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Flight Quotes (40 quotes)

A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law, which instrument it is within the capacity of man to reproduce with all its movements, but not with a corresponding degree of strength, though it is deficient only in the power of maintaining equilibrium. We may therefore say that such an instrument constructed by man is lacking in nothing except the life of the bird, and this life must needs be supplied from that of man.
'Of the Bird's Movement' from Codice Atlantico 161 r.a., in Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, trans. E. MacCurdy (1906), Vol. 1, 153.
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A bird maintains itself in the air by imperceptible balancing, when near to the mountains or lofty ocean crags; it does this by means of the curves of the winds which as they strike against these projections, being forced to preserve their first impetus bend their straight course towards the sky with divers revolutions, at the beginning of which the birds come to a stop with their wings open, receiving underneath themselves the continual buffetings of the reflex courses of the winds.
'Flight', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 471.
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Although man is not armed by nature nor is naturally swiftest in flight, yet he has something better by far—reason. For by the possession of this function he exceeds the beasts to such a degree that he subdues. … You see, therefore, how much the gift of reason surpasses mere physical equipment.
As given in Toby E. Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West (2003), 102, citing Tina Stiefel, Science, Reason, and Faith in the Twelfth Century (1976), 3.
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And somewhere there are engineers
Helping others fly faster than sound.
But, where are the engineers
Helping those who must live on the ground?
Oxfam poster, as quoted on various websites.
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Antoine Magnan, a French zoologist, in 1934 made some very careful studies of bumblebee flight and came to the conclusion that bumblebees cannot fly at all! Fortunately, the bumblebees never heard this bit of news and so went on flying as usual.
Insects (1968, 1972), 68. Referring to Antoine Magnan Le Vol des Insectes (1934), Vol. 1 of Locomotion Chez les Animaux. Cited
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As for Lindbergh, another eminent servant of science, all he proved by his gaudy flight across the Atlantic was that God takes care of those who have been so fortunate as to come into the world foolish.
Expressing skepticism that adventure does not necessarily contribute to scientific knowledge.
'Penguin's Eggs'. From the American Mercury (Sep 1930), 123-24. Reprinted in A Second Mencken Chrestomathy: A New Selection from the Writings of America's Legendary Editor, Critic, and Wit (2006), 167.
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As to how far in advance of the first flight the man should know he’s going. I’m not in agreement with the argument that says word should be delayed until the last possible moment to save the pilot from developing a bad case of the jitters. If we don’t have the confidence to keep from getting clutched at that time, we have no business going at all. If I’m the guy going, I’ll be glad to get the dope as soon as possible. As for keeping this a big secret from us and having us all suited up and then saying to one man “you go” and stuffing him in and putting the lid on that thing and away he goes, well, we’re all big boys now.
As he wrote in an article for Life (14 Sep 1959), 38. In fact, he was the first to fly in Earth orbit on 20 Feb 1962, though Alan Shepard was picked for the earlier first suborbital flight.
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As to rocket ships flying between America and Europe, I believe it is worth seriously trying for. Thirty years ago persons who were developing flying were laughed at as mad, and that scorn hindered aviation. Now we heap similar ridicule upon stratoplane or rocket ships for trans-Atlantic flights.
Predicting high-altitude jet aircraft for routine long-distance travel. As quoted by Gobind Behari Lal, Universal Service Science Editor, as printed in 'Prof. Piccard Reaches U.S.', Syracuse Journal (13 Jan 1933), 4.
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Every bird which flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw. Germination includes the hatching of a meteor and the tap of a swallow's bill breaking the egg, and it leads forward the birth of an earth-worm and the advent of Socrates.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Five per cent vision is better than no vision at all. Five per cent hearing is better than no hearing at all. Five per cent flight efficiency is better than no flight at all. It is thoroughly believable that every organ or apparatus that we actually see is the product of a smooth trajectory through animal space, a trajectory in which every intermediate stage assisted survival and reproduction.
[Rebutting the Creationist assertion that fully developed organs could not have arisen 'by chance.']
The Blind Watchmaker (1986, 1996) 90-91.
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Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.
(1902). Widely quoted, though always without a source, for example in Laura Ward and Robert Allen, Foolish Words: The Most Stupid Words Ever Spoken (2003), 68. If you know a primary print source to authenticate this quote, please contact Webmaster.
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For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.
Opening line his first letter (13 May 1900) to Octave Chanute. In Marvin W. McFarland (ed.) The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: 1899-1905 (1953), Vol. 1, 13.
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I have soared also above my pitch, attempting an Eagles flight with the wings of a Wrenne.
In 'To the Reader', The Optick Glass of Humors (1607), 10-11. This is quoted by William Henry Hudson: “As the proverb says, ‘You cannot fly like an Eagle with the wings of a wren.’” in Afoot in England (1909, 1922), 80.
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I still find it hard to believe how far we have come, from the time I first flew on Friendship 7 and the Discovery flight. I go from being crammed into a capsule the size of a telephone booth to a place where I could live and work in space. … Amazing.
As quoted by Howard Wilkinson in 'John Glenn Had the Stuff U.S. Heroes are Made of', The Cincinnati Enquirer (20 Feb 2002).
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If the germ plasm wants to swim in the ocean, it makes itself a fish; if the germ plasm wants to fly in the air, it makes itself a bird. If it wants to go to Harvard, it makes itself a man. The strangest thing of all is that the germ plasm that we carry around within us has done all those things. There was a time, hundreds of millions of years ago, when it was making fish. Then … amphibia … reptiles … mammals, and now it’s making men.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970). Wald gave the context whereby the most one-celled organisms continued to reproduce by cell division.
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In ancient days two aviators procured to themselves wings. Daedalus flew safely through the middle air and was duly honored on his landing. Icarus soared upwards to the sun till the wax melted which bound his wings and his flight ended in fiasco. In weighing their achievements, there is something to be said for Icarus. The classical authorities tell us that he was only “doing a stunt,” but I prefer to think of him as the man who brought to light a serious constructional defect in the flying machines of his day.
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In flying, the probability of survival is inversely proportional to the angle of arrival.
Quoted in Richard H. Enns, George McGuire, Computer Algebra Recipes for Classical Mechanics (2003), 37.
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In the vast cosmical changes, the universal life comes and goes in unknown quantities ... sowing an animalcule here, crumbling a star there, oscillating and winding, ... entangling, from the highest to the lowest, all activities in the obscurity of a dizzying mechanism, hanging the flight of an insect upon the movement of the earth... Enormous gearing, whose first motor is the gnat, and whose last wheel is the zodiac.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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It is by the aid of iron that we construct houses, cleave rocks, and perform so many other useful offices of life. But it is with iron also that wars, murders, and robberies are effected, and this, not only hand to hand, but from a distance even, by the aid of missiles and winged weapons, now launched from engines, now hurled by the human arm, and now furnished with feathery wings. This last I regard as the most criminal artifice that has been devised by the human mind; for, as if to bring death upon man with still greater rapidity, we have given wings to iron and taught it to fly. ... Nature, in conformity with her usual benevolence, has limited the power of iron, by inflicting upon it the punishment of rust; and has thus displayed her usual foresight in rendering nothing in existence more perishable, than the substance which brings the greatest dangers upon perishable mortality.
Natural History of Pliny, translation (1857, 1898) by John Bostock and H. T. Riley, 205-6.
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Kidney transplants seem so routine now. But the first one was like Lindbergh’s flight across the ocean.
In interview with reporter Gina Kolata, '2 American Transplant Pioneers Win Nobel Prize in Medicine', New York Times (9 Oct 1990).
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Later, I realized that the mission had to end in a let-down because the real barrier wasn’t in the sky but in our knowledge and experience of supersonic flight.
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Man studied birds for centuries, trying to learn how to make a machine to fly like them. He never did do the trick; his final success came when he broke away entirely and tried new methods.
Published under the name Don A. Stuart, 'Who Goes There?', Astounding Stories (Aug 1938). In Robert Silverberg, Ben Bova and Science Fiction Writers of America, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1973), Vol. 2, 62.
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My own lifetime spans the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk flight and manned-satellite orbiting.
In 'The Wisdom of Wilderness', Life (22 Dec 1967), 63, No. 25, 8.
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October 9, 1863
Always, however great the height of the balloon, when I have seen the horizon it has roughly appeared to be on the level of the car though of course the dip of the horizon is a very appreciable quantity or the same height as the eye. From this one might infer that, could the earth be seen without a cloud or anything to obscure it, and the boundary line of the plane approximately the same height as the eye, the general appearance would be that of a slight concavity; but I have never seen any part of the surface of the earth other than as a plane.
Towns and cities, when viewed from the balloon are like models in motion. I shall always remember the ascent of 9th October, 1863, when we passed over London about sunset. At the time when we were 7,000 feet high, and directly over London Bridge, the scene around was one that cannot probably be equalled in the world. We were still so low as not to have lost sight of the details of the spectacle which presented itself to our eyes; and with one glance the homes of 3,000,000 people could be seen, and so distinct was the view, that every large building was easily distinguishable. In fact, the whole of London was visible, and some parts most clearly. All round, the suburbs were also very distinct, with their lines of detached villas, imbedded as it were in a mass of shrubs; beyond, the country was like a garden, its fields, well marked, becoming smaller and smaller as the eye wandered farther and farther away.
Again looking down, there was the Thames, throughout its whole length, without the slightest mist, dotted over its winding course with innumerable ships and steamboats, like moving toys. Gravesend was visible, also the mouth of the Thames, and the coast around as far as Norfolk. The southern shore of the mouth of the Thames was not so clear, but the sea beyond was seen for many miles; when at a higher elevation, I looked for the coast of France, but was unable to see it. On looking round, the eye was arrested by the garden-like appearance of the county of Kent, till again London claimed yet more careful attention.
Smoke, thin and blue, was curling from it, and slowly moving away in beautiful curves, from all except one part, south of the Thames, where it was less blue and seemed more dense, till the cause became evident; it was mixed with mist rising from the ground, the southern limit of which was bounded by an even line, doubtless indicating the meeting of the subsoils of gravel and clay. The whole scene was surmounted by a canopy of blue, everywhere free from cloud, except near the horizon, where a band of cumulus and stratus extended all round, forming a fitting boundary to such a glorious view.
As seen from the earth, the sunset this evening was described as fine, the air being clear and the shadows well defined; but, as we rose to view it and its effects, the golden hues increased in intensity; their richness decreased as the distance from the sun increased, both right and left; but still as far as 90º from the sun, rose-coloured clouds extended. The remainder of the circle was completed, for the most part, by pure white cumulus of well-rounded and symmetrical forms.
I have seen London by night. I have crossed it during the day at the height of four miles. I have often admired the splendour of sky scenery, but never have I seen anything which surpassed this spectacle. The roar of the town heard at this elevation was a deep, rich, continuous sound the voice of labour. At four miles above London, all was hushed; no sound reached our ears.
Travels in the Air (1871), 99-100.
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Quite likely the twentieth century is destined to see the natural forces which will enable us to fly from continent to continent with a speed far exceeding that of a bird.
'The Outlook for the Flying Machine'. The Independent: A Weekly Magazine (22 Oct 1903), 2510.
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Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.
In The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009), 59. As attributed on a web page using the quote as a title at web site of Richard Dawkins Foundation.
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Scientists constantly get clobbered with the idea that we spent 27 billion dollars on the Apollo programs, and are asked “What more do you want?” We didn't spend it; it was done for political reasons. ... Apollo was a response to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and to the successful orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy's objective was not to find out the origin of the moon by the end of the decade; rather it was to put a man on the moon and bring him back, and we did that.
Quoted by Dennis Meredith, in 'Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection and Extraterrestrial Life-Wish', Science Digest (Jun 1979), 85, 38 & 89. Reproduced in Carl Sagan and Tom Head, Conversations With Sagan (2006), 55-56.
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Surely no child, and few adults, have ever watched a bird in flight without envy.
Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman, Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 3.
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The chemical or physical inventor is always a Prometheus. There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. But if every physical and chemical invention is a blasphemy, every biological invention is a perversion. There is hardly one which, on first being brought to the notice of an observer from any nation which had not previously heard of their existence, would not appear to him as indecent and unnatural.
Lecture (4 Feb 1923) to the Heretics Society, Cambridge University, published in Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924), 44.
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The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which men shall fly along distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration to be.
Side-lights on Astronomy and Kindred Fields of Popular Science (1906), 345.
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The generalizations of science sweep on in ever-widening circles, and more aspiring flights, through a limitless creation.
In 'The Darwinian Hypothesis: Darwin on the Origin of Species', Man's Place in Nature and Other Essays (1910), 337.
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The gentleman [Mr. Taber] from New York says [agricultural research] is all foolish. Yes; it was foolish when Burbank was experimenting with wild cactus. It was foolish when the Wright boys went down to Kitty Hawk and had a contraption there that they were going to fly like birds. It was foolish when Robert Fulton tried to put a boiler into a sail boat and steam it up the Hudson. It was foolish when one of my ancestors thought the world was round and discovered this country so that the gentleman from New York could become a Congressman. (Laughter.) ... Do not seek to stop progress; do not seek to put the hand of politics on these scientific men who are doing a great work. As the gentleman from Texas points out, it is not the discharge of these particular employees that is at stake, it is all the work of investigation, of research, of experimentation that has been going on for years that will be stopped and lost.
Speaking (28 Dec 1932) as a member of the 72nd Congress, early in the Great Depression, in opposition to an attempt to eliminate a small amount from the agricultural appropriation bill. As quoted in 'Mayor-Elect La Guardia on Research', Science (1933), New Series, 78, No. 2031, 511.
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The history of this paper suggests that highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society, which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matters of uncertain value. Perhaps one may go further and say that a young author who believes himself capable of great things would usually do well to secure the favourable recognition of the scientific world by work whose scope is limited and whose value is easily judged, before embarking upon higher flights.
'On the Physics of Media that are Composed of Free and Perfectly Elastic Molecules in a State of Motion', Philosophical Transactions (1892), 183, 560.
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The mathematician of to-day admits that he can neither square the circle, duplicate the cube or trisect the angle. May not our mechanicians, in like manner, be ultimately forced to admit that aerial flight is one of that great class of problems with which men can never cope… I do not claim that this is a necessary conclusion from any past experience. But I do think that success must await progress of a different kind from that of invention.
[Written following Samuel Pierpoint Langley's failed attempt to launch his flying machine from a catapult device mounted on a barge in Oct 1903. The Wright Brother's success came on 17 Dec 1903.]
'The Outlook for the Flying Machine'. The Independent: A Weekly Magazine (22 Oct 1903), 2509.
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The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.
Gifford lectures delivered in the University of Edinburgh during the session 1927-28. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929, 1979), 5.
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The [mechanical] bird I have described ought to be able by the help of the wind to rise to a great height, and this will prove to be its safety; since even if… revolutions [of the winds] were to befall it, it would still have time to regain a condition of equilibrium; provided that its various parts have a great power of resistance, so that they can safely withstand the fury and violence of the descent, by the aid of the defenses which I have mentioned; and its joints should be made of strong tanned hide, and sewn with cords of strong raw silk. And let no one encumber himself with iron bands, for these are very soon broken at the joints or else they become worn out, and consequently it is well not to encumber oneself with them.
'Of the Bird’s Movement' from Sul Voio degli Uccelli, 8 [7] r. in Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, trans. E. MacCurdy (1906), 153-4.
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To fly, we have to have resistance. It’s all about turbulence.
Reacting to images of wave patterns in fluid motion.
In Maya Ying Lin, Jeff Fleming, Michael Brenson and Terri Dowell-Dennis, Topologies (1998), 38.
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We will build a machine that will fly.
As written in quotation marks by Pierre Lecomte du Noόy in Between Knowing and Believing (1967), 160, as a remark made to his brother, Jacques Montgolfier, in Spring 1783. The quote is also included in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman, Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 4. Neither gives a citation. Because the quote is not more widely published, Webmaster doubts its authenticity, and has been unable to verify from an original source. Please contact Webmaster if you know a primary source.
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What can you conceive more silly and extravagant than to suppose a man racking his brains, and studying night and day how to fly? ... wearying himself with climbing upon every ascent, ... bruising himself with continual falls, and at last breaking his neck? And all this, from an imagination that it would be glorious to have the eyes of people looking up at him, and mighty happy to eat, and drink, and sleep, at the top of the highest trees in the kingdom.
In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1732), 168. This was written before Montgolfier brothers, pioneer balloonists, were born.
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Workers must root out the idea that by keeping the results of their labors to themselves a fortune will be assured to them. Patent fees are so much wasted money. The flying machine of the future will not be born fully fledged and capable of a flight for 1,000 miles or so. Like everything else it must be evolved gradually. The first difficulty is to get a thing that will fly at all. When this is made, a full description should be published as an aid to others. Excellence of design and workmanship will always defy competition.
As quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 218.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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