The Story of Flight

On the 115th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first successful flight, our Review of the Week delves into aviation’s history

The airplane: how ideas gave us wings

Spenser, Jay. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2008
340p, 9780061259197 $25.95

This book chronicles the history of the airplane through the ideas and inspirations of the aviators who dared to dream. Unlike other history books, this work by Spenser (formerly, curator, National Air and Space Museum and The Museum of Flight) portrays the evolution of aviation through the aeroplane, guiding the reader through the failures and successes that shaped the future of the airplane, from early gliders to today’s newest aircraft. Taking an unusual approach, the author relates the development of the airplane through the advancements of its structures, systems, and components, as well as the human sacrifice it took to create these flying machines. Spencer starts with conception and birth, and moves to a chronological maturity of the fuselage, wings, empennage, flight controls, flight deck, propulsion, landing gear, and system integration. He finishes with a brief look at today’s technology and tomorrow’s wings. The volume is rich with text and historical photos. It includes detailed references to support the author’s research, as well as credible sources for all graphics. Technology is simply explained and easy to understand. Anyone who enjoys watching an airplane take off and land will enjoy this book.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers.
Reviewer: K. H. Anderson, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Subject: Science & Technology – Engineering
Choice Issue: Jun 2009