a short essay on the history of flight
Those glory-hoggers, the Wright Brothers took all the credit. History has almost totally bleached out my part in the development of human flight. They say that history is written by the victors, and they are right. I allowed the glory to slip by and I only have myself to blame.
My early attempts at flight involved bees. You will be familiar with the idea of men wearing a beard of bees - I went further: I developed a whole undercarriage, a whole fuselage of bees. A bee-plane, if you will.
But bees - social as they are - rarely stuck together long enough to take me very far, and would often disintegrate mid-flight into a chaotic mess of insects. Were it not for my canvas parachute, I would have died a dozen times.
After bees came pigeons, who are duller than bees and easier to control. You would not be surprised to learn that it takes over 300 pigeons tethered to a fully-grown man's body to allow him to leave the ground, albeit briefly. For many years I pursued my experiments with pigeons, but I never got more than a few feet off the ground, and always emerged covered in guano.I discovered the true trick to flying in 1848. I never turned back.
The trick to flying is just to fly. A human being can fly as well as any bird or aircraft if he puts his mind to it. And before you ask - this is no metaphorical flight, I am not referring to a spiritual journey in which the illusion of flight is achieve. When I say that I fly, I mean that I am flying.
The history of human flight is the tale of man's yearning to escape. While in flight, man is neither here nor there, but in-between, in transit. To fly is to flee, and like so many of my ancestors I felt a longing to escape. From what, I do not know. I only know that I always wanted to be elsewhere. From bees to fleas.
Man's attempts to fly are often portrayed with vanity, as though we were all Icarus, doomed to fail through vanity, through our urge to transcend mortal roles and become gods. This is nonsense. God gave me a brain, and I used it with humility, with earnest conviction. I have always had an astute grasp of the dangers of gravity. As I plummeted in my early vehicles (as I often did) the gravity of the situation was always acutely present.
It was only when I abandoned animals and mechanicals that I started research on man flying unaided. Mechanical flight in a clumsy affair. Machines do not have the grace or wit to charm gravity, they simply defy it. Rude and unpleasant, much like Orville and Wilbur themselves. The trick to flying is to persuade gravity to absent itself, to politely leave the room for the necessary duration.
Like so many involved in physics, gravity is vain and lonely. It is taken for granted. It is not difficult to flatter gravity. A few careful words, a wry smile, a twinkle of melancholy eyes - this is enough for a good ten minutes of uninterrupted flight.
Initially, I was mocked. When I published my research, the experts scoffed. What they scoffed, I do not care or know. When they saw the evidence of my discoveries, they simply gawped like torpid children at a magic show.
When they saw me, then they believed me. Then they could not deny me.
However, they could not copy me. Try as they did, the dullards could not fly as I could. They jumped off buildings, ran into lakes, chatted to birds (Lord knows why), but they always failed. These so-called-experts could hardly get an inch off the ground without crashing down to earth.
I taught plenty of other people to fly, from chimney-sweeps to gardeners, but none had the social standing or influence to promote my discovery. The scientific community grew increasingly jealous of my powers. I would sail into meetings aboard a cloud, and I would see the veins in their pompous necks bulge with anger. How was it that I could fly so easily, and they were all earthbound? I could not say then, and still cannot. I suppose some of us have it, and some do not.
So, unable to fly, the doctors, the physicists, the Royals, the lawyers, they turned their backs on me, hopeful that history would erase me. And they were almost, almost right.
But not quite.