As many folk have heard, SpaceShipTwo was lost in an accident the other day. One of the pilots was killed, the other severely injured.
Wired Magazine put out an article decrying the loss, condemning Virgin Galactic for risking, and in this case losing, lives in pursuit of a “boondoggle”–providing tourist trips into space for rich people.
How could they miss the point so thoroughly?
A lot of the development in early aviation centered around barnstorming and air races. The barnstormers were mainly entertainers. But they got people interested in flight and flying. How many of those who would go on to become aviators and aviation engineers got bitten by that bug watching somebody in a surplus Jenny doing loops over Old McDonald’s cornfield? How many got infected by “airplane rides, $5 for five minutes”?
And air races? Entertainment again. And it certainly wasn’t bloodless. Some of those planes (most of them?) were deathtraps. Yet a lot of the technology that made its way into the fighters of world war ii came right out of those air racers.
In some ways I think it’s a shame that post-war air racing, at least in the so-called “unlimited” class (well, unlimited so long as you’re limited to propellers and piston engines) settled on souped up surplus WWII fighters and not new original designs. And according to an illustrated history of air racing I read many years ago there was at least one post-war race that featured surplus F-86’s. Would have been nice if they had continued that but I suspect the problem was money, oh, and the government not letting later airframes loose into civilian hands in numbers enough to make racing them viable. (There was, before it was lost in an accident, one F-104 in flyable condition in civilian hands. Who could he race?)
You know, for all Jim Bede’s flaws as an aircraft designer, somebody should have been designing aircraft like the BD-5J and BD-10 (just doing a better job at it). Now if somebody like the Rutan’s had turned their hand to high performance jet aircraft for the civilian, hobbyist, market….
In any case, pioneering is dangerous, whatever the field. Those who lose sight of that, and lose the willingness to accept the danger, are doomed to stagnation and ennui.
So keep the dream alive.