The early days of flying were the toughest. In the early 20th century, people began taking to the skies at a time when humanity was still in the learning process about the pure physics of lift, weight, drag and thrust. By trial and error, you might have learned things like adding a little top rudder to make sure you don’t overbank, or adding some elevator in the turn so as not to lose altitude.
With this rudimentary knowledge, it’s not surprising that airplanes crashed at alarming rates. Talk to the really old-timers and you’ll find folks who can tell you about the 17 times they’ve had an engine quit or made a precautionary landing when things were looking tough. Stick and rudder skills were the core of every flight lesson.
In the mid-1940s, when World War II ended, thousands of men came home with wings on their uniforms. With the exception of bomber pilots, these Army Air Corpsmen flew airplanes with sticks as opposed to yokes, and the airplane companies who were courting this abundance of pilots puts sticks in the cockpit. In addition, the fabled book “Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying” by Wolfgang Langewiesche was published in 1944.
In those good old days, for example, just about zero airplanes were instrument-capable. If pilots couldn’t see, they didn’t fly. The now-infamous “VFR flight into IMC” accident was rare. Pilots often made precautionary landings when encountering conditions that made the progress of the flight unsafe. They might set down in farmer’s field, on a stretch of highway, or just about any other place they imagined their airplane could safely fit.
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