Viewing page 45 of 69

34  U.S. AIR SERVICES   August, 1931

Comment and Review

IF A man flies the Atlantic or migrates to the polar wastes everybody expects him to write a book, and they are seldom disappointed. When he stays at home and invents some epoch-making utility he lets someone else write the book while he spends his time and what energy he has left in trying to convince a wilderness of willing skeptics that he is the man who did the inventing and not someone else. Juan de la Cierva is one of the exceptions. In Wings of Tomorrow, with the help of Don Rose, he has told his own story of his own invention, and told it remarkably well. Elegant is the word that describes it. The most fastidious can read it, and read it with rare satisfaction. It takes only a page or two to convince you that whatever your prejudices against the autogiro, your literary tastes aren't going to be offended; and you are lured on by the expectation of actually finding out a good deal of what you have very much wanted to know about this talented author and his epoch-making invention.

And you are not disappointed. Cierva not only knows his autogiros but he knows his conventions too, and he is delightfully respectful of the latter. Which means that his story is couched in perfect English–whether his own or Don Rose's we don't know, but that doesn't matter–setting forth frankly and convincingly the history and possibilities of the moving-wing device. It is a rare combination, this one of engineering brains and literary skill–brains to form and fathom such a scientific novelty plus the literary skill to tell the fascinating tale of how he did it. Very few men of science possess it. Too often those who have the most engrossing data to dispense biographically are tongue-tied when it comes to transferring their experience to paper. Often, when they attempt to do so, they have to conceal their incapacity under a camouflage of graphs and mathematics–it takes so much less effort (for them) to drop into the language of ordinates and abscissae, and duck the real problem of making their reader get the picture without the subterfuge of Greek letters and differential equations. Cierva hasn't made this mistake. Neither has he gone to the other extreme of adopting the slushy writer-of-the-hour amalgam which conceives that a riot of words swollen with hyperbole and stirred with corybantic frenzy is literature and forms the only medium by which the products of laboratory can be extracted from their logarithmic sarcophagi and metamorphosed into understandable realities for the populace to acclaim.

What Señor Cierva has done in this work suggests irresistibly what should be done→should have been done long ago→by a famous contemporary, Orville Wright. Mr. Wright has written little. But what he has written is characterized by the same satisfying clarity and directness that makes Cierva so readable and so appealing. One feels on reading either of them the force which comes of candor, conviction, and knowledge. They do not have to resort to the bludgeons of the newspapateer and the passionate anointings of the self-appointed encomiast in order to secure effect. There is a character about each man that pervades what he writes. His economy of color makes him the master of distinctive hues. His very restraint makes his slightest assertion impressive. His logic is his power, and words merely a medium to dispense it with–and quietly at that.

CIERVA'S book, like the one the world hopes for from Mr. Wright, is ostensibly for an autobiography,—but with a difference. He tells you just enough about himself so you can understand how he happened to be the one to hit upon the idea he did hit upon, and make it work. Having done that he forgets all about Cierva and spends the rest of his time with the idea. And a fascinating idea it is, and its unfoldment even more so. And as it unfolds through the medium of Cierva's book the reader is driven inevitably to recognize the analogy in certain particulars between his experience and the Wrights'. it cannot be ignored.
From boyhood both the Wrights and Cierva were captured by the ambition to fly. Both, after much investigation and experiment, were compelled to turn their thoughts into original channels by the failure of accepted modes or hypotheses. The Wrights were driven to repudiate the air pressure tables in general use and construct their own before they could design a successful airplane. Cierva had to see a conventional machine, on which he had set his hopes, destroyed by a slight error in pilotage, before his thoughts were turned to the problem of devising a machine which would despoil such errors of their disastrous effects. Both the Wrights and Cierva had to resort to small scale tests and tiny models to gain the secret of success. It was thus the Wrights found out that the conventional pressure tables were wrong; and it was thus that Cierva when confronted with the failure of his early autogiros hit upon the articulated wing that led directly to his magnificent accomplishment. And finally, both the Wrights and Cierva lived to see the fulfillment of their hopes and receive the plaudits of the world.
Here the parallel ends. For Cierva has now put down his story in black and white for the edification of present and future generations, while Mr. Wright with a reticence as exasperating as it is serene refrains from putting himself and his brother between the covers of a brook. Of course Mr. Wright's job, if he were to tackle it, would be a lot tougher. It would involve the renovation of some Augean Stables unknown to the experience of the famous Spaniard, but which have wreaked too long with the odors of intolerance, ridicule, disputation, calumny, and theft. It would take a Hercules; but Mr. Wright has the statute to accomplish it, and the finger of necessity seems to point his way. If an unassuming foreigner could give us so acceptably through the medium of our own tongue The Wings of Tomorrow, surely our own Orville Wright, to the manner and the language born, can tell his countrymen how they came to have the wings of today.
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact