Copyright © A. Filippone (1997-2005). All Rights Reserved.
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The Author’s Favourite Quotes



Here is a selection of quotes showing humor, wit and even phylosophical digressions. I have included, among other things, forecasts that turned out to be wrong. They are so fascinating …


1. Those Who Got It Wrong

Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
[Lord Kelvin, 1895]


The use of electric calculators is coming in to reduce manual labor, but there is litte hope of doing nearly all that we would like to do.
[L. Bairstow, 1951]


Satellite vehicles represent a rather fearsome foresight of future wars of nerves, in which aggressive nations could put their piloteless missiles into frictionless satellite motion round the earth for all to see and fear, with the constant threat of guiding them down to a target.
[WF Hilton, in High-Speed Aerodynamics, 1952]


… supersonic aeroplanes have carried men at more than 2,000 miles per hour and there are reasons to believe that this speed will be doubled by 1960 or so …
[Igor Sikorsky, 14 January 1958]


… future growth potential looks unlimited … one gross weight doubling, and possibly two, is predicted by 1985; nuclear power can drive [the aircraft’s] optimum weight to 5 or 10 million pounds before the year 2000.
[FA Cleveland, 1970, writing about doubling size of the C-5A]


2. Visionaires

I am well convinced that Aerial Navigation will form a most prominent feature in the progress of civilization.
[Sir George Cayley, 1804]


If there is a possibility of cosmonautics, Man will not hesitate to leave the Earth to launch himself into interplanetary space at the risk of loosing his own life.
[GA Crocco, at the 5th Volta Conference, 1935]


I am the world’s leading aerodynamicist and it wouldn’t need any vortex generators !
[Irv Culver, one time director of Lockheed’s Skunk Works]


3. Ideas

Unlike the birth of Venus, new ideas do not burst fully matured or fully recognized, or even in one place.
[AMO Smith, 1974]


One should not have too much reverence for ideas, no matter whose they are. Ideas are meant to be kicked around, stood upon their heads, and looked through mirrors. It is only this way that they can grow up in the way that they should, without excessive self-importance. The ideas of one man are the food for thought of another.
[D Stinton, in The Anatomy of the Aeroplane, 1966]


The study of an idea is, of necessity, the story of many things. Ideas, like large rivers, never have just one source. Just as the water of a river near its mouth, in its final form, is composed largely of many tributaries, so an idea, in its final form, is composed largely of later additions.
[Willy Ley, in Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel, 1951]


I came to realize that exaggerated concern about what others are doing can be foolish. It can paralize effort, and stifle a good idea. One finds that in the history of science almost every problem has been worked out by someone else. This should not discourage anyone from pursuing his own path.
[T von Karman, in The Wind and Beyond, 1967]


4. Science Fiction

A new impetus was given to aviation by the relatively enormous power for weight of the atomic engine; it was at last possible to add Redmaynes’s ingenious helicopter ascent and descent engine to the vertical propeller that had hitherto been the sole driving force of the aeroplane without over-weighting the machine, and men found themselves possessed of an instrument of flight that could hover or ascend or descend vertically and gently as rush wildly through the air. The last dread of fliying vanished.
As the journalists of the time phased it, this was the epoch of the Leap into the Air. The new atomic aeroplane became indeed a mania; everyone of means was frantic to possess a thing so controllable, so secure and so free from the dust and danger of the road, and in France in the year 1943 thirty thousand of these new aeroplanes were manufactured and licensed, and soared humming softly into the sky.
[HG Wells, in The World Set Free, 1914. The story goes on in the early 1950s]


The most accurate aerodynamic prediction code available today, FLO-1234.5, is so complex and expensive that it has never been run. Many other codes, if run to completion, would require CPU times exceeding the average human lifespan. Most engineers attribute this situation to the time when the task of writing aerodynamic computer programs was automated and handed over to computers …
[PW Sacher, apparently at NASA Ames, 1984. Is this a joke ?]


5. Driving progress

Technical progress is made by integration, not differentiation.
[Max M. Munk, 1981]


In fluid dynamics you have to smooth whatever you can, whenever you can, as much as you can.
[A. Jameson, 1994]


6. Weird Things

… if we further assume that the atmosphere has been well mixed by turbulent motion, so that all the molecules have scattered in the course of the last two thousand years, it follows that every time we breath we inhale at least one molecule of breath that Julius Caesar exaled when he was murdered in the Roman Senate house in 44 B.C. …
[PP Wegener, in What Makes Airplanes Fly ? , 1991]


The Air Force called in top scientists today to find out what “flying saucers” really are, as mysterious objects swept over the capital. Top officials have decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. It was learned that they have dropped an earlier attitude there there are no such things, and have decided to enlist op scientists in a major new study. Maj. Gen. John A. Samford said a study of mysterious object-sightings for six years revealed “no pattern that shows anything remotely consistent with any menace to the United States”.
[The International Herald Tribune, July 29, 1952]


7. Speed

There is no particular feeling of speed, except that the miles go faster. The sky is not dark and the horizon is not curved.
[A. Turcat, Director of Concorde Flight Test, 1969]


Give me an engine big enough and I’ll give you an ironing board that will fly supersonic.
[Not sure about the originator, certainly and American aircraft designer]


8. About the Helicopter

The helicopter appeared so reluctant to fly forward that we even considered turning the pilot’s seat around and letting it fly backward.
[Igor Sikorsky, 1940, about his prototype VS-300 that would only fly backward and sideways]


About the Airplane

To design one is nothing,
To build one is easy,
To fly one is everything.
[much quoted verses attributed to Otto Lilienthal]


I think we can build a better plane.
[W Boeing, The Boeing Co., 1914, later a company’s motto]


The Boeing 747 is the commuter train of the global village.
[H. Tennekes, in The Simple Science of Flight, 1996]


The aircraft [replacement of Lockheed SR-71A] has been seen moving at high supersonic speed, with the resultant sonic ‘bangs’, over Southern California. It is believed to be powered by a revolutionary new engine which leaves a distinctive ‘sausage-string’ shaped contrail at high altitude, coupled with an unmistakable sound.
[The Encyclopaedia of World Aircraft, 1997]


… here we are on the tarmac, and here, dear readers, our ways must depart. You are the fortunate ones who will start on the great adventure, whereas I, alas!, must stay on this unhappy earth, consoled only by the thought that I have brought you to this jumping-off point and must now return and endeavour to bring others to the same point. In bidding you good-bye, I can only wish you the best of luck on your journey and hand you over to a much better instructor than myself.

So we’ll open the throttle and gather speed,
For an Airman’s life is a life indeed,
As the engine roars away;
Gone are the cares of the earth below,
As up through a gap in the clouds we go,
With an ever-increasing sway.

[AC Kermode, in Mechanics of Flight, 1956]


Selected References

There are books I found after I started collecting the quotes above. I strongly recommend reading the following:
  • English, D. Slipping the Surly Bonds: Great Quotations of Flight, McGraw-Hill, 1998.

  • English, D. The Air Up There: More Great Quotations on Flight, Tab Books, 2003.


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Copyright © A. Filippone (1997-2005). All Rights Reserved.