A Family Story
About 20 years ago I was flying freight out of Burbank California and decided to stop in and see my grandparents who happened to live close to the airport. They were always glad to see me and much to my surprise the topic of conversation would lead a lasting impression in my brain. So my grandfather somehow decided he was going to tell me his version of aviation history from his perspective from being in the war.
The Hurdles of the Story
Now keep in mind as fascinating as this sounds, there were a couple of hurdles to overcome. First of all is that my grandfathers English was not so good, it was his second language so there is that. His first language is Italian and occasionally an Italian word or phrase gets thrown in for me to decipher. Secondly he is older, somewhere in his mid nineties although I cannot exactly say. Thirdly and most amusing is the fact that he has no teeth. This makes for an interesting story with lots of pauses while I interrupt him to ask if he would repeat things.
A few Regrets
So the stage is set, I am going to get a real history of aviation lesson in the flesh from a first hand account. I just wish that somehow I could have recorded or taken a video of the conversation but cell phones were not a big thing yet.
An Unlikely Perspective
So here is how the story starts. My grandfather is in the army, and is a foot solder. There is a battle going on that seems to stop for a while leaving one side wondering where the other side is in regard to the terrain. No one knows, the shooting has stopped for the night and the leaders gather to come up with some sort of reconsinse solution. This leads to an idea. Someone suggests that if we were able to climb a tree we might be able to figure out where the enemy army is camped. That is quickly ruled out with a better idea. Instead of trying to climb a tree, why not float a solder above the tree line by balloon?
Looking for the new Hero
This gets some good buy in from the leadership and off they go to find an unlucky volunteer. Apparently this is not in the army manual and it’s a novel idea that merits testing. So they tie a guy to a balloon which also has another line that they can pull him up or down with. Much to the shock of everyone, this works. They float the solder above the trees, he locates the army, they pull him down and proceed to attack that morning. According to my grandfather this was a great victory which is fairly evident by his toothless grin.
Forget Being a Hero
There is no doubt that the next day when it came time to pick a volunteer for the same mission there was a few more excited men to step up and do their part. That is until the enemy noticed the balloon and put two and two together. This resulted in an expert marksman’s well placed shot which caused the volunteer to come crashing down. This was the start of identifying the need for some sort of aviation quest. Lighter than air now had a useful role in the army and thus only had to be improved to become a tool in the toolbox. This is how aviation today always becomes better, challenges and failures are always studied and improved.
Lighter than air aviation
Next came the evolution of baskets under balloons because the dangling aspect did not draw much appeal. The basket appeared to give more security but still turned out to offer anything in support of being bullet proof. But the real point is progress. The progressive thinking was still moving forward. (at least it was not a man in a lawn chair tied to the balloon, like we would not see that again....) Now was this the first documented flight in such a manner? Probably not, however it was the significance of the story tellers experience that brought it home for me.
Heavier than air
As for the rest of aviation progress, I think we all know the story. Much is documented about the flight at Kittyhawk. Some of it is in argued as the first powered flight. Again, perspective comes into play. Somewhere there is a unique story being told that will never get old.
Do you have a great story to share? We would love to hear it and publish it here.
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