What will the flying-machine of the future be like? He would be a wise man indeed who could predict with any degree of accuracy the exact form and dimensions of the coming aeroplane. The dreams of the old-time imaginative novelist seem almost to be realised now. Our more modern Kipling, looking back in his mind's eye at our feeble efforts, talks with scorn in the " Night Mail " of " the days when men flew wooden kites over oil-engines." Yet it is not likely that we shall graduate from that crude type for many years to come. A scientific forecast of the flying-machine's possibilities and its effect on human affairs must therefore be deduced from present aeroplane facts.
The aeroplane of our time is a thing of almost feathery lightness. In its construction the lightest and toughest woods and the smallest possible amount of metal must be used. As a result, it is wellnigh as delicate as a watch, and like a watch it must be handled with some care. Since the motor is the heaviest part of a flying-machine, it offers the most serious obstacle to the attainment of lightness. Because of the motor's necessarily small size its power is none too generous, and because of its delicate construction it breaks down with awkward ease. Hence it is safe to prophesy that the flying-machine of the future will be equipped with motors far higher in power than those at present in use.
It is probable that the future aeroplane will carry two motors, instead of one, each motor independently operative, so that if one fails, the other will still be able to drive the machine safely through the air. For military purposes at least, such a double-motor aeroplane is absolutely necessary. Imagine a spy in the air compelled to glide ignominiously down in an enemy's camp, because his engine failed him! Mere considerations of safety demand the installation of two motors on a flying-machine. In March, 1910, the French aviator Crochon fell to the ground in a cross-country flight from Mourmelon to Châlons, because his motor broke down. Le Blon was killed at San Sebastian on April 2, 1910, as a result of a similar motor trouble. During the Nice meeting in April, 1910, Chavez and Latham mercifully dropped into the Mediterranean, also because of motor trouble. All of these accidents might have been avoided if the aviators could have relied upon a second motor.
The aviator of the present day is somewhat in the position of a bicycle rider on a slack wire, armed with a parasol. He must exercise incessant vigilance, lest he lose his balance. The strain upon nerves and muscles, for the beginner at least, is tremendous. Hence, even now, we hear of automatic devices which will prevent the loss of a flying-machine's equilibrium and which will enable the aviator to soar in the sky more blithely than he can at present.
Balloonists find difficulty in ascertaining their location, particularly after descending from a cloud bank. It is true that the aviator can swoop down to the earth and find out where he is. Nevertheless, it is very likely that in the future he will be provided with charts and instruments which will obviate that necessity, — charts which will indicate landmarks and instruments which will indicate the angle of the flight path and which will include convenient field glasses and day and night signalling devices. Needless to say the aviator will carry a compass, probably a prismatic compass from which directions can be taken with great accuracy so long as fixed objects on the earth are visible. No doubt the compass will have a dial covered with luminous material, visible in the dark. At night a trailing-line will be cast overboard, fitted with some electrical indicator, which will ring a bell if some object should be struck, to warn the pilot that he is flying too low. The German Aerial Navy League has proposed that special beacon lights be erected at certain points. The aviator of the future will certainly need some such guidance if he flies by night, — some light which will send a long beam in the direction in which the wind is blowing.
Two men at least will be carried by the aeroplane of the future, — one to look after the controlling mechanism and the other to navigate. The military aeroplane will surely be so manned; for one man alone cannot perform the duties of mechanician and observer.
Explorations into unknown lands will be robbed of their perils by the flying-machine. The hummocks of the Arctics, the jungles of Africa, the morasses of a country untrodden by the foot of man can hide nothing from the exploring aviator. Tasks which formerly occupied years for their achievement will henceforth be accomplished in as many months, weeks, or even days. If Lieutenant Shackleton found the motor-car of service in Antarctic exploration, what shall be said of the flying-machine which speeds on its journey unimpeded by mountains of snow or grinding pack-ice? The character of the information gathered by the future explorer-aviator will be of greater scientific value than that which is at present so painfully collected. A Livingstone or a Stanley chopping his way through dense tropical vegetation brings back no complete map of the region traversed. All that he can show is his itinerary, — a mere fringe of the new country. Mountains and rivers he indicates rather than charts. Instead of crawling over the face of our planet, the sky-explorer will some day survey it from a height. He will see his Africa or Asia or India spread before him like a map. His eye will sweep an area measuring hundreds of square miles in extent. The camera will record those topographical peculiarities which he came to note, and he will be spared the necessity of imperilling his life to discover the source of a river or the secret of some Tibetan Forbidden Kingdom.
So far as actual appearance goes, the opinions of present-day flying experts differ as to the flying-machine of the future. Mr. R. W. A. Brewer, an English authority, sees a larger and a heavier machine than we have at present, a kind of air yacht, weighing at least three tons, and built with a boat-body. The craft of his fancy will be decked in. It will carry several persons conveniently and will be provided with living and sleeping accommodations. He prophesies that it will fly at speeds of one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles an hour, for the reason that high speeds in flying, according to some authorities, mean less expenditure of power than lower speeds. Mr. F. W. Lanchester, as we have pointed out in a previous chapter, entertains similar views on the necessity of high speed. If it is ever possible for an aeroplane to travel at such terrific velocities, whole continents will become the playgrounds of aviators. Daily trips of one thousand miles would not be extraordinary. It is even conceivable that there will be aeroplane liners which will travel from Europe to America in twenty-four hours.