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Used books bought: ancient and aviation history

Posted in Books, Hobbies by Alex L. on June 26, 2013

I bought some great books at a used book store earlier this week. It’s dangerous for me to stroll into such an establishment on a university campus, especially when they’re running a “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” sale. They recently received a collection of military history books — many of them titles about aviation during WWI. This was my undoing. I purchased:

  • Knights of the Air by Ezra Bowen  (bought it mostly for the unique photos and illustrations)
  • The First Air Campaign: August 1914 – November 1918 by Eric and Jane Lawson  (a well-written overview of the conflict — reading this now)
  • Hat in the Ring: The Birth of American Air Power in the Great War by Bert Frandsen  (a scholarly account of the first American combat aviators)
  • Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron by Peter Kilduff  (a scholarly biography about the famous German flyer)
  • Gunning for the Red Baron by Leon Bennett  (a unique scientific look at the physics of aerial gunnery and maneuvering)
  • Bombers 1914-1919: Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft by Kenneth Munson  (handy visual reference for obscure aircraft types)

On my way out the door, I couldn’t resist these endcap enticements (both at first glance revealing an appealing writing style — rare in this genre):

  • Greek and Roman Naval Warfare: A Study of Strategy, Tactics, and Ship Design from Salamis (480 B.C.) to Actium (31 B.C.) by W.L. Rogers
  • The Ancient Engineers: Technology and Invention from the Earliest Times to the Renaissance by L. Sprague de Camp

Shout out to Howard’s Books in Evanston for facilitating some impulsive buys (all totaling under $50) that upon later reflection I don’t regret making.

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Driving at the speed of flight

Posted in Blogs, European, Just for Fun, Technology by Alex L. on November 4, 2011

Instrument panel for Jay Leno's 1915 Hispano-Suiza Aero Engine CarI can’t say I enjoy Jay Leno’s jokes as much as I do the work of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and David Letterman. But man does the guy have an awesome car collection.

I know next to nothing about vintage car restoration, but I can appreciate a sleek-looking and rumble-producing automobile. When I came across Jay Leno’s video of his 1915 Hispano-Suiza Aero Engine Car restoration (see part 1, part 2 and part 3), though, I almost started drooling. The reason is because the restored car combines in an engaging package some things that, well, just make me salivate like a dog sensing dinner: aviation, World War I history, craftsmanship, and speed.

The 1915 machine is no ordinary automobile. It’s fitted with an engine taken from a World War I fighter airplane. As Wikipedia informed me, after the First World War ended, surplus airplane engines were relatively cheap and vastly more powerful than what cars were then using. Some auto engineers decided not to let this opportunity pass and created cars with automobile chassis and airplane engines. Such aero-engined cars were a brief trend in auto racing during the inter-war period.

The Hispano-Suiza engine is the motor that was used to power the S.E.5, a British fighter plane during World War I. This was the primary aircraft of No. 56 Squadron RFC (Royal Flying Corps), the famous unit of expert flyers and warriors—such as James McCudden, Albert Ball, and Cecil Lewis (the last of whom wrote a now-rare but fascinating and honest memoir of his war years, titled Sagittarius Rising)—who helped defeat the imperial German air force. (more…)