THE ELEMENT OF DANGER.
That there is an element of danger in aviation is
undeniable, but it is nowhere so great as the public
imagines. Men are killed and injured in the operation
of flying machines just as they are killed and injured in
the operation of railways. Considering the character of
aviation the percentage of casualties is surprisingly
This is because the results following a collapse in the
air are very much different from what might be imagined.
Instead of dropping to the ground like a bullet an
aeroplane, under ordinary conditions will, when anything
goes wrong, sail gently downward like a parachute,
particularly if the operator is cool-headed and nervy enough
to so manipulate the apparatus as to preserve its equilibrium
and keep the machine on an even keel.
Two Fields of Safety.
At least one prominent aviator has declared that there
are two fields of safety--one close to the ground, and
the other well up in the air. In the first-named the fall
will be a slight one with little chance of the operator
being seriously hurt. From the field of high altitude the
the descent will be gradual, as a rule, the planes of the
machine serving to break the force of the fall. With a
cool-headed operator in control the aeroplane may be
even guided at an angle (about 1 to 8) in its descent so
as to touch the ground with a gliding motion and with
a minimum of impact.
Such an experience, of course, is far from pleasant,
but it is by no means so dangerous as might appear.
There is more real danger in falling from an elevation
of 75 or 100 feet than there is from 1,000 feet, as in the
former case there is no chance for the machine to serve as
a parachute--its contact with the ground comes too
Lesson in Recent Accidents.
Among the more recent fatalities in aviation are the
deaths of Antonio Fernandez and Leon Delagrange. The
former was thrown to the ground by a sudden stoppage
of his motor, the entire machine seeming to collapse.
It is evident there were radical defects, not only in the
motor, but in the aeroplane framework as well. At the
time of the stoppage it is estimated that Fernandez was
up about 1,500 feet, but the machine got no opportunity
to exert a parachute effect, as it broke up immediately.
This would indicate a fatal weakness in the structure
which, under proper testing, could probably have been
detected before it was used in flight.
It is hard to say it, but Delagrange appears to have
been culpable to great degree in overloading his machine
with a motor equipment much heavier than it was
designed to sustain. He was 65 feet up in the air when
the collapse occurred, resulting in his death. As in the
case of Fernandez common-sense precaution would
doubtless have prevented the fatality.
Aviation Not Extra Hazardous.
All told there have been, up to the time of this writing
(April, 1910), just five fatalities in the history of power-
driven aviation. This is surprisingly low when the nature
of the experiments, and the fact that most of the
operators were far from having extended experience, is
taken into consideration. Men like the Wrights, Curtiss,
Bleriot, Farman, Paulhan and others, are now experts,
but there was a time, and it was not long ago, when they
were unskilled. That they, with numerous others less
widely known, should have come safely through their
many experiments would seem to disprove the prevailing
idea that aviation is an extra hazardous pursuit.
In the hands of careful, quick-witted, nervy men the
sailing of an airship should be no more hazardous than
the sailing of a yacht. A vessel captain with common
sense will not go to sea in a storm, or navigate a weak,
unseaworthy craft. Neither should an aviator attempt
to sail when the wind is high and gusty, nor with a machine
which has not been thoroughly tested and found to
be strong and safe.
Safer Than Railroading.
Statistics show that some 12,000 people are killed and
72,000 injured every year on the railroads of the United
States. Come to think it over it is small wonder that
the list of fatalities is so large. Trains are run at high
speeds, dashing over crossings at which collisions are
liable to occur, and over bridges which often collapse
or are swept away by floods. Still, while the number of
casualties is large, the actual percentage is small considering
the immense number of people involved.
It is so in aviation. The number of casualties is remarkably
small in comparison with the number of flights
made. In the hands of competent men the sailing of an
airship should be, and is, freer from risk of accident than
the running of a railway train. There are no rails to
spread or break, no bridges to collapse, no crossings at
which collisions may occur, no chance for some sleepy
or overworked employee to misunderstand the dispatcher's
orders and cause a wreck.
Two Main Causes of Trouble.
The two main causes of trouble in an airship leading
to disaster may be attributed to the stoppage of the
motor, and the aviator becoming rattled so that he loses
control of his machine. Modern ingenuity is fast developing
motors that almost daily become more and more
reliable, and experience is making aviators more and
more self-confident in their ability to act wisely and
promptly in cases of emergency. Besides this a satisfactory
system of automatic control is in a fair way
of being perfected.
Occasionally even the most experienced and competent
of men in all callings become careless and by foolish
action invite disaster. This is true of aviators the same
as it is of railroaders, men who work in dynamite mills,
etc. But in nearly every instance the responsibility rests
with the individual; not with the system. There are
some men unfitted by nature for aviation, just as there
are others unfitted to be railway engineers.