aeroplanes, and to work constantly with the object in view of making aircraft more trustworthy vehicles. For this reason the engineer should be a man of thorough scientific training. In his efforts to bring about improvements in the construction of various portions of aeroplanes the engineer will be obliged to do much work of an experimental nature, and he should be technically equipped to carry on research work of a highly scientific kind. Many aeronautical engineers have been recruited from the ranks of auto-mobile engineers, as the work in these two branches is some-what similar. However, the special problems with which the aeronautical engineer must contend have resulted in the establishment of separate departments of aeronautical engineering in various technological schools.
Besides the engineer, who plans the aeroplanes, a corps of trained mechanics are needed to work upon the various parts of the planes and to keep them in condition. Engine mechanics, electricians and repairmen carefully examine the aeroplane's power plant before each trip, and make all necessary repairs at its conclusion. Riggers, or planemen, care for the plane itself; seeing to it that wings, ropes, wires, safety apparatus and all other such portions are always in perfect condition. Inspection of the plane is, in fact, one of the chief duties of the mechanics. Every part must be carefully gone over before and after each trip, for in aviation it is fatal to take chances of any sort. It is imperative that the mechanics be conscientious, accurate workers, for carelessness produces accidents.
The pilot is the man who has charge of the machine on its actual flying trips. He must, of course, know how to handle his machine under all conditions. Many pilots are extremely able fliers, but have so little knowledge of the mechanical portions of the plane, outside of the various controls, that they are unable to help themselves in case of engine trouble. Others, however, can not only steer their planes and land properly but have sufficient knowledge of the construction of the engine to be able to make some necessary repairs in case of unforeseen emergency. This type of aviator, who combines the knowledge of the pilot with that of the mechanic, is sure to be in increasing demand, as flying becomes more general.
The aviator will find openings not only in the military and other governmental services but also in the commercial field. A surprisingly large number of governmental departments utilize aircraft in various ways. The uses to which the army, navy and marine corps put aeroplanes in time of war are, of course, well known. But the official peace-time activities of aviators probably receive much less general attention, though they are exceedingly noteworthy. The U. S. Post-Office Aerial Service, established about three years ago, maintains air lines between several large cities, and the planes on these lines fly on schedule time and in all sorts of weather, with a record of very few forced landings and no serious mishaps.
The Forestry Service maintains an aerial forest patrol, to observe forest lands, and by this observation to prevent devastating fires. The Coast Guard has an aerial corps for the protection of life and property at sea. The Weather Bureau utilizes aeroplanes for the gathering of meteorological data. Other bureaus also employ aircraft, and pilots and mechanics are needed for work on all these machines.
Commercial flying also offers opportunity to many men. There are numerous aerial transport lines which undertake the rapid transportation of passengers and freight. It is no longer considered remarkable for a man having an important business appointment in a distant city to travel there by aeroplane, nor is it unusual for perishable food products to be transported from one part of the country to another via the air, in a comparatively few hours. As people conic to realize more and more the commercial possibilities of the aeroplane, the demand for competent aviators, aeronautical engineers and mechanics is bound to increase.
All aviators, no matter in what branch they may be engaged, must have certain natural qualifications. They should, first of all, be physically fit. The aviator's work puts upon him a great strain, and none but a vigorous and strong-nerved man should attempt it. Good vision and hearing, perfect respiration and circulation, a strong sense of equilibrium and a delicate sense of touch are all necessary. The aviator must be a cool person, who will at the same time be courageous and cautious. He must have plenty of initiative and be able to come to a quick and yet sound decision in an emergency. The civilian aviator, who knows his machine and who has good judgment and confidence in himself, will probably get along very well. The military pilot must, in addition to physical endurance, coolness, quick perception and the ability to act quickly and well, have some knowledge of military matters. The aerial observer, who in time of war accompanies the pilot on reconnoitering and attack expeditions, is the man who has a really expert knowledge of military affairs. The military pilot should, however, in many cases be able to change places with the observer, and so he should know how to operate the wireless and radio outfits with which the plane is equipped, and how to take photographs from the air.
The chief reason for the objections which are made to aviation as a profession is the danger which it is thought to entail. It is true that there have been many accidents in the past, and that some still occur. When one considers, however, the various factors which are daily lessening the chance of the occurrence of accidents, and when one considers also the actual accomplishments of aircraft, the fear of danger is likely to diminish. In the days of the pioneer aviators, when the building of aeroplanes was more or less a matter of experimentation, it was no unusual thing for the plane to break under the aviator's weight, as it ascended. Nowadays, of course, such things do not happen. The aviator's chief perils arise from the dangers of carelessness, from engine failure and from a lack of accurate meteorological information. Carelessness is the worst sin any airman can commit. Many accidents could have been avoided if, before flight, the planes had been thoroughly examined, and if the pilot had manifested more respect for the air. Nerve and daring are necessary things in their place, but flying is, after all, a science, and must be practiced accurately. The aviator who takes chances unnecessarily invites accidents, and the cautious man will eliminate one of the greatest perils of flying.
Engine failure has been another frequent cause of accident, but this, too, may be overcome. More trustworthy motors are being devised by aeronautical engineers, and there is no doubt, also, that soon many planes will be equipped with multiple engines, so that, in case one becomes disabled, another will be at hand. The third danger of aviation lies in the fact that there are certain areas of disturbance in the air, and that, when he enters upon one of these, the pilot may find himself so deflected from his course as to be forced to land in an unfavorable spot. Bad weather also, has its perils, in unexpected winds and thick fogs. But even these dangers are being overcome. Airmen have learned that if they fly sufficiently high they will greatly lessen the chances of entering upon regions of disturbing air currents. Scientific study of the air is also being pursued, and it is expected that much valuable information will be obtained in this way. Then, too, mechanical improvements in the craft are bringing about a greater amount of automatic stability, and so increasing the probabilities of the machines being able to right themselves if upset by strong winds. Aviators, too, as they learn more about the natural laws of flight and as they obtain greater skill in the operation of aeroplanes, will do much to lessen the perils of flying.
For men who actually have the desire to fly, who are of an adventurous and yet cool temperament, who are quick and careful, and who have judgment and common sense, aviation offers many opportunities. Men may enter the naval, military or some other branch of government service, they may become civilian fliers and they may teach or do exhibition flying. When a pilot's license, which is granted when one has successfully passed certain practical tests given by the Aero Club, is obtained, interesting and lucrative work offers itself to aviators. Aviation is not yet one of the crowded professions and, as there is no doubt of its being a very rapidly growing one, the demand for competent workers along the aeronautical lines will probably continue to be active. The salaries in the aeronautical field are good—mechanics are paid from $30 a week upward, engineers make several thousand dollars a year and pilots have opportunity to do likewise.
Whether the boy intends to become a mechanic, engineer or aviator, it is essential that he have the best and most thorough training possible, for absolute accuracy and the highest degree of knowledge are required in aviation. For this reason many people urge that the pilot should be a college trained man, but others consider that the degree of previous education is not important as long as the pilot possesses initiative, resourcefulness and judgment, in addition to the necessary technical knowledge.
There is no doubt that aviation is a profession of steadily growing importance. As flying becomes more general, laws are made to govern air travel and landing fields are provided by the government, as will have to be done, the dangers of aviation will no doubt become negligible, and the air will become a means of livelihood for a large number of people.
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