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Aviation in 1912: A Look Back in <i>Scientific American</i>'s Archives [Slide Show]

The youthful Airplane Age was bursting with ideas and enthusiasm about this nascent technology. Here’s a look at the state of flight in 1912 from the archives of Scientific American.

» View the Aviation slide show.

  • Barnstorming Spirit:
    Barnstorming Spirit:

    Who’s faster? Charles Hamilton in a Curtiss biplane races a high-powered automobile along the shore at Galveston, Texas. The winner was the biplane "which beat the auto by a liberal allowance.”

  • Bombs from the Air:
    Bombs from the Air:

    The idea of deploying bombs and grenades from aircraft was not new, the question was how to do so accurately. Here’s one method, the steep dive, much to the surprise of a passing flock of seagulls.

  • Paris Air Show, 1912:
    Paris Air Show, 1912:

    Two years before the outbreak of World War I, this ominous comment: “The most noticeable feature of the show this year was the fact that nearly all the machines are intended for military use.” Shown at the exhibition and in plan, the Deperdussin “Monocoque,” holder of the airspeed record for much of 1912 and 1913.

  • Folding Wings:
    Folding Wings:

    Useful for storage and transport. The inventors of the Marçay-Moonen airplane, however, envisaged that with wings folded, the propeller would drive it along roads like an automobile.

  • Lab Work:
    Lab Work:

    Gustave Eiffel, designer of the eponymous tower, opened his new aerodynamics laboratory in Paris. This photo shows the giant suction motor for the 100-foot-long wind tunnel. The lab still stands at 67 Rue Boileau.

  • Human-Powered Flight:
    Human-Powered Flight:

    A prize of 10,000 francs for muscle-driven flight drew 23 inventors to a Paris park in June. The results were so wretched that the Scientific American editors questioned the motives for the contest: “Perhaps it was merely a desire for publicity, perhaps an exuberant sense of humor.”

  • Fly Your Own:
    Fly Your Own:

    Airplane kits and finished models were sold widely. This advertisement for the short-lived Brooks Aeroplane Co. shows the pilot “with both hands off the controls” (presumably to show how safe and stable this death-trap was in flight).

  • Airplanes for the Navy:
    Airplanes for the Navy:

    The first successful catapult launch of an airplane in November, 1912, proved that airplanes could be used from battleships. This configuration, a catapult track on top of a turret, was to be used by navies worldwide for decades.

  • Transatlantic Flight:
    Transatlantic Flight:

    “The next great conquest of the aeroplanes will be the transit of the turbulent Atlantic.” This theoretical design had a wingspan of 100 feet and an airspeed of 50 miles per hour. The first nonstop ocean crossing by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown had to wait to 1919 (at an average speed of 115 miles per hour).

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