1902 Encyclopedia > Aeronautics > Gradual Discovery of Navigation. Analogy Between Navigation and Flying Only Very Vague.

(Part 1)

Gradual Discovery of Navigation. Analogy Between Navigation and Flying Only Very Vague.

AERONAUTICS. In every stage of society men have sought, by the combination of superior skill and ingenuity, to attain those distinct and obvious advantages which nature has conferred on the different tribes of animals, by endowing them with a peculiar structure and a peculiar force of organs. The rudest savage learns from his very infancy to imitate the swimming of a fish, and plays on the surface of the water with agility and perseverance. But an art so confined in its exercise, and requiring such a degree of bodily exertion, could not be considered of much avail. It must have been soon perceived (even if the discoveries of the arts of natation and navigation were not absolutely simultaneous), that the fatigue of impulsion through the water could be greatly diminished by the support and floating of some light substance. The trunk of a tree would bear its rude proprietor along the stream, or, hollowed out into a canoe and furnished with paddles, it might enable him even to traverse a river. From this simple fabric the step was not great to the construction of a boat or barge, impelled by the force of oars. But it was a great advance to fix masts and apply sails to the vessel, and thus substitute the power of wind for that of human labour. The adventurous sailor, instead of plying on the narrow seas or creeping timidly along the shore,could not launch with confidence into the wide ocean. Navigation, in its most cultivated form, may be fairly regarded as one of the subliment triumphs of human genius, industry, courage, and perseverance.

-Having by his skill achieved the conquest of the waters that encompass the habitable globe, it was natural for man to desire likewise the mastery of the air in which we breathe. In all ages, therefore, great ingenuity has been expended in efforts at flying, all of which have as yet resulted in failure. But the analogy between sailing on the water and sailing in the air is not so close as many enthusiasts have supposed it to be. There is a general resemblance, inasmuch as in both cases the propulsion must be made by means of a fluid. But in the one case the fluid is inelastic, in the other elastic; and the physicist or mathematicians knows how vastly different are the properties of liquids, even in fundamental points, from those of aeriform or gaseous bodies. Again, in the one case the vessel floats on the surface of the water, in the other it must float totally immersed in the aerial fluid. A ship, while sailing, is acted on by two fluids -- the water supports it and the air propels it; but a ship sailing in the air would be only under the action of the one fluid that surrounds it on all sides. These few considerations-and many more might be added- indicate the essential distinction between the two cases; and a very little thought shows that it is not so remarkable as it at first sight appears, that the invention of the art of sailing on the water should be lost in prehistoric antiquity, while that of sailing in the air is not a century old; and that while navigation is one of the most perfect of the arts, the power of directing a body floating in the air still remains unattained. Many have argued, that because navigation is an accomplished fact, therefore the navigation of the air must be possible; and without denying the truth of the conclusion, it is worth while at the outset of this article to point out the fallacy of the reasoning. It is true that there is no reason to despair of the attainment of aerial navigation, as the history of invention and science records many victories as great and at one time apparently as far off: still, it is as well to notice how little assistance the old discovery affords towards the solution of the new: it may, indeed, even be that progress has been retarded by false analogy, for we may feel pretty certain that if ever the air is navigated, it will be by ships presenting little resemblance to those that traverse the ocean.

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