To Caress the Air: Augustus Herring and the Dawn of Flight. Book One
Gierke worked on this book for seven years, and his readers will be rewarded with minutious detail as a result ! It is one of the most thoroughly researched biographies I have ever read. There are three parallel storylines: the biography of Augustus Herring, the proceedings of a court case about a bankruptcy where Herring is the plaintiff, and the technological development race at the end of the nineteenth century for moving from gliders to motorised flight.
The central figure in all of this is A.M. Herring (1867 – 1926), a gifted technician with a passion for aircraft development, but with a difficult character and little talent for business. In short, he possessed the skills to conceive sometimes brilliant ideas, but lacked the ability to get them realized in real life, the exact opposite of the skill set of the Wright brothers which resulted in their success.
What appealed most to me in this book was the detailed account of the problems which had to be overcome along the road to manned flight, both with gliders and motorised aircraft. In particular the move from steam to combustion engines is a fascinating story. What is interesting is that the know-how both how to fly a glider (Otto Lilienthal), and how to build a combustion engine (Gottlieb Daimler), was developed in Germany, but it was in the USA, the country of unlimited opportunities, that these innovations were realized to their full potential!
Reading this book requires making choices: focusing on the life of Herring, or more specifically on the development of manned flight. I already indicated that my choice was for the latter. The detailed exploration of the question whether a plane should have inherent stability, or if the daredevil who wants to conquer the sky should have total control over his plane himself, has long divided the people who tried to solve it. Herring was one of the pioneers who believed in the active control of a manned flying machine. Unfortunately for him the lack of moral and financial support caused him to bite the dust (literally) in sight of the finish!
This first book of two ends at October 25th, 1921. At that time Herring is hospitalized with a mild hemorrhage. His court case is still pending. What the verdict will be is not yet clear. The reader who got this far and wants more in depth knowledge will have to read the second book of To Caress The Air. You can find a review of this book on this website too.