Airplane VS Airship

The histo ry o f flying is a goo d example to loo k at in detail fo r insight into the interactio n o f techno lo gy with human affairs, because two radically different techno logies were co mpeting fo r survival- in the beginning they were called heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air. The airplane and the airship were no t o nly physically different in shape and s ize but also so cio lo gically different. The airplane grew o ut o f dreams o f perso nal adventure. The airship grew o ut o f dreams o f empire. The image in the minds o f airplane-builders was a bird. The image in the minds o f airship-builders was an o ceanliner.


All o ver the wo rld, enthusiastic invento rs were selling airplanes to intrepid pilo ts and to fledgling airlines. Many o f the pilo ts crashed and many o f the airlines became bankrupt. Out o f 100,000 types o f airplane, abo ut 100 survived to fo rm the basis o f mo dern aviatio n. The evo lutio n o f the airplane was a strictly Darwinian pro cess in which almo st all the varieties o f airplane failed, just as almo st all species o f animal beco me extinct. Because o f the rigo ro us selectio n, the few surviving airplanes are asto nishingly reliable, eco no mical, and safe.

The Darwinian pro cess is ruthless, because it depends upo n failure. It wo rked well in the evo lutio n o f airplanes because the airplanes were small, the co mpanies that built them were small, and the co sts o f failure in mo ney and lives were to lerable. P lanes crashed, pilo ts were killed, and investo rs were ruined, but the scale o f the lo sses was no t large eno ugh to halt the pro cess o f evo lutio n. After the crash, new pilo ts and new investo rs wo uld always appear with new dreams o f glo ry. And so the selectio n pro cess co ntinued, weeding o ut the unfit, until airplanes and co mpanies had gro wn so large that further weeding was o fficially disco uraged. No rway's co mpany was o ne o f the few that survived the weeding and became co mmercially pro fitable. As a result, it was bo ught o ut and became a divisio n o f De Havilland, lo sing the freedo m to make its o wn decisio ns and take its o wn risks. E ven befo re De Havilland too k o ver the co mpany, No rway decided that the business was no longer fun. He stopped building airplanes and started his new career as a novelist.

The evolution of airships was a different story, dominated by politicians rather than by inventors. British politicians in the 1 920s were acutely aware that the century of world-wide British hegemony based upon sea power had come to an end. The British Empire was still the biggest in the world but could no longer rely on the Royal Navy to hold it together. Most of the leading politicians, both Conservative and Labor, still had dreams of empire. They were told by their military and political advisers that in the modern world air power was replacing sea power as the emblem of greatness. So they looked to air power as the wave of the future that would keep Britain on top of the world. And in this context it was natural for them to think of airships rather than airplanes as the vehicles of imperial authority. A irships were superficially like oceanliners, big and visually impressive. Airships could fly nonstop from one end of the empire to the other. Important politicians could fly in airships from remote dominions to meetings in London without being forced to neglect their domestic constituencies for a month. In contrast, airplanes were small, noisy, and ugly, altogether unworthy of such a lofty purpose. A irplanes at that time could not routinely fly over oceans. They could not stay aloft for long and were everywhere dependent on local bases. Airplanes were useful for fighting local battles, but not for administering a worldwide empire.


Folksonomies: technology culture

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British Empire (0.985347): freebase | dbpedia
Royal Navy (0.931829): dbpedia | freebase | yago | website
Fixed-wing aircraft (0.928852): yago | opencyc | dbpedia | freebase
Airship (0.917093): dbpedia | freebase
World War I (0.871016): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Alberto Santos-Dumont (0.767045): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Imperialism (0.714658): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Aircraft (0.714014): dbpedia | freebase

 Imagined Worlds
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Dyson , Freeman (1997), Imagined Worlds, Retrieved on 2015-05-31
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science science fiction