William W. Whitson


The FledglingAuthor's Note

Under close questioning, the average reader would probably trace the development of aviation in America in one huge leap from the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in late 1903 to the Red Baron in his triplane of 1918. In the popular mind, the intervening fifteen years are a blur of comparative insignificance. Certainly in those years the airplane, the pilot and the
aviation industry were all “fledglings.”

This story is therefore dedicated to that general public who may be surprised-- as I was-- to learn that the seven years from 1905 to 1912 witnessed miraculous advances in our sophistication about engines and airframes, fostered by newspaper barons who offered obscene fortunes to anyone who might dare to fly from New York to Philadelphia or cross the English Channel. Indeed, the sum of fifty thousand dollars ($2 million in today’s purchasing power) was not unusual for such proofs that flight was real, not some form of circus magic.

Rheims CompetitorsStimulated by such financial offers as well as the mystery of flight, a handful of daring designers, pilots and entrepreneurs launched the first great era of competitive races and exhibitions. Among these, Glenn H. Curtiss of Hammondsport, New York, must be counted the leader. Devotees of the Wright brothers may quarrel. But one need only study Jack Carpenter’s Bell and Curtiss (Arsdalen, Bosch and Co., 2000) to conclude  that the Wrights’ efforts to market their primitive Flyer diverted their attention to improved designs while Curtiss, Alexander Graham Bell, Lieutenant Tom Selfridge and other members of the Aerial Experiment Association (A.E.A.) forged ahead after January, 1908.

Competition for the Gordon Bennett trophy at the first international race in Rheims, France, in August, 1909, rewarded the A.E.A. and Curtiss with worldwide acclaim. Thereafter, the competition between Curtiss and the Wright brothers entertained and educated a wildly enthusiastic public until World War I forced the adversaries to compromise.

Who was Glenn Curtiss? For details on his inventive genius and his life in  the tiny village of Hammondsport, I drew heavily on C.R. Roseberry’s Glenn Curtiss: Pioneer of Flight (Syracuse University Press, 1991).  To keep the historical setting of planes and engines straight, I depended on Louis Casey’s superb Curtiss: The Hammondsport Era, 1907-1915 (Crown Publishers, 1981). For stories about citizens of Hammondsport at the turn of the century, I turned to Champlin’s Back There Where The Past Was.

To satisfy fictional logic in this sequel to Something Glorious, I stretched a few facts. The most notable is the myth of John Harrison’s responsibility for designing a series of aircraft engines for Glenn Curtiss. In fact, Curtiss applied his own genius with the internal combustion engine to all designs of Curtiss engines from his first motorcycle engine, weighing 190 pounds, to the eight-cylinder, 40hp engine that propelled Red Wing in March, 1908, to the 90hp OX-5 that powered the forerunner of the famous Jenny in 1915.

As for David Harrison’s extraordinary (and continuing from Something Glorious) precocity and psychic gifts, I am indebted to discussions with Dr. Russell Targ and his books, especially Tart, Puthoff and Targ: Mind At Large (Praeger, 1979) and Targ and Katra Miracles of Mind (New World Library, 1998). For an earlier treatment of the subject of telepathy, see Upton Sinclair’s Mental Radio with an Introduction by Albert Einstein (first published in 1929. Republished in 2001 by Hampton Roads). Jim Schnabel’s astonishing story entitled Remote Viewers, The Secret History of America’s Psychic Spies (Dell Publishing, 1992) covers the theory of remote viewing, time travel and a host of other esoteric activities that were funded by the United States government in the 1970’s.

For details about West Point at the turn of the century, I regard Roger Nye’s dissertation, The United States Military Academy in an Era of Educational Reform, 1900-1925 as indispensable.


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