The Journal of Aeronautical History is a web-based, peer-reviewed journal containing papers of an historical nature, covering all aspects of aerospace.
In this issue I am delighted to welcome, as a contributor, Tom Crouch from the Smithsonian Institution. Tom is Senior Curator, Aeronautics, and is ideally placed to write about the claims of Gustave Whitehead to have flown before the Wright brothers.
The history of aeronautics contains many claims that an individual was the first to achieve some technical breakthrough. Often, as in the case of the Wrights, there is ample documentation to validate a claim. But in any event, from a historical perspective it is usually clear whose achievements changed the course of history. Thus there can be no doubt that Frank Whittle championed the development of the first generation of practical and robust gas turbine engines for aircraft, using centrifugal compressors, and these dominated jet aviation for about a decade. Later generations of engines moved to axial compressors for greater efficiency, but most pioneers are superseded by others to improve the first generation of technology.
Professor Brian Brinkworth returns with the fascinating story of the Miles Libellula tandem wing aircraft. These are not well known, and so it is particularly pleasing to have a paper that both tells their story and also explains, from an aerodynamic viewpoint, why they could not provide the performance benefits that the Miles brothers were hoping to achieve. It is also salutary in showing that although the theoretical performance of tandem wing aircraft had been studied by Glauert, and published in an ARC R&M, neither Miles not the Ministry of Aircraft Production appear to have been aware of this. Other papers have remarked on the disconnection between theoreticians and designers in the early days of aviation, and this seems to have been a late example. By the 1960s, from my own experience, there were good links between the research establishments and industry and research results were being used to support designers.
John Ackroyd has provided a fascinating paper on the aerodynamics of the Spitfire. This shows what a remarkable achievement the aircraft was, and how the design decisions allowed the aircraft to out-perform its rivals, remain in service throughout the war and double in power and weight during its service life. It even achieved a better performance at transonic Mach numbers than the Gloster Meteor. It looks a classic, and paper 2016/03 shows that its performance was classic.
Dr C G B (Kit) Mitchell FRAeS