THE CLERK OF THE WEATHER.
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A Renewed Consideration of the Industrial Possibilities of Flying, after a Further Twelve Months of Aerial Warfare.
By "The Inspector."
IT IS AS NEAR as may be twelve months ago that I chose as a subject the possibility of the commercial adaptation of the science and art of flying for an article in TEE COMMERCIAL MOTOR. Twelve months in these days is twelve months of stupendous development, particularly in all things mechanical that are adapted to the purposes of warfare, and in this respect flying is, perhaps, the most wonderful example. When I last wrote under the title of "The Aeroplanteehnieon," the aerial arm had not been developed to any extent proportionately with what was then anticipated for it in the near future. If any thing, the anticipations of 1917 have been more than surpassed, and it is certainly not now inapproPriate to endeavour to review one's conclusions that were based on. the data that were available last year in the light of the development that has since taken place.
In the issue of this journal dated the '21.9-tJune, 1917, I committed myself to the opinion that thecommercial future of the navigation of the air would be a strictly limited one. I suggested that the principal hindrance. to a much wider application °Utile art of flying to the industrial purposres of mankind would prove to be man's hopeless failure to achieve any measure of success in connect-ion with the control of the weather. Nothing that has happened since then has caused me to alter that opinion. If anything, what has appeared tobe a -superfluity of bright moonlight and other excesses of celestial phenomena have convinced me that, if we are to ride the winds with business regularity, something less futile than the shooting of rain clouds to bring down the rain will have to mark the limit of achieaement in 'human effort to ration the weather and to harness the clerk who is reputed babe responsible for it. It still rains when it likes, it still blows when it likes. Mud still helas up offensives, and ice and frost facilitate them or hinder them according to the local circumstances. The Huns have invented poison gas, we have produced the tank, and jointly the belligerents are responsible for the production of numerous entirely novel and not very praiseworthyaneans of destroying each other. But with all the diabolical ingenuity of angry nations in arms, if they want so keep the commander in chief dry, they must provide him with trench waders, or, if his dignity permits, an umbrella The nation that can first solve the secret of weather control can readily rule the world.
Flying is dependent upon the state of the atmosphere to a far greater extent than any other mode of progression. Fog, rain, snow, wind, darkness, all at present have their deterrent effect on the aeroplane or the dirigible. Even the sun and the moon are fadtors which introduce dangerous conditions, and although great progress has already been made, and greater no doubt will still be effected, in rendering aircraft abore capable of dealing with rapid and extreme changes in weather conditions, those who ride in the air will always be more or less the sport of the elements. The aeroplane particularly is, all the time that it is aloft, in unstable equilibrium.
All of this points to the fact that, however much development may be,achieved in aircraft,odesign and production, the aeroplane will never be free from re lative uncertainty of performance. It is an easy enough thing to pretend to a Jules Verne-like facility for prophecy ; it is a daring thing, particularly in these days, of hmovation and revolution to attempt to suggest a limit to any branch of human progress, but the limitations to flying as a commercial possibility, are set by the Clerk of the Weather, and not by the almost negligible opinion of "The Inspector." For conamercialllying to be of any great. general application absolute reliability and certainty must be within the holm& of definite achievement, otherwise its application will be restricted to filling the requirements of those passengers or consignors who, knowing the risks of non-arrival or of interrupted delivery, are prepared to take them at whatever price on the mere chance of a successful ending. That such service may in the aggregate amount to a great deal must be admitted. Express and emergency journeys will most certainly become common when themultitude of pilots is free from war duties, and when specially constructed peace:serviee machines are available. But that the transport services of thesteamboat, the railway train, the motorcar or horsed vehicle will be seriously threatened, within the lives of the present generation at any rate, I take leave to doubt. • *
The question of the weather and, particularly in this country, its frequent changeability is, in -my opinion, likely to Prove the -principal factor in marking the limit of employment of the aeroplane, but there are other considerations which have to be taken into account arising from the essentially dangerous characteristics of such transport. The .machines themselves must invariably be prtiduced almost regardless of cost. The workmanship must be of tleeshighest possible grade, the material must be of the fineSt that men can secure, all of which spells exceptional expense. The need for immediate replacement of the slightest detail which foreshadows failure to maintain its origin I perfection and accuracy, added to the initial high cost and the rapid depreciation of delicate-machinery, will render the cost of running as a whole prohibitive in competition in all but the exceptional eases I have mentioned. It must be remembered that there can be no pulling :pp by the wayside to adjust brakes or col down the engine, or even to puench a driver's thirst.There are very significant differences in the duties of a pilot and of a steam-wagon -driver, and the former will want very different pay conditions.
We must not be led away by fantastic pen-pictures by idealist writers who, accustomed to see the sky specked with war planes on active service or in training flying, find it an easy matter to suggest a similar state of affairs with the planes loaded with mail, merchandise or passengers. That therta'affic of the skies will be considerable it must be conceded. There will be many hundreds of young pilots who, if spared from war-service damage, will not be content, if their means permit, with car service, and there will in addition be quite a number of the special expensive services for emergency purposes, but I feel sure that I 'personally shall -not livet to see the day when a Pickfords plantechrtieon will land on my • lawn to repair a faulty petrol pipe or, perhaps in a worse case, to be Icollected by the breakdown gang and taken away on salvage lorries.. If air travel is tobe anything but a highly expensive and eminently hazardous alternative to other known means of progress, we must discover the addressof the Clerk of the Weather and then offer him a fabulous salary to sit on the board of directors of the International Transinundane Airway Co., Ltd.—and .see to it that he earns his fees.