Scientific American/What Next? -- Flying

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After the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable, some are beginning to inquire "Well, what new and wonderful invention shall we have next?" There are others again, who appear to have come to the conclusion that we have arrived at about the end of new invention. They express themselves somewhat as follows: -- "We have steamships bridging the seas, locomotives meeting the wants of rapid travel on land, and telegraphs completing all that has been lacking for communicating between distant places; therefore, we do not see what more can really be done."

These fogy individuals seem to conclude that we have reached a millennium of perfection in invention. The truth is, however, that past inventions but pave the way for new discoveries -- each new invention is but the ignition of another torch to illumine the path of progress. It is, no doubt, difficult to point out the field which presents the most inviting prospect for future investigation, but we have received a letter from a correspondent who asserts that the next thing which much be accomplished is flying. "Since the whales and porpoises have been astonished with the Ocean Cable," he declares, "we are now bound to astound the gulls and eagles." We certainly wish him success, and hope he will be enabled to accomplished his elevated object; but the history of the past does not promise much for the future success of human flying, even with the aid of wings, balloons, and all the helps of modern science.

Our correspondent proposes to build a large conical balloon, and propel it with wings, using steam power for this purpose. With such an aerial apparatus he intends to navigate the blue ethereal above, as safely as the frigate Niagara plows through the blue fluid below. The aerial ship devised by our correspondent, however, happens not to be new; a similar one was illustrated in our first volume. To others, as well as to himself, who may be indulging in such lofty visions, we must tell them that safe, practical and economical aerial navigation never can be rendered successful by application of known powers. This subject has engaged the attention of inventors for hundreds of years, and although many successful balloon experiments have been made, yet ballooning is not flying. The art of flying consists in moving with perfect freedom and command in the atmosphere. Will human beings ever be able to do this? Some enthusiastic inventors -- as many letters received by us testify -- believe it will yet be accomplished. If some new power a hundred times more compact that the steam engine were discovered, it might be so applied as to render flying probable. The reason why birds fly is not because of their feathers, as some suppose, as each feather is heaver than an equal bulk of air, but because birds have a very concentrated power in their muscles, by which they are enabled to sustain themselves in the atmosphere, by opposing a counter force to that of gravity.

It would be a most pleasant consideration, were we able to snap our fingers at railroad conductors and steamboat captains in going upon a distant journey, just by taking wings, mounting and soaring away in a bee line for the place of our destination; but until some new and grand discovery is made of the character alluded to, it is vain to speculate. When it is taken into consideration that it requires about 2,240 cubic feet of gas used for a balloon to raise and sustain a man weighing 140 pounds, it is easy to conceive that with known means (steam power or any other), mankind are yet far below the possibility of flying, but unless men try they never will fly.