Outside the window, tiny irregular puff balls of cloud hover in the sky, their height above the ground is uniform, at least as uniform as anything in nature is going to be. The green and brown patterns on the ground below are muted by the haze of heated air and dust. The man beside us, is paying attention to the screen on his overlarge mobile phone, typing in text or queries or what ever people do with these adult toys. At one time adult toys meant something risqué to the middle aged but unnecessary for the young. He soon ceased his typing and laid his head back, gazing languidly out of the window. He watched the wing for a few minutes which I imagine would be a great deal more interesting if he could actually see the movement of air over and the lift sustaining flow coursing beneath the wing, he just might have stayed awake longer.
His snoring though midway between a rumbling and wet, sloppy purr is barely audible above the engine noise, those abrasive sounding motors are grabbing in innocent bystander atmosphere into its turbines then hurling it out compressed, singed and very, very quickly. Propulsion, not just a good idea but fundamental to staying ten kilometres above the ground, and therefore making it possible to sip this fairly average Chardonnay and simultaneously feel like a sardine oriented in the vertical opposed to more typical horizontal a la John West – the absence of oil is appreciated.
Flying is the miraculous, the utterly incredible converted to the hum drum, the banal. It is a totally awesome achievement. Something weighing as much as a suburban house not only stays aloft but gets from here to London chewing up the remains of Jurassic ferns. Doing it once is incredible, doing it twice is amazing but unfortunately doing it, a million times is plain boring. It is too easy to forget, if we ever actually knew in the first place, that crossing vast swags of real estate, like thousands of kilometres in a few hours, and a) not dying b) doing it while sitting down and c) doing it in comfort, was completely impossible for nearly all of human history and unless there is evidence to the contrary, earth’s history. Early Australian explorers took three years to go from the bottom to the top of Australia and back again, ruining health, suffering serious sunburn and all of the benefits accrued to their wealthy backers, poor recompense indeed for their trouble.
All this stuff, the stuff that flies, the rockets that enter space, motor cars traveling along, all them come from what is inside of the heads of scientists and engineers and businessmen and businesswomen. Now if is too often said that technologists and any monied class lack soul, lack any romantic imagination, that mystical poetic dreaming apparently exists only in music, art, and even cooking if TV cooks are any guide. These activities are creative whereas applying logic and science to a problem is dehumanising and the opposite of creative. Is it cheating to get the answers by using logic? However Imagination uses logic, as it uses memory, perception, education, and so on. Imagination is the overarching goal which all these attributes of human thinking ultimately serve. Imagination is paramount in any and all human endeavours that really change how we live and what we know. This applies as much to developing, applying and distributing revolutionary new technology as it does to artistic endeavour. Flight is technology, is business, is hyper organisation – at least not for booking agents who keep mucking up my baggage bookings – but it’s more than all that, if you close your eyes and breath in deeply, it is completely magical. It is romance. It is poetry.
Step back from our world weary 21st century and imagine the wonder and awe our grandparents had when mechanised flight went from the impossible to visible reality.
The laws of gases, of force and mass and acceleration, of gas and fluid motion in the Bernoulli theorem. These are all dry stuff and they aren’t magical, there just laws, their tools created by or discovered by humans. What’s magical is that the human mind discovered ( invented?) them, and they are right. They’re right because using these laws works, over and over again. They are the Swiss army knives that do a million things. But get this, a two kilogram blob of fats and carbohydrates stuffed in a calcium based skull, cobbled together over two billion years of trial and error can just click into what’s true about the world and in fact the whole universe, now that’s mind blowing. Then those same human brains have the determination and discipline to create sophisticated technologies based on that derived understanding of natural forces and processes, and then to use them ( mostly) safely, is doubly incredible.
Come on get excited about our modern conveniences , our phones with their own inner lives, steam engines thundering through forests and over deserts, our jets which carry us all over our world, and most of all give a toast to the people who made them all.
The plane is going to land soon, and a final miracle I hope will occur, which is getting off in one piece.