Well, Christmas has come and gone and I hope that Santa left you at least one good book in your Christmas Stocking.
Now it’s time to get back to work and to revisit my latest set of characters. I’m curious to see what they have been up to while I have been enjoying Christmas Carols, Champagne and lots of laughs with friends and family. The book where these characters are coming to life is still so embryonic that it doesn’t have a title yet. It is about the amazing adventures of Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith as they forged pathways across the sky, grappling with storms in planes made of canvas with wooden or steel struts and cabins that were open to all weather. When it rained the airmen got soaked. Flying through the tropics they got sunburned and sometimes suffered from sunstroke from being confined in such tiny spaces, unable to move out of the sun for fear of going off-course and getting lost. Of course there was no GPS. Radio communications were just being invented and, although Smithy and Ulm did use them, they were primitive and unreliable. But still they flew. Officially the maximum height their most famous plane, the Southern Cross, could reach was 6000 feet but Ulm claims, in his log book, that Smithy took the Dear Old Bus much higher. He estimates they flew at almost 9000 feet during the worst of one very intense storm. When the only way to survive was to get above it, Smithy managed to keep their plane in the air with a combination of sheer skill and the force of his indomitable will.
Those early days of aviation were exciting times and brought fame, if not necessarily fortune, to a lot of daredevils. Unfortunately there were many more spills that thrills and a lot of the early pilots lost their lives. It took dedication, and hard meticulous work, to succeed. Both Smithy and Ulm were both sticklers for making sure that every last detail was attended to. They checked and rechecked their instruments, their engines, their fuel lines and every inch of their plane before and after each flight. And they survived longer than most airmen of their day. Sadly neither of them lived to the ‘ripe old age’ that they aspired to, but their pioneering work has made possible the safe and reliable air travel that we take for granted today.
More about this later …