11/14/2010

Aviation : the good , the bad and the ugly.

Nagasaki (600 x 525).jpg
Today, the Sunday of Remembrance and Reconciliation, gives us many reminders of how aviation has been responsible for bad times as well as good. One of the worst, and ugliest, times was on the day of my fourth birthday : Nagasaki!


Poppies (584 x 382).jpgLike almost every other major invention, aviation has been used for good and for bad, sometimes for evil. I thought particularly about this fact on this day, Remembrance Sunday 14 November 2010, the nearest Sunday to the 11 November Armistice day. On this day, many British and Commonwealth citizens wear a paper imitation of the red poppy, the only flower to grow in the killing fields of France in World War 1, commemmorated by the famous poem of John McCrae.

Aviation really began with the innocent determination of the Wright brothers to fly like the birds. However, in the first World War it was already being used to kill people by dropping bombs.

Between the two world wars  there was the development of passenger flights, with Swissair flying Douglas DC3 services. However, in World War two the attention went back to military uses. This did have some positive consequences, one of which was the emancipation of women in the conflict countries. With their men away fighting, they worked in the factories and also flew new aircraft to the military airfields, from where the air force pilots flew them on missions to kill or be killed.

Nagasaki remains.jpgThis war accelerated the development of aircraft, as it did of many killing systems. Although in my childhood innocence I did not know it, on the day of my fourth birthday, with my father engaged elsewhere, the second of the two atomic bombs was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Together with Hiroshima, the Blitz on London, the firebombing of Dresden, Guernica  and other terrible episodes of war, this represented the nadir of the use of aviation.

The wartime period also saw the development of the jet engine, needed to have aircraft better and faster than the enemy aircraft. After the war these started to be used for passenger aircraft, with the first of them being the de Havilland Comet, which entered service in 1949. Unfortunately, two major accidents due to metal fatigue caused it to be abandoned.

The development of jet engines has brought us passenger services which are fast and reliable, yet the huge number of flights today is considered by many as a growing danger to the environment. Today, we can fly easily and at affordable prices all over the world with almost no danger of losing our lives, yet every day there are people, both military and civil, being killed by military aviation.

So, to finish this blog, a thought for the day. As we wake up in the morning, sometimes to hear immediately the sound of the early morning aircraft movements at Geneva airport, we could reflect on some words from a hymn which has been sung in churches at many Remembrance services all over the English-speaking world, and which reference people who will never again wake up.

They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

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