Product launches are festive occasions, but it’s rare to attend one so joyful that it moves the crowd to tears. And yet, a fleet of aviation honchos—Bombardier Inc. CEO Pierre Beaudoin, aerospace division CEO Guy Hachey, commercial aircraft president Mike Arcamone, Porter Airlines CEO Bob Deluce—all admitted that the takeoff last Sept. 16 of the first aircraft in Bombardier’s new CSeries line of planes had them choked up. “My heartbeat was going quite fast as I watched,” blubbered Hachey afterward, flashing a mile-wide, white-toothed smile. “I had lot of thoughts in my mind about how long we have been working at this, and how important it’s going to be for the future of the company.” … The CSeries has been designed from scratch and conceived with cutting-edge technology. It is without precedent: an ultra-lightweight, ultra-quiet, ultra-fuel-efficient commercial airliner that can reach near-transcontinental distances from a measly 4,000 feet of runway.
Many of you might have already heard about the fantastic book recently published on the Wright Brothers (Wilbur and Orville) by David McCullough. This is the first full audio book I have listened to (I am trying to work audio books into my schedule as a way to get through the many books I’d like to read) and the account really lives up to expectations.
What I find truly fascinating is how seemingly out of nowhere two “untrained” bike mechanics, although diligently self-educated, could ring in a completely new era for humanity. The conditions in which they were brought up (with a lot of strong family support), self-discipline, ridicule they endured from naysayers and the pain they felt through family tragedies, and their endless curiosity put together with “workingest” men some had ever known became a recipe for success.
Of course the “discovery” of manned flight still speaks to the idea that breakthroughs come based on a multitude of smaller discoveries over time, but it’s still amazing to think (and read/hear) about how the invention came to be. McCullough’s prose is clear and he crafts a suspenseful tale leading the reader toward the incredible invention of manned flight.
The lessons I'll try to take away are that...
... having an interest and curiosity in a great number of subjects can bring about insights that might seem obvious in hindsight – the brothers read a vast number of books on varying subjects
... there is no substitute for working hard and if you do your homework, naysayers are more easily dismissed – another way of saying this is to have ambition, resolve, drive and determination - there is no substitute for practice
... don’t take for granted the amazing inventions that we have at our disposal today
... true advancements have similar pre-existing conditions – building upon smaller iterations leads to leaps in innovation, but they can come from anywhere or anyone
... the principles of engineering are vital – Wilbur and Orville only added an engine after solving the ability to fly consistently
Most of these insights are obvious but analyzing instances where conditions have produced success , over and over, in different fields, builds confidence in trying to accomplish something great in whatever a person decides to pursue.
“The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge than more power.” Wilbur and Orville Wright, March 12, 1906.
Igor Pasternak started thinking about airships when he was twelve. Back then, in the nineteen-seventies, he loved rockets. One night, he was curled up in the soft green chair that doubled as his bed, in the two-room apartment where he lived with his parents, his little sister, and his grandmother, in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. He was reading a magazine aimed at young inventors, and he came across an article about blimps. He saw old photographs of imposing wartime zeppelins and read about another kind of airship, which had never made it off the drawing board: an airship that carried not passengers but cargo. It would be able to haul hundreds of tons of mining equipment to remote regions in Siberia in one go, the article said—no roads, runways, or infrastructure needed. Just lift, soar, and drop. ... A blimp is just one type of airship, usually a small one, and always nonrigid, meaning that it has no structural hull; its shape is maintained by the pressure of the lifting gas within. It’s basically a balloon with a rudder and a means of propulsion. The first one was built in 1852, by the French engineer Jules Henri Giffard; it was a hundred and forty-four feet long, with a propeller and a three-horsepower steam engine. In 1900, in Germany, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin built something much larger and stronger, adding a rigid aluminum framework—long internal girders, attached to flexible rings, that formed a kind of rib cage. A number of discrete cells, each filled with hydrogen, fit inside the rib cage, and the entire ship was covered with fabric. The first of these, the LZ 1, was four hundred and twenty feet long, and Zeppelin kept making them bigger. He started the world’s first airline company, DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft), and by 1914 the service had made more than fifteen hundred flights, transporting upward of ten thousand people. Before long, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, and other countries began building airships.
The conversion of crop dusters into light attack aircraft had long been part of Prince’s vision for defeating terrorists and insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East. In Prince’s view, these single-engine fixed-wing planes, retrofitted for war zones, would revolutionize the way small wars were fought. They would also turn a substantial profit. The Thrush in Airborne’s hangar, one of two crop dusters he intended to weaponize, was Prince’s initial step in achieving what one colleague called his “obsession” with building his own private air force. ... The story of how Prince secretly plotted to transform the two aircraft for his arsenal of mercenary services is based on interviews with nearly a dozen people who have worked with Prince over the years, including current and former business partners, as well as internal documents, memos, and emails. Over a two-year period, Prince exploited front companies and cutouts, hidden corporate ownership, a meeting with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s weapons supplier, and at least one civil war in an effort to manufacture and ultimately sell his customized armed counterinsurgency aircraft. If he succeeded, Prince would possess two prototypes that would lay the foundation for a low-cost, high-powered air force capable of generating healthy profits while fulfilling his dream of privatized warfare.
The ambition to create the version of the F-35 that I watched on the tarmac at Patuxent River—one that can make short takeoffs and vertical landings—was what got the fighter jet’s development under way in the 1980s. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon’s tech arm, began working at the Marine Corps’ behest on an improved version of the Harrier, a crash-prone vertical-landing jet of British design. According to a Pentagon history of the F-35, Darpa quietly sought assistance from a research and development arm of Lockheed Martin known as the Skunk Works. By the early 1990s, the Darpa-Skunk Works collaboration had produced preliminary concepts, and the Marine Corps began pressing Congress for funding. The Air Force and Navy insisted that they, too, needed stealthy, supersonic fighters to replace aging Cold War-era models. Out of this clamoring grew a consensus that the only way to afford thousands of cutting-edge fighters was to build a basic model that could be customized for each service. ... The degree of commonality among the three versions of the F-35—the shared features—turned out to be not the anticipated 70 percent but a mere 25 percent, meaning that hoped-for economies of scale never materialized. A pattern of continual reengineering resulted in billions of dollars in cost overruns and yearslong delays.