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He manoeuvred the rudder and elevator with a small control stick in his right 32 hand. 5 lb) of glue that held together much of the machine of was weighed. In order to achieve their goals, these designers made use of advanced weight-saving composites, and sophisticated aerodynamic modelling techniques. Yet at the heart of each of the machines was an older, less unfamiliar technology: the bicycle. Seven years prior to the Wright brothers’ first flight in December 1903, James Howard Means argued in an editorial for the Aeronautical Annual that the bicycle and the flying machine were inevitably connected: ‘To learn to wheel one must learn to balance.

In the opening moments of The First of the Few (1942), Leslie Howard’s stirring film account of the life of the Spitfire designer, R. J. Mitchell, it is suggested he was driven only by a desire to create an aircraft that bore no resemblance to the ungainly machines that had been lumbering into the sky An experimental monoplane with tubular ‘venturi’ fuselage, conceived by the Italian engineer Luigi Stipa in 1931. 47 throughout the 1920s; simply, to create an aircraft that could be regarded a piece of functional sculpture.

He questioned Adolf Büsemann, one of the institute’s aerodynamicists, who quickly responded: ‘Don’t you remember? Rome? Volta Scientific Conference in 1935? You remember my paper on supersonic aerodynamics? . ’48 In October 1935, Büsemann, a young engineer, had presented a paper on the ‘arrow wing’, a futuristic concept which argued that if the wings of a plane could be swept back, they might fall within the shockwave cone streaming from the nose of the craft, and so would thus have less drag than straight wings.

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