Flight in the 20th century

Flying machines only properly got off the ground in 1903 so they really are a defining invention of the 20th century. It’s a sad fact that, before an aeroplane had even been flown in Australia, the Commonwealth Government offered a prize for the first person who could invent one for military purposes. Our WWI pilots flew French and British planes, as it turned out.

This is a gorgeous 1914 picture of the first seaplane in Australia which was imported by Lebbeus Hordern and piloted by Maurice Gillaux, a dashing French acrobatic aviator who would die in 1917, doing test flights for the French military. I love this – the old technology stands behind the new but they are both just canvas and sticks. You wouldn’t have gotten me up in one of those for quids, but people took them into battle, against Zeppelins and guns and other planes! I guess war is the best place for nuttersdaredevils.

Sam Hood, M. Guillaux in Sydney (Lebbeus Hordern's seaplane), State Library of NSW, digital order no a128591
Sam Hood, M. Guillaux in Sydney (Lebbeus Hordern’s seaplane), State Library of NSW, digital order no a128591

3 thoughts on “Flight in the 20th century”

  1. Even closer technically than you might think.

    The sails on a sailing ship are essentially vertical wings generating horizontal ‘lift’ that moves the ship. In both cases the structures that generated the lift were composed of timber (*) and cloth with rigidity gained by a network of wire rope.

    (*) actually, by 1914, most of the lower masts and spars on a sailing ship were tubular steel.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for dropping by. Yes, they are very similar. I once went to the Musée des arts et métiers where they had a display of dozens of failed flying machines. Their wings looked like stays and petticoats, in every shade from ivory through pink to brown. They reminded me of tan sails on a yacht. Of course a tall ship is rather more substantial, as it glides on water and not on air, but the principles aren’t too different.

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