The future might not be what it used to be, but we can certainly document what they said about it in the past! After some accurate predictions about predictions, the aviation predictions are in chronological order. Hope you enjoy this prognostication part of my flying quotation collection.

I confess that, in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that men would not fly for 50 years. Two years later, we were making flights. This demonstration of my inability as a prophet gave me such a shock that I have ever since refrained from all prediction.

Wilbur Wright, speech accepting the Gold Medal from the Aéro Club de France in Paris, 5 November 1908.

It is not really necessary to look too far into the future [of aviation]; we see enough already to be certain that it will be magnificent. Only let us hurry and open the roads.

Wilbur Wright, speech accepting the Gold Medal from the Aero Club of France in Paris, 5 November 1908.

Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next ten.

Neil Armstrong, speech to joint session of Congress, 16 September 1969.

Neil Armstrong, speech to joint session of Congress

Predicting the future of aeronautics is particularly tempting because there seems so much to predict. There are also pitfalls. The rate of progress and development is so fast that events have a nasty habit of overtaking predictions. Furthmore the developments themselves change the environment and what may seem desirable or attainable in terms of today can easily be irrelevant in terms of tomorrow.

HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, forward to The Future of Aeronautics, edited by John E Allen and Joan Bruce, Royal Aeronautical Society, 1970.

The Future of Aeronautics

Someone asked the master about the principles of mounting to dangerous heights and traveling into the vast inane. The Master said, some have made flying cars with wood from the inner part of the jujube tree, using ox-leather straps fastened to returning blades so as to set the machine in motion.

Book titled Pao Phu Tau, Fourth Century BC, earliest description of a helicopter, in the form of a childs toy.

What man-made machine will ever achieve the complete perfection of even the goose's wing?

Abbas Ibn Firnas, 852. He is reputed to have attempted flight with man-made wings. The crater Ibn Firnas on the Moon is named in his honor.

First, by the figurations of art there be made instruments of navigation without men to row them, as great ships to brooke the sea, only with one man to steer them, and they shall sail far more swiftly than if they were full of men; also chariots that shall move with unspeakable force without any living creature to stir them. Likewise an instrument may be made to fly withall if one sits in the midst of the instrument, and do turn an engine, by which the wings, being artificially composed, may beat the air after the manner of a flying bird.

Roger Bacon, Book of Secret Operations and Natural Magic (Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae), circa 1250.

Roger Bacon quote

I have discovered that a screw-shaped device such as this, if it is well made from starched linen, will rise in the air if turned quickly.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Codex Atlanticus, describing his (never built) Helical Air Screw, 1478-1519.

Helical Air Screw

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.

Leonardo da Vinci, Codex on the Flight of Birds, circa 1505.

Codex on the Flight of Birds

Ships and sails proper for the heavenly air should be fashioned. Then there will also be people, who do not shrink from the dreary vastness of space.

Johannes Kepler, letter to Galileo Galilei, 1609.

As soon as somebody demonstrates the art of flying, settlers from our species of man will not be lacking [on the Moon and Jupiter] … Who would have believed that a huge ocean could be crossed more peacefully and safely than the the narrow expanse of the Adriatic, the Baltic Sea or the English Channel? Provide ship or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will not fear even that void [of space]… . So, for those who will come shortly to attempt this journey, let us establish the astronomy: Galileo, you of Jupiter, I of the Moon.

Johannes Kepler, letter to Galileo Galilei, Conversation with the Messenger from the Stars, 19 April 1610.

The proposition that the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from place to place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressively contrary to Holy Scripture.

The proposition that the earth is not the centre of the world and immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd, philosophically false, and, theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith.

Ita pronunciamus nos Cardinalis infrascripti.

F. Cardinalis de Asculo, G. Cardinalis Bentivolius, D. Cardinalis de Cremona, A. Cardinalis S. Honuphri, B. Cardinalis Gypsius., F. Cardinalis Verospius, M. Cardinalis Ginettus, Sentence of the Tribunal of the Supreme Inquisition against Galileo Galilei, 22 June 1633.

It is often said that rising from his knees after recanting, Galileo said “E pur si muove!” (But it does move!) however there is no evidence to source such a quote. In 1992 Pope John Paul II finally issued an apology, lifting the edict of Inquisition against Galileo:

“Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions.”

Yet I do seriously, and on good grounds, affirm it possible to make a flying Chariot. In which a man may sit, and give such a motion unto it, as shall convey him through the air. And this perhaps might be made large enough to carry divers men at the same time, together with food for their viaticum, and commodities for traffic. It is not the bigness of anything in this kind, that can hinder its motion, if the motive faculty be answerable thereunto. We see a great ship swims as well as a small cork, and an eagle flies in the air as well as a little gnat.

’Tis likely enough that there may be means invented of journeying to the Moon; and how happy they shall be. that are first successful in this attempt.

John Wilkins, A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet, Book 1, Chapter 14, 1640. Rendered into modern English by me. Here is the original olde English:

That The Moone

We live submerged at the bottom of an ocean of the element air, which by unquestioned experiments is known to have weight.

Evangelista Torricelli, letter to Michelangelo Riccci, 11 June 1644.

I hold it farre more honour to have been the first flying man, then to bee another Neptune that first adventured to sayle upon the Sea.

Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone or A Discourse of a Voyage Thither, published posthumously in 1638, under the pseudonym of Domingo Gonsales.

The Man in the Moone

This will not perhaps seem so very difficult to anyone who has but diligently observed the flight of some other birds, particularly of the Kite, how he will swim up and down in the air, sometimes at great height, and presently again lower, guilding himself by his train, with his wings extended without any sensible motion on them; and all this when there is only some gently breath of air stirring, without the help of any strong forcible wind. Now I say, if that fowl (which is none of the lightest) can so very easily move itself up and down in the air, without so much as stiring the wings of it; certainly then, it is not improbable, but that when all the due proportions in such an engine are found out, and when men by long practice have arrived to any skill and experience, they will be able in this (as well as in many other things) to come very near unto the imitation of nature.

John Wilkins, Mathematical Magick, or, The wonders that may by performed by mechanical geometry, Book 2, Chapter 7, 1648. Rendered into modern English by me. Here is the original olde English:

Mathematical Magick

God would surely never allow such a machine to be successful, since it would cause much disturbance among the civil and political governments of mankind. Who can fail to see that no city would be proof against surprise … Houses, fortresses, and cities could be destroyed, with the certainty that the airship would come to no harm, as the missiles could be thrown from a great height.

Francesco de Lana-Terzi of Brescia, Italian Jesuit Father, first Westerner to write on the military uses of aerial attack, Prodrome overo Saggio di Alcune inventione nuove premesso all’arte maestro, 1670.

Witness this new-made world, another Heav'n
From Heaven Gate not farr, founded in view
On the clear Hyaline, the Glassie Sea;
Of amplitude almost immense, with Starr’s
Numerous, and every Starr perhaps a World
Of destined habitation.

John Milton, Paradise Lost. Book 7, 1674.

The Art of Flying is but newly invented, ’twill improve by degrees, and in time grow perfect; then we may fly as far as the Moon.

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, A week’s conversation on the plurality of worlds, 1686. (English translation by William Gardiner, 1728.)

Flying would give such occasions for intrigues as people cannot meet with who have nothing but legs to carry them. You should have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top of the monument, and see the cupola of St. Paul’s covered with both sexes like the outside of a pigeon-house. Nothing would he more frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window, or a gallant giving chase to his mistress, like a hawk after a lark. The poor husband could not dream what was doing over his head. If he were jealous, indeed, he might clip his wife’s wings, but what would this avail when there were flocks of whore-masters perpetually hovering over his house?

Joseph Adoison, The Guardian, 20 July 1713.

What can you conceive more silly and extravagant than to suppose a man racking his brains, and studying night and day how to fly?

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holly Life XI, 1728.

At first we will only skim the surface of the earth like young starlings, but soon, emboldened by practice and experience, we will spring into the air with the impetuousness of the eagle, diverting ourselves by watching the childish behavior of the little men or awling miserably around on the earth below us.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, circa 1750.

It is entirely impossible for man to rise into the air and float there. For this you would need wings of tremendous dimensions and they would have to be moved at three feet per second. Only a fool would expect such a thing to be realized.

Joseph de Lalande, member of the French Academy, Journal de Paris, 18 May 1782.

At sea let the British their neighbors defy — The French shall have frigates to traverse the sky.

Philip Freneau, The Progress of Ballons, 1784.

Soon shall thy arm, unconquer’d steam! afar
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car;
Or on wide-waving wings extended bear
The flying chariot through the field of air.

Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden, 1791.

The Botanic Garden

He that can swim needs not despair to fly; to swim is to fly in a grosser fluid, and to fly is to swim in a subtler. We are only to proportion our power of resistance to the different density of matter through which we are to pass. You will be necessarily upborne by the air if you can renew any impulse upon it faster than the air can recede from the pressure… The labor of rising from the ground will be great, … but as we mount higher, the earth's attraction, and the body's gravity, will be gradually diminished till we arrive at a region where the man will float in the air without any tendency to fall.

Dr. Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, 1759.

Anyone who should see in the sky such a globe should be aware that, far from being an alarming phenomenon, it is only a machine made of taffetas or light canvas covered with paper, that cannot possibly cause any harm, and which will someday prove serviceable to the wants of society.

French government proclamation issued to allay public alarm about balloon flights, 1784.

What is the use of a new-born infant?

Benjamin Franklin, according to the Baron von Grimm, while Franklin was the American Plenipotentiary to France and was asked what was the use of a balloon. Estimated to be at the ascension of Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes in the western outskirts of Paris on 21 November 1783. The quote is extensively explored in Chapin, S. (1985). A Legendary Bon Mot?: Franklin's "What Is The Good of a Newborn Baby?" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 129(3), 278-290.

Bishop Wilkins prophesied that the time would come when gentlemen, when they were to go on a journey, would call for their wings as regularly as they call for their boots.

Maria Edgeworth, Essay on Irish Bulls, 1802

I am well convinced that Aerial Navigation will form a most prominent feature in the progress of civilisation.

Sir George Cayley, 1804. In his Aeronautical and Miscellaneous Notebook, c. 1799-1826.

Cayley Notebook

I may be expediting the attainment of an object that will in time be found of great importance to mankind; so much so, that a new era in society will commence from the moment that aerial navigation is familiarly realised … I feel perfectly confident, however, that this noble art will soon be brought home to man’s convenience, and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and our families, and their goods and chattels, more securely by air than by water, and with a velocity of from 20 to 100 miles per hour.

Sir George Cayley, letter to Journl of Natural Philosopy, 6 September 1809.

Sir, Your letter of the 15th is received, but age has long since obliged me to withhold my mind from speculations of the difficulty of those of your letter, that their are means of artificial buoyancy by which man may be supported in the Air, the Balloon has proved, and that means of directing it may be discovered is against no law of Nature and is therefore possible as in the case of birds, but to do this by mechanical means alone in a medium so rare and unassisting as air must have the aid of some principal not yet generally known. However, I can really give no opinion understandingly on the subject and with more good will than confidence wish to you success.

President Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mr. D. W. Lee, 27 April, 1822.

I suppose we shall soon travel by air-vessels; make air instead of sea voyages; and at length find our way to the Moon, in spite of the want of atmosphere.

Lord Byron, 1822. Quoted in Conversations of Lord Byron: Volume I, by Thomas Medwin, 1825.

What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches?

Quarterly Review, March 1825.

I see what will be the effect of it; that it will set the whole world a-gadding. Twenty miles an hour, sir! — Why, you will not be able to keep an apprentice boy at his work! Every Saturday evening he must have a trip to Ohio to spend a Sunday with his sweetheart. Grave plodding citizens will be flying about like comets. All local attachments will be at an end. It will encourage flightiness of intellect. Veracious people will turn into the most immeasurable liars. All conceptions will be exaggerated by the magnificent notions of distance — Only a hundred miles off! — Tut, nonsense, I'll step across, madam, and bring your fan.

And then, sir, there will be barrels of port, cargoes of flour, chaldrons of coal, and even lead and whiskey, and such like sober things that have always been used to slow travelling — whisking away like a sky rocket. It will upset all the gravity of the nation … Upon the whole, sir, it is a pestilential, topsy-turvy, harm-scarum whirligig. Give me the old, solemn, straight forward, regular Dutch Canal — three miles an hour for expresses, and two rod jog-trot journeys — with a yoke of oxen for heavy loads. I go for beasts of burden. It is more formative and scriptural, and suits a moral and religious people better. None of your hop skip and jump whimsies for me.

The Western Sun of Vincennes, Indiana, 24 July 1830, as quoted by Seymour Dunbar in A History of Travel in America, 1915.

That any general systems of conveying passengers would answer, to go at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable.

Thomas Tredgold, Practical Treatise on Rail-Roads and Carriages, 2nd edition, 1835.

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall, 1842.

Seen here here at the Auckland, New Zealand, airport:

Tennyson quote at airport

It has been demonstrated by the fruitlessness of a thousand attempts that it is not possible for a machine, moving under its own power, to generate enough force to raise itself, or sustain itself. in the air.

M. de Marles, Les Cents merveilles des sciences et des arts, 1847.

Of all inventions of which it is possible to conceive in the future, there is none which so captivates the imagination as that of a flying machine. The power of rising up into the air and rushing in any direction desired at the rate of a mile or more in a minute is a power for which mankind would be willing to pay very liberally. What a luxurious mode of locomotion! To sweep along smoothly, gracefully, and swiftly over the treetops, changing course at pleasure, and alighting at will. How perfectly it would eclipse all other means of travel by land and sea! This magnificent problem, so alluring to the imagination and of the highest practical convenience and value, has been left heretofore to the dreams of a few visionaries and the feeble efforts of a few clumsy inventors. We, ourselves, have thought that, in the present state of human knowledge, it contained no promise of success. But, considering the greatness of the prize and the trifling character of the endeavors which have been put forth to obtain it, would it not indeed be well, as our correspondents suggest, to make a new and combined effort to realize it, under all the light and power of modern science and mechanism? …

The simplest, however, of all conceivable flying machines would be a cylinder blowing out gas in the rear and driving itself along on the principle of the rocket …

We might add several other hints to inventors who desire to enter on this enticing field, but we will conclude with only one more. The newly discovered metal aluminum, from its extraordinary combination of lightness and strength, is the proper material for flying machines.

Flying Machines in the Future, Scientific American, 8 September, 1860.

Flying Machines in the Future

It will bring the immediate, absolute, instantaneous, universal and perpetual abolition of all frontiers, everywhere … The old Gordian knot of gravity will finally be untied … Armies will vanish, and with them the horrors of war, the exploitation of nations, the subjugations of populations. It will bring an immense and totally peaceful revolution. It will bring a sudden golden dawn, a brisk flinging open of the ancient cage door of history, a flooding in of light. It will mean the liberation of all mankind.

Victor Hugo, letter on flight, 1864. ‘It’ was the balloon.

In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people who would shut up the human race upon this globe, we shall one day travel to the Moon, the planets, and the stars with the same facility, rapidity and certainty as we now make the ocean voyage from Liverpool to New York.

Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon, 1865.

From the Earth to the Moon

I believe, sir, in all the progress. Air navigation is the result of the oceanic navigation: from water the human has to pass in the air. Everywhere where creation will be breathable to him, the human will penetrate into the creation. Our only limit is life. There where ends the air column which prevents our machine to burst, the human has to stop. But he can, owes, and wants to go to there, and he will go. You can do it. I take the biggest interest in your useful and brave perpendicular journeys. You ingenious and fearless companion, Mr W. de Fontevielle, has as Mr. Victor Meunier the superior instinct of the true science. I would have the magnificent taste of the scientific adventure. Adventure in the fact, the hypothesis in the idea, here is the two big processes of discovery. Certainly, the future is for air navigation and the duty of the present is to work for the future. You are just now endorsing this duty. I, solitary person, but attentive, I am your eyes and I say to you: Courage!

Victor Hugo, letter sent to Gaston Tissandier, 9 March 1869.

Darius was clearly of the opinion,
That the air is also man's dominion,
And that, with paddle or fin or pinion,
We soon or late
Shall navigate
The azure as now we sail the sea.

John Townsend Trowbridge, Darius Green and His Flying Machine, 1869.

Darius Green and His 
            Flying Machine book cover
By 1895, the piece was so well known it was used in humourous ads by the Victor bicycle company:

Bicycle ad

In this age of inventive wonders all men have come to believe that in some genius’ brain sleeps the solution of the grand problem of aerial navigation — and along with that belief is the hope that that genius will reveal his miracle before they die, and likewise a dread that he will poke off somewhere and die himself before he finds out that he has such a wonder lying dormant in his brain. We all know the air can be navigated — therefore, hurry up your sails and bladders —satisfy us — us let us have peace.

Mark Twain, letter to the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, 1 August 1869.

And then, the Earth being small, mankind will migrate into space, and will cross the airless Saharas which separate planet from planet and sun from sun. The Earth will become a Holy Land which will be visited by pilgrims from all the quarters of the Universe. Finally, men will master the forces of Nature; they will become themselves architects of systems, manufacturers of worlds.

Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man, 1872.

I hold that in the flight of the soaring birds (the vultures, the eagles, and other birds which fly without flapping) ascension is produced by the skillful use of the force of the wind, and the steering, in any direction, is the result of skillful manoeuvres; so that by a moderate wind a man can, with an aeroplane, un-provided with any motor whatever, rise up into the air and direct himself at will, even against the wind itself.

Man therefore can, with a rigid surface and a properly designed apparatus, repeat the exercises performed by the soaring birds in ascension and steering, and will need to expend no force whatever, save to perform the manouvres required for steering.

Louis Pierre Mouillard, L’Empire de L’Air, 1881.

This passage was so powerful to Octave Chanute that he quoted it in full in his famous 1894 book Progress in Flying Machines.

The Empire Of The Air.

Well, gentlemen, do you believe in the possibility of aerial locomotion by machines heavier than air? …

You ask yourselves doubtless if this apparatus, so marvellously adapted for aerial locomotion, is susceptible of receiving greater speed. It is not worth while to conquer space if we cannot devour it. I wanted the air to be a solid support to me, and it is. I saw that to struggle against the wind I must be stronger than the wind, and I am. I had no need of sails to drive me, nor oars nor wheels to push me, nor rails to give me a faster road. Air is what I wanted, that was all. Air surrounds me as water surrounds the submarine boat, and in it my propellers act like the screws of a steamer. That is how I solved the problem of aviation. That is what a balloon will never do, nor will any machine that is lighter than air.

Jules Verne, The Clipper of the Clouds, 1887.

The Clipper of the Clouds

Any man endowed with an average amount of nerve, a cool head and a quick eye and a fair muscular development can soar through the air nowadays, provided he is equipped with a machine like the one being used by A. M. Herring among the sand dunes near Dune Park, Ind. All that is necessary for him to do is to seize the machine with a firm grasp, say a prayer, take a running jump into space, and trust to luck for finding a soft place when he alights. His chances of getting hurt are about one in a thousand in his favor, while having more sport to the second than he ever dreamed possible.

Chicago Times-Herald, 8 September 1887.

For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?

Vincent van Gogh, leter to Theo van Gogh, circa 9 July 1888.

Put these three indisputable facts together:

1: There is a low limit of weight, certainly not much beyond 50 pounds, beyond which it is impossible for an animal to fly. Nature has reached this limit, and with her utmost effort has failed to pass it.

2: The animal machine is far more effective than any we can hope to make.; therefore the limit of the weight of a successful flying machine can not be more than fifty pounds.

3: The weight of any machine constructed for flying, including fuel and engineer, cannot be less than three or four hundred pounds.

Is it not demonstrated that a true flying machine, self-raising, self-sustaining, self-propelling, is physically impossible?

Joseph Le Conte, Professor of Natural History at the University of California, Popular Science Monthly, November 1888.

On 2 August 1890 The Engineer magazine of New York republished the three indisputable facts, along with a rebutal:

“It must be concluded that the argument is a very strong one, but the day is apparently at hand when it will be quite possible to try a flying machine.”

Then [in square brackets] the editors contradicted their writer:

“We see nothing to support the conslusion arrived at. We have been told that ‘the day is at hand’ for at least a century. Yet there is not even an apporach to a flying machine yet.”

Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation

It will be no easy matter to construct a useful wing for man, built upon the lines of the natural wing and endowed with all the dynamically economical properties of the latter; and it will be even a more difficult task to master the wind, that erratic force which so often destroys our handiwork, with those material wings which nature has not made part of our own body. But we must admit the possibility that continued investigation and experience will bring us ever nearer to that solemn moment, when the first man will rise from earth by means of wings, if only for a few seconds, and mark that historical moment which heralds the inauguration of a new era in our civilization.

Otto Lilienthal, Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation (Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst), 1889.

The day is coming when artificial flight will no longer be a theoretical conception of the thinker but an accomplished fact.

Now I imagine when we come to take a journey from Boston to New York through the air in the flying machine of the future we shall take our seats in a car, the machine will then rise vertically into the air to some considerable height and then shoot off horizontally in the direction of New York. When we arrive at our destination I imagine the machine will hover over the terminus and gradually sink down to a moderate distance from the earth, a rope will be then thrown down to people below, and the machine by means of this rope will then be pulled down into position upon the terminal station.

Alexander Graham Bell, The Flying-Machine of the Future, article dictated by Mr. Bell at Hotel Bellevue, Boston, MA, by Arthur W. McCurdy, 5 June 1892.

The Flying-Machine of the Future

To set foot on the soil of the asteroids, to lift by hand a rock from the Moon, to observe Mars from a distance of several tens of kilometers, to land on its satellite or even on its surface, what can be more fantastic? From the moment of using rocket devices a new great era will begin in astronomy: the epoch of the more intensive study of the firmament.

Attributed to Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, 1896.

To the possible enquiry as to the probable character of a successful flying machine, the writer would answer that in his judgment two types of such machines may eventually be evolved: one, which may be termed the soaring type, and which will carry but a single operator, and another, likely to be developed somewhat later, which may be termed the journeying type, to carry several passengers, and to be provided with a motor.

Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines, 1894.

Let us hope that the advent of a successful flying machine, now only dimly foreseen and nevertheless thought to be possible, will bring nothing but good into the world; that it shall abridge distance, make all parts of the globe accessible, bring men into closer relation with each other, advance civilization, and hasten the promised era in which there shall be nothing but peace and good will among all men.

Octave Chanute, last words of the conclusion chapter, Progress in Flying Machines, 1894. In a 1976 reprint of this classic aviation book, Alan Shepard, first American in space and Apollo 14 moonwalker, wrote in the foreward:

“The last paragraph of this book deserves mention first because it explains the reasons for publishing this book, and for republishing it today.”

Progress in Flying Machines

It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere.

Thomas Edison, quoted in New York World, 17 November 1895.

Every bird is an acrobat. Whoever would master the air must learn to imitate the bird’s dexterity. We must fly and fall, and fly and fall, until we can fly without falling.

Otto Lilienthal, circa 1896. Quoted by Herbert N. Casson, At Last We Can Fly, in The American Magazine, volume 63, 1906.

The flying machine will not be in the same shape or all all in the style of the numerous kinds of cycles, but the study to produce a light, swift machine is likely to lead to an evolution in which wings play a conspicuous part.

Binghamton Republican newspaper, 4 June 1896.

I was greatly interested in your work with kites; but I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning, or of the expectation of good results from any of the trials we heard of. So you will understand that I would not care to be a member of the Aeronautical Society.

Lord Kelvin, replying to an invitation from Major B. F. S. Baden-Powell to join the Royal Aeronautical Society, 8 December 1896.

The energy necessary to propel a ship would be many times greater than that required to drive a train of cars at the same speed; hence as a means of rapid transit, flying could not begin to compete with the railroad.

Popular Science magazine, 1897.

The present generation will not [fly], and no practical engineer would devote himself to the problem now.

Attributed to William Worby Beaumont, British automotive engineer, when asked if man will fly in the next century, 1 January 1900.

For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. The disease has increased in severity and I feel it will soon cost me an increased amount of money, if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field.

Wilbur Wright, beginning of his first letter to Octave Chanute, 13 May 1900. The letter also included the prediction:

“If the plan will enable me to remain in the air for practice by the hour instead of by the second, I hope to acquire skill sufficient to overcome both these difficulties and those inherent in flight.”

Four days after receiving this extraordinary letter, what the Library of Congress has called “one of the most remarkable letters in the history of science”, Chanute wrote Wilbur a serious yet encouraging reply. In that 17 May 1900 letter, Chanute wrote he was, “quite in sympathy with your proposal to experiment”, and proceeded to offer detailed advice. They would exchange several hundred more letters over the next decade, a correspondence that only ended with Chanute’s death in May 1910.

Wilbur Wright letter

I am intending to start out in a few days for a trip to the coast of North Carolina in the vicinity of Roanoke Island, for the purpose of making some experiments with a flying machine. It is my belief that flight is possible, and while I am taking up the investigation for pleasure rather than profit, I think there is a slight possibility of achieving fame and fortune from it.

Wilbur Wright, letter to his father, 3 September 1900.

Few people, I fancy, who know the work of Langley, Lilienthal, Pilcher, Maxim, and Chanute, but will be inclined to believe that long before the year a.d. 2000, and very probably before 1950, a successful aeroplane will have soared and come home safe and sound. Directly that is accomplished the new invention will be most assuredly applied to war.

H. G. Wells, Anticipations: Of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life, 1901.


Is the Airship Possible? That depends, first of all, on whether we are to make the requisite scientific discoveries … the construction of an aerial vehicle … which could carry even a single man from place-to-place at pleasure requires the discovery of some new metal or some new force.

Simon Newcomb, Is the Airship Coming, McClure’s magazine, September 1901.

There probably can be found no better example of the speculative tendency carrying man to the erge of the chimerical than in his attempts to imitate the birds, or no field where so much inventive seed has been sown with so little return as in the attempts of man to fly successfully through the air. …

There is no basis for the ardent hopes and positive statements made as to the safe and successful use of the dirigible balloon or flying machine, or both, for commercial transportation or as weapons of war.

Rear-Admiral George Melville, Engineer-in-Chief USN, The Engineer and the Probem of Aerial Navigation, published in the North American Review, December 1901.

The Engineer and the Probem of Aerial Navigation

As the speed of aerial transit may reach several miles a minute man will practically be able to annihilate space and circumnavigate and explore the whole surface of this globe with independence, ease, dispatch and economy, or travel from pole to pole, or where ever his fancy may dictate, unhampered by restrictions of any kind.

While comfortable seated or reclining or standing at ease in his car, shielded from the direct effect of the wind, rain and the rays of the sun, yet having a clear and unobstructed view, often extending one hundred miles in radius, far away from the madding crowd, ignoble strife, and the busy haunts of man, and free from the noisy bustle and confusion, and the dirt, dust and bad odors of restricted and congested thoroughfares.
It is here that man as an aerial voyager, can enjoy a taste of the heavenly bliss, exhilaration of spirits and freedom from cares and anxieties such as he never before enjoyed or thought possible.

William Edwin Irish, The Aerial Transit of Man, published in Aeronautical World, 1 August 1902.

A day will come when beings, now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon Earth as a footstool and laugh, and reach out their hands amidst the stars.

H. G. Wells, The Discovery of the Future, lecture to the Royal Institution, 24 January 1902. Published first in Nature, 6 February 1902, and then released as a book.

We are thinking of building a machine next year with 500 sq.ft. surface, about 40 ft x 6 ft 6 inches. This will give us the oppotunity to work ou probems connected with the management of large machines both in the air and on the ground, such as starting, etc. If all goes well the next step will be to apply a motor.

Wilbur Wright, letter to George Spratt, 29 December 1902.

I remember how my comrades used to tease me at our game of ‘Pigeon flies!' All the children gather round a table and the leader calls out: 'Pigeon flies! Hen flies! Crow flies! Bee flies!' and so on; and at each call we were supposed to raise our fingers. Sometimes, however, he would call out: ‘Dog flies! Fox flies!' or some other like impossibility, to catch us. If any one raised a finger, he was made to pay a forfeit. Now my playmates never failed to wink and smile mockingly at me when one of them called: ‘Man flies!' for at the word I would always lift my finger very high, as a sign of absolute conviction; and I refused with energy to pay the forfeit. The more they laughed at me, the happier I was.

Alberto Santos-Dumont, How I Became an Aeronaut and My Experience with Air-ships, McClure's Magazine, August 1902. Later the same telling of the story became part of his 1904 book My Air-Ships.

How I Became an Aeronaut and My Experience with Air-ships

I have had the feeling that a properly constructed flying-machine should be capable of being flown as a kite; and conversely, that a properly constructed kite should be capable of use as a flying-machine when driven by its own propellers.

Alexander Graham Bell, The Tetrahedral Principle in Kite Structure, National Geographic Magazine, June 1903.

 The Tetrahedral Principle in Kite Structure

The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years — provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials. No doubt the problem has attractions for those it interests, but to the ordinary man it would seem as if effort might be employed more profitably.

Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly, anonymous author (presumably an editor) in The New York Times, 9 October 1903. I have a good PDF copy.

The exact date they predicted inorganic flight might take a million years is unfortunate for the Times, as it was on 9 October 1903 one Orville Wright wrote in his diary: “We started assembly today.”

The limit which the rarity of the air places upon its power of supporting wings, taken in connection with the combined weight of a man and a machine, make a drawback which we should not too hastily assume our ability to overcome. The example of the bird does not prove that man can fly. The hundred and fifty pounds of dead weight which the manager of the machine must add to it over and above that necessary in the bird may well prove an insurmountable obstacle to success.

The practical difficulties in the way of realizing the movement of such an object are obvious. The aeroplane must have its propellers. These must be driven by an engine with a source of power. Weight is an essential quality of every engine. The propellers must be made of metal, which has its weakness, and which is liable to give way when its speed attains a certain limit. And, granting complete success, imagine the proud possessor of the aeroplane darting through the air at a speed of several hundred feet per second! It is the speed alone that sustains him. Once he slackens his speed, down he begins to fall. He may, indeed, increase the inclination of his aeroplane. Then he increases the resistance necessary to move it. Once he stops he falls a dead mass. How shall he reach the ground without destroying his delicate machinery?

Simon Newcomb, The Outlook for the Flying Machine, in The Independent: A Weekly Magazine, 22 October 1903. I have a good PDF copy.

We are still far from the ultimate goal, and it would seem as if years of constant work and study by experts, together with the expenditure of thousands of dollars, would still be necessary before we can hope to produce an apparatus of practical utility on these lines.

The U.S. War Department, in its final report on the Langley project, 1903.

The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper quoted Representative Hitchcock as saying, “You tell Langley for me … that the only thing he ever made fly was Government money”. And Representative Robinson characterized Langley as a professor who was given to building “castles in the air”.

I believe the new machine of the Wrights to be the most promising attempt at flight that has yet been made.

Octave Chanute, after visiting the Wright Brothers’ camp for a few days, 23 November 1903.

That ‘there is always, somewhere, a weakest sport,’ is why the factor of safety is allowed. To allow it in an aeroplane would be to weight it so that it would be too heavy for its purpose.

We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments. Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly … For students and investigators of the Langley type, there are more useful employments.

The Langley Aeroplane, The New York Times editorial page of 10 December 1903. I have a good PDF copy.

The machines will eventually be fast, they will be used in sport, but they are not to be thought of as commercial carriers. To say nothing of the danger, the sizes must remain small and the passengers few, because the weight will, for the same design, increase as the cube of the dimensions, while the supporting surfaces will only increase as the square. It is true that when higher speeds become safe it will require fewer square feet of surface to carry a man, and that dimensions will actually decrease, but this will not be enough to carry much greater extraneous loads, such as a store of explosives or big guns to shoot them. The power required will always be great, say something like one horse power to every hundred pounds of weight, and hence fuel can not be carried for long single journeys.

Octave Chanute, Aerial Navigation, The Popular Science Monthly, March 1904. A paper read before Section D, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 30 December 1903.

The next artice in the edition was by Professor W. Le Conte Stevens, The Metric System: Shall it be Compulsory?

Aerial Navigation

The board does not care to formulate any requirements for the performance of a flying machine or take any further action until a machine is produced which by actual operation is shown to be able to preduce horizontal flight and to carry an operator.

US Board of Ordinace and Fortification, replying in the negative to the Wright Brother’s third attempt to interest the War Department in military use of their airplane. Letter of 27 October 1905. Quoted in 1943 book How Our Army Grew Wings.

As it is not at all likely that any means of suspending the effect of air-resistance can ever be devised, a flying-machine must always be slow and cumbersome … Air-ships are not very likely to be anything but a sort of vast toy, within, at all events, the next hundred years. But, as a means of amusement, the idea of aerial travel has great promise.

T. Baron Russell, A hundred Years Hence: The Expectations of an Optimist, 1906.

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 man shall fly long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be.

Simon Newcomb, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, Side-lights on Astronomy and Kindred Fields of Popular Science, 1906

As to the distance we can travel, we do not regard twenty-four miles as the limit. The new machines will carry sufficient fuel for a five-hunded-mile trip.

Wilbur Wright. Quoted by Herbert N. Casson, At Last We Can Fly, in The American Magazine, volume 63, 1906.

At Last We Can Fly

The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. … It’s easy to say, 'We have flown.'

Editorial in the Paris edition of the New York Herald newspaper, 10 February 1906. Quoted in the 2015 book The Wright Brothers.

Wilbur flying in Pau, a resort town in the south of France, January 1909

I would not be surprised to see machine flying through space, propelled by engines and steered at the will of the driver.

Alexander Graham Bell. Quoted by Herbert N. Casson, At Last We Can Fly, in The American Magazine, volume 63, 1906.

The air around London and other large cities will be darkened by the flight of aeroplanes … They are not mere dreamers who hold that the time is at hand when air power will be an even more important thing than sea power.

Editorial, Daily Mail newspaper, November 1906.

All attempts at artificial aviation are not only dangerous to human life, but foredoomed to failure from the engineering standpoint.

Editorial disclainer in the Times Engineering Supplement, in response to A. V. Roe’s accounts of the Wright Brothers flying. The Times of London, 24 January 1906. Roe later admitted “this was certainly not encouraging”.

In offering to the public the first instalment of the present work, the author desires to record his conviction that the time is near when the study of Aerial Flight will take its place as one of the foremost of the applied sciences, one of which the underlying principles furnish some of the most beautiful and fascinating problems in the whole domain of practical dynamics …

The importance of this matter entitles it to rank almost as a National obligation.

Frederick W. Lanchester, Aerodynamics: Constituting the First Volume of a Complete Work on Aerial Flight, 1906.

I have consulted my expert advisors with regard to your suggestion as to the employment of Aeroplanes, and I regret to have to tell you, after careful consideration of my Board, that the Admiralty are of the opinion that they would not be of any practical use to the Naval Service.

Lord Tweedmouth, First Lord of the British Admiralty, in reply to the Wright’s offer of their airplane technology, 7 March 1907.

Like all novices we began with the helicopter in childhood, but soon saw that the helicopter had no future, and dropped it. The helicopter does with great labor only what the balloon does without labor, and is no more fitted than the balloon for rapid horizontal flight. If its engine stops, it must fall with deathly violence, for it can neither glide like the aeroplane or float like the balloon. The helicopter is much easier to design than the aeroplane, but is worthless when done.

Wilbur Wright, letter written in 1907. Quoted in the 1954 book Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Letters of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Considered as a sport, flying possesses attractions which will appeal to many persons with a force beyond that exercised by any of the similar sports, such as boating, cycling, or automobiling. There is a sense of exhilaration in flying through the free air, an intensity of enjoyment, which possibly may be due to the satisfaction of an inborn longing transmitted to us from the days when our early ancestors gazed wonderingly at the free flight of birds and contrasted it with their own slow and toilsome progress through the unbroken wilderness …

Once above the tree tops, the narrow roads no longer arbitrarily fix the course. The earth is spread out before the eye with a richness of color and beauty of pattern never imagined by those who have gazed at the landscape edgewise only. The view of the ordinary traveler is as inadequate as that of an ant crawling over a magnificent rug. The rich brown of freshly-turn earth, the lighter shades of dry ground, the still lighter browns and yellows of ripening crops, the almost innumerable shades of green produced by grasses and forests, together present a sight whose beauty has been confined to balloonists alone in the past. With the coming of the flyer, the pleasures of ballooning are joined with those of automobiling to form a supreme combination.

The sport will not be without some element of danger, but with a good machine this danger need not be excessive. It will be safer than automobile racing, and not much more dangerous than football. The motor flyers will always be somewhat expensive, as the best of materials and workmanship will be required in their construction, but there is a possibility that men will eventually learn to fly without motors, after the manner of soaring birds, which sail for hours on motionless wings. In such case the flyer would be so small and simple that the original cost would be very moderate, and the fuel expense done away with entirely. Then flying will become an every-day sport for thousands.

Wilbur Wright. Flying as a Sport — It’s Possibilities, Scientific American, 29 February 1908.

SA Sportsman Edition

Although airplanes can at present still not make very long flights or rise to any great heights, and in general they are not suitable for military purposes, in the future they will nevertheless play a tremendous role in military affairs and so will undoubtedly be introduced into the armament of the army.

Russian War Ministry Annual Report, 1908.

The story has been often told of a famous scientist who died some years ago, that he had declared it impossible for a steam-ship to carry enough coal to take it across the Atlantic. The story, I believe, is apocryphal, but it serves its purpose as a warning quite as well as if it were true. In spite of this warning, however, there are certain dynamical truths that we must no forget …

The popular mind often pictures gigantic flying machines speeding across the Atlantic, carrying innumerable passengers in a way analogous to our modern steamships … It seems safe to say that such ideas must be wholly visionary. Even if such a machine could get across with one or two passengers, it would be prohibitive to any but the capitalist who could own his own yacht.

Another popular fallacy is to expect enormous speed to be optained. It must be remembered that the resistance of the air increases as the square of the speed, and the work as the cube … it is clear that with our present devices there is no hope of competing for racing speed with either our locomotives or our automobiles.

William H. Pickering, Harvard professor and astronomer, The Future of Artificial Flight, Aeronautics, June 1908.

Certainly the fundamental problem of flight has been solved, and the remaining difficulties incidental to the weight, fuel economy, and cooling of motors lie in a sphere in which there are innumerable able workers and in which great progress would certainly be made even if there were no “aviators.”

If the nineteenth century was the age of steam, the twentieth may be the age of the conquest of the air, and who shall say positively that the potentialities of the flying machine are not as great as those of the steam engine?

The Guardian newspaper, 14 August 1908.

I do not think that a flight across the Atlantic will be made in our time, and in our time I include the youngest readers.

Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls-Royce Ltd., circa 1908. Quoted in the 1908 book Unpublished Collection of Unfortunate Predictions.

No airship will ever fly from New York to Paris. That seems to me to be impossible. What limits the flight is the motor. No known motor can run at the requisite speed for four days without stopping, and you can’t be sure of finding the proper winds for soaring. The airship will always be a special messenger, never a load-carrier. But the history of civilization has usually shown that every new invention has brought in its train new needs it can satisfy, and so what the airship will eventually be used for is probably what we can least predict at the present.

Wilbur Wright, interview in the Cairo, Illinois Bulletin, 25 March 1909. This is often mis-quoted to say no ‘flying machine’ will make the journey. But the quote is about airships, blimps or Zeppelins, not the much faster airplane.

It is a bare possibility that a one-man machine without a float and favored by a wind of, say, 15 miles an hour, might succeed in getting across the Atlantic. But such an attempt would be the height of folly. When one comes to increase the size of the craft, the possibility rapidly fades away. This is because of the difficulties of carrying sufficient fuel. It will readily be seen, therefore, why the Atlantic flight is out of the question.

Orville Wright, circa 1908.

The weak point of the present aeroplane, around which the Wright brothers will never be able to get, is that the operation of the machine lies wholly in the wonderful brain of its operator … One fractional mislevelment would mean destruction to the machine and operator. The dirigible balloon is a farce and the aeroplane impracticable … Long ago I saw the impracticability of the lighter-than-air machine … The aeroplane is a primitive adoption of the bird-wing theory, and, as we don’t posses the divinity to acquire the automatic action of the bird, it is impossible. In commercializing any new invention, we must follow nature.

Thomas Edison, excerpts from speech given in Salt Lake City, 16 September 1908. Quoted in St. Louis Post Dispatch, 17 September 1908.

No place is safe — no place is at peace. There is no place where a women and her daughter can hide and be at peace. The war comes through the air, bombs drop in the night. Quiet people go out in the morning, and see air-fleets passing overhead — dripping death — dripping death!

H. G. Wells, The War in the Air, written in four months in 1907, first serialised and published in 1908 in The Pall Mall Magazine. First edition book cover:

The War in the Air

Much as we would like to help you by placing orders, we regret we cannot do this, as we are guardians of the public purse, and we do not consider that aeroplanes will be of any possible use for war purposes.

The British Minister of War, advised by Parliamentary Private Secretary Colonel J. E. E. Seely, 1908.

The flying world is about to grow up; we are preparing to grow up with it.

Flight magazine, first issue of the UK weekly publication, 2 January 1909. The cover story, A SECOND ENGLISHMAN FLIES, was on Mr J. T. C. Moore Brabazon, flying with his own machine.

Flight First Issue

It will not be at all surprissing to see fifty or a hundred [aeroplanes] in use over the country next fall.

Glenn Curtiss, quoted in The New Sport of Air-Sailing, Country Life in America magazine, January 1909.

I cannot but believe that we stand at the beginning of a new era, the Age of Flight, and that the beginnings of to-day will be mightily overshadowed by the complete successes of to-morrow.

Orville Wright. The Future of the Aeroplane, Country Life in America magazine, January 1909.

Of course, it will take much longer [than the automobile] to make them familiar to everyone; yet nobody should lose sight of the fact that the Age of Flight is really here—that the man bird is fledged at last, and already on the wing.

Maximilian Foster, The Sport of Flying, The Outing Magazine, May 1909.

The Outing Magazine

Sport first of all. After that, its use in exploration and in war. And after war … Oh well, you can guess as well as we can.

Wright Brothers, quoted in The Sport of Flying, The Outing Magazine, May 1909.

Flying machines are no longer toys and dreams; they are an established fact. The possibilities of this new system of locomotion are infinite. I feel as a Britisher rather ashamed that we are so completly out of it.

Lloyd George, at Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, Reims, France, August 1909. Quoted in the 1958 book Flying Witness: Harry Harper and the Golden Age of Aviation.

1910 French prediction of how flying will look in the year 2000:

1910 French Prediction

In the opinion of competent experts it is idle to look for a commercial future for the flying machine. There is, and always will be, a limit to its carrying capacity … Some will argue that because a machine will carry two people, another may be constructed that will carry a dozen, but those who make this contention do not understand the theory.

W. J. Jackman and Thomas Russell, Flying Machines: Construction and Operation, 1910.

Those who gazed felt awestruck, as though they had torn aside the veil of the future and looked into the very Holy of Holies … We bowed our heads before the mystery of it and then lifted our eyes with a new feeling in our souls that seemed to link us with the great dome of heaven, stretching above and over all, and hope sprang eternal for the great new future of the world.

Mary Moncure Parker, writing in a religious weekly about seeing the first airplane fly over Chicago, When the Biplane Flew as a Woman Saw It, Advance, 6 October 1910.

This new sport is comparable to no other. It is, in my opinion, one of the most intoxicating forms of sport, and will, I am sure, become one of the most popular. Many of us will perish before then, but that prospect will not dismay the braver spirits … It is so delicious to fly like a bird!

Marie Marvingt, The Sky Woman, Colliers magazine, 1911.

I want to go now, while it’s still wonderful and exciting. It's only a question of a few years isn’t it, when we’ll be talking in the morning about flying over to Paris for the evening’s opera and then even this will have ceased being thrilling and awe-inspiring.

Mrs. William H. Burtenshaw, airplane passenger at a Detroit Country Club air meet, quoted in the Detroit Free Press newspaper, 20 June 1911.

Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.

Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Supériure de Guerre, 1911. Original French, “Les avions sont des jouets intéressants mais n’ont aucune utilité militaire”. Quoted in L’Histoire de France pour ceux qui ont tout oublié (2012). Ferdinand Foch went on to become the Supreme Allied Commander during WWI, and was present at the armistice of 11 November 1918. He made a sadly more prophetic statement on 28 June 1919:

“This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.’

With the possible exception of having more pleasing lines to the eye while in flight, the monoplane possesses no material advantage over the biplane; in fact, the biplane type, as has been clearly shown in this country, is more stable, and, therefore, safer.

Glenn Curtiss, Aviation Progress During Past Year, in The New York Times, 31 December 1911.

Aviation Progress During Past Year

The aeroplane … is not capable of unlimited magnification. It is not likely that it will ever carry more than five or seven passengers. High speed monoplanes will carry even less… Over cities, the aerial sentry or policeman will be found. A thousand aeroplanes flying to the opera must be kept in line and each allowed to alight upon the roof of the auditorium, in its proper turn.

Waldemar Kaempfert, managing editor of Scientific American and author of The New Art of Flying, here writing in Aircraft and the Future, 28 June 1913.

By the use of such a machine as this, twenty years hence, we shall be able to spend a week-end in New York, as we do now in Paris or Scotland. Flying at immense heights, and at speeds of 200 miles an hour, these huge aircraft—carrying hundreds of passengers in vibrationless luxury—will pass from London to New York in less than twenty hours.

Claude Grahame-White and Harry Harer, description of illustration The Air Liner of the Future, The Aeroplane, 1914.

The Aeroplane 1914

A new impetus was given to aviation by the relatively enormous power for weight of the atomic engine; it was at last possible to add Redmaynes’s ingenious helicopter ascent and descent engine to the vertical propeller that had hitherto been the sole driving force of the aeroplane without over-weighting the machine, and men found themselves possessed of an instrument of flight that could hover or ascend or descend vertically and gently as rush wildly through the air. The last dread of fliing vanished.

As the journalists of the time phased it, this was the epoch of the Leap into the Air. The new atomic aeroplane became indeed a mania; everyone of means was frantic to possess a thing so controllable, so secure and so free from the dust and danger of the road, and in France in the year 1943 thirty thousand of these new aeroplanes were manufactured and licensed, and soared humming softly into the sky.

H. G. Wells, The World Set Free, a novel set in the 1950’s, written in 1914.

Nothing but the supreme stimulus of war considerations, and nothing but the large and generous flood of money which the taxpayer can provide, will carry aviation forward to the foremost place in the world.

Winston Churchill, speaking to the Royal Aero Club at the Savoy hotel. Quoted in Flight magazine, 7 March 1914.

There isn’t much to that machine of Maroney’s. I think we could build a better one.

William Boeing, who had studied engineering at Yale University, and was a welthy timber heir who also owned a shipyard, to his friend Conrad Westervilt, after they flew in a barnstormers seaplane at the 1914 Fourth of July fair on Seattle’s Lake Washington. Conrad replied,

“Of course we could. Would you like me to make some inquires?”

This is the origin story of the Boeing Company. Told for example in Boeing magazine, a publication of the Boeing Public Relations Office, July 1956. Condensed from the first chapter of Harold Mansfield 1956 book Vision: A Saga of the Sky.

We Could Build A Better One article

The Director of Military Aeronautics of France has decided to discontinue henceforth the purchase of monoplanes, their place to be filled entirely by fast tractor bi-planes … This decision, which practically spells the death knell of the monoplane as a military instrtument, has not come altogether unexpectedly.

Ladislas d’Orey, How the War Has Modified the Aeroplane, Scientific American, 4 September 1915.

How the War article

My boy, the aeroplane is an invention of the devil … and will never play any part in such a serious business as the defence of the nation!

Colonel Sam Hughes, Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence, to Douglas McCurdy, who had approached the minister with the idea of starting an air service, August 1914. Cited by the Royal Canadian Air Force in press release 23 February 2017.

Unlike artillery an air fleet can conduct extensive operations far from, and independently of, both Army and Navy. As far as can at present be foreseen there is absoluty no limit to the scale of its future war use. And the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may becoe the proncipal operations of war.

Field Marshal Jan Smuts, second report the the British government on airpower, submitted 17 August 1917. This is considered the Magna Carta of British airpower, and now known the Smuts Report. He was helped in its creation in large part by General Sir David Henderson. The report led to the treatment of air as a separate force, which eventually became the Royal Air Force. Quoted in the 1966 book Deterrence before Hiroshima.

[Airmail was] an impractical sort of fad, and had no place in the serious job of postal transportation.

Colonel Paul Henderson, U.S. second assistant postmaster general, 1919. Quoted by NASA in Celebrating a Century of Flight, 2002.

Life, for ever dying to be born afresh, for ever young and eager, will presently stand upon this earth as upon a footstool, and stretch out its realm amidst the stars.

H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, which first appeared in an illustrated version of 24 fortnightly installments beginning on 22 November 1919 and was published as a single volume in 1920.

The Outline of History

It is highly unlikely that an airplane, or fleet of them, could ever sink a fleet of Navy vessels under battle conditions.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, speaking to a Kiwanis Club in 1922. Quoted in 1967 book The Billy Mitchell Affair.

The only practical solution is to combine the automobile with an airplane and this no doubt will happen during the next few decades. The Helicopter Automobile or, for short, the helicar, will not take up very much more room than the present large 7-passenger automobile, nor will it weigh much more than our present-day car, but instead of rolling down the avenue, you will go straight up in the air, and follow the air traffic lines, then descend at any place you wish. This descent can be made in the middle of the street, if necessary. The car may roll through the street, and may rise in an open place, or square, of which there will be many in the future.

While it will be possible for a car to alight on the ground in a narrow street, traffic regulations may prohibit this, and the aerial ascent and descent will be made from these public squares or parks. The Helicar will be particularly useful for suburbanites to fly to and from work, and for pleasure. Even today our roads, whether they be suburban or country, are so clogged with traffic that it is impossible to get anywhere on time.

Hugo Gernsback, in Science and Invention magazine, May 1923. This before a helicopter had ever flown!


The sun, the Moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago … had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.

Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life, 1923.

Within the next few decades, autos will have folding wings that can be spread when on a straight stretch of road so that the machine can take to the air.

Eddie Rickenbacker, in an article titled Flying Autos in 20 Years, Popular Science magazine, July 1924.

Flying Autos in 20 Years

The aeroplane is tragically unsuited for ocean service.

Dr Hugo Eckener, dirigible advocate, 1926.

This fellow [Charles Lindbergh] will never make it. He's doomed.

Harry Guggenheim, after studying The Spirit of St. Louis at Curtiss Field, 1927.

The first real air-liner, carrying some five or six hundred passengers, will probably appear after or towards the end of the battle between fixed and moving-wing machines. And it will be a flying boat.

Oliver Stewart, Aeolus: Or, The Future of the Flying Machine, 1927.

1928 Italian prediction of a transatlantic airliner:

Italian Airliner prediction from 1928

There is no revolutionary change to be expected in aeroplanes. Design is more or less stabilized, and it is only in details, in materials, in strength and lightness, that any alteration may be looked for.

Major de Havilland, quoted in The Future of Aerial Transport, Alantic Monthly, January 1928.

The helicopter has never achieved much success and … may be classed with the ornithopter as obsolete.

Major Oliver Stewart, Royal Air Force, 1928.

In less than twenty-five years … the motor-car will be obsolete, because the aeroplane will run along the ground as well as fly over it.

Sir Philip Gibbs, The Day After Tomorrow: What Is Going to Happen to the World, 1928.

Since the beginning of time, mankind has considered it as an expression of its Earthly weakness and inadequacy to be bound to the Earth, to be unable to free itself from the mysterious shackles of gravity. Not without good reason then has the concept of the transcendental always been associated with the idea of weightlessness, the power 'to be able freely to rise into the sky.' And most people even today still take it as a dogma that it is indeed unthinkable for Earthly beings ever to be able to escape the Earth. Is this point of view really justified?

However, the purpose of the present considerations is not an attempt to convince anyone that we will be able tomorrow to travel to other celestial bodies. It is only an attempt to show that traveling into outer space should no longer be viewed as something impossible for humans but presents a problem that really can be solved by technical work. The overwhelming greatness of the goal should make all the roadblocks still standing in its way appear insignificant.

Herman Potočnik, under the pseudonym Hermann Noordung. First and last paragraphs of his groundbreaking book The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket motor (Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums: Der Raketen-Motor), 1928.

The Problem of Space Travel

Aviation is the youngest big industry, but it is the fastest growing baby ever. A few years ago, it was called impossible to fly … The day of the airplane is surely here.

C. E. Woolman, principal founder Delta Air Lines, shortly before Delta Air Services’s first day of passenger flying, 17 April 1929. Cited by the Delta Flight Museum..

Delta Air Service

Our descendants will certainly attempt journeys to other members of the solar system … By 2030 the first preparations for the first attempt to reach Mars may perhaps be under consideration. The hardy individuals who form the personnel of the expedition will be sent forth in a machine propelled like a rocket.

Lord Birkenhead, 1930

It is my contention that an agent ideal to the use of the scientific militarist, for both the air raid and the long distance bombardment is now in the process of development; that its eventual perfection is but a matter of time; and its use in warfare is certain to occur. I refer to the rocket. The perfection of the rocket in my opinion will give to future warfare the horror unknown in previous conflicts and will make possible destruction of nations, in a cool, passionless and scientific fashion.

David Lasser, 22 October 1931.

There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the earth’s gravity.

Dr. F. R. Moulton, University of Chicago astronomer, 1932.

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.

Prof. Piccard Reaches U.S., Syracuse Journal, 13 Janurary 1933.

Untill the stall is thoroughly understood and its attendant dangers pushed out of the way, aviation will not be free to play the great rôle which it is undoubtedly destined to play in the civilization of the world.

Bennett Melvill Jones, Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Cambridge, Wright Memorial Lecture, 1934.

Scientific investigation into the possibilities [of jet propulsion] has given no indication that this method can be a serious competitor to the airscrew-engine combination. We do not consider that we should be justified in spending any time or money on it ourselves.

The British Under-Secretary of State for Air, 1934

The conquest of the last element, the air, seems to me the only major task of our generation; and I have convinced myself that progress to-day is made not by the single genius, but by the common effort. To me it is the multitude of rough transport drivers, filling all the roads of England every night, who make this the mechanical age. And it is the airmen, the mechanics, who are overcoming the air, not the Mollisons and Orlebars.

T. E. Lawrence, letter to Robert Graves, 4 Feburary 1935.

It must be states that there is not the slightest possibility of such a journey. There is not in sight any source of energy that would be a fair start toward that which would be necessary to get us beyond the gravitative control of the earth. There is no theory that would guide us through interplantary space to another world even if we could control our departure from the earth; there is no means of carrying the large amount oxygen, water, and food that would be necessary for such a long journey; and there is not known way of easing our ether ship down on the surface of another world, if we could get there.

Professor F. R. Moulton, astronomer, Consider The Heavens, 1935.

Even present-day fuels possess more than enough energy, if only we knew how to release and use it. Just as molecular energy is so freely used to-day, so atomic energy may bring interplantary travel within easy reach to-morrow.

P. E. Cleator, Rockets Through Space, 1936.

Rockets Through Space

The whole procedure [of shooting rockets into space] … presents difficulties of so fundamental a nature, that we are forced to dismiss the notion as essentially impracticable, in spite of the author's insistent appeal to put aside prejudice and to recollect the supposed impossibility of heavier-than-air flight before it was actually accomplished. An analogy such as this may be misleading, and we believe it to be so in this case.

Sir Richard van der Riet Wooley, British astronomer, reviewing P.E. Cleator's Rockets Through Space, in the journal Nature, 14 March 1936

The acceleration which must result from the use of rockets … inevitably would damage the brain beyond repair.

John P. Lockhard-Mummery, MA, BC, FRCS, After Us, 1936.

It is about a period in aviation which is now gone, but which was probably more interesting than any the future will bring. As time passes, the perfection of machinery tends to insulate man from contact with the elements in which he lives. The 'stratosphere' planes of the future will cross the ocean without any sense of the water below. Like a train tunneling through a mountain, they will be aloof from both the problems and the beauty of the earth's surface. Only the vibration from the engines will impress the senses of the traveller with his movement through the air. Wind and heat and Moonlight take-offs will be of no concern to the transatlantic passenger. His only contact with these elements will lie in accounts such as this.

Charles Lindbergh, foreword to his wife’s 1938 book Listen! The Wind.

Listen! The Wind first edition

While we may invite the charge of obstructionism if we dismiss the whole affair as a wild-cat speculation, it is necessary for us to remark that, while the ratio of research results accomplished to speculative theorising is so low, little confidence can be placed in the deliberations of the British interplanetary Society.

The journal Nature, 15 April 1939.

Using an artful tool does not make one a dry technician. It seems to me that people that are anxious about our technical advancement, confuse means and ends. Naturally a person that only works for material gain will not harvest something that is worth living for. But the machine is not an end in itself. The airplane is not an end. It is a tool. Just like the plough.

When we think that the machine will harm man, then it is perhaps because we are not yet capable of judging the rapid changes it has brought about. We hardly feel at home in this landscape of mines and power stations. We have just moved into this new home that we have not even finished yet. Everything around us has changed so fast — personal relations, working conditions, habits. Even our state of mind is in turmoil.

We are all youthful barbarians, and only our new toys bring us excitement. That has been the sole purpose of our flights. This one flies higher, that one faster. But now we will make ourselves at home. We will forget the machine, the tool. It is no longer complex; it does what it is supposed to do, unnoticed.

And through this tool we will find again the old nature, the nature of the gardener, the navigator, the poet.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.

The Americans cannot build aeroplanes. They are very good at refrigerators and razor blades.

Hermann Göring, German Air Force Minister, in a letter to Hitler, 1940.

Mark my word: A combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile. But it will come.

Henry Ford, Chairman Ford Motor Company, 1940.

Ford Flivver

In its present state, and even considering the improvements possible when adopting the higher temperatures proposed for the immediate future, the gas turbine engine could hardly be considered a feasible application to airplanes mainly because of the difficulty in complying with the stringent weight requirements imposed by aeronautics.

The present internal combustion engine equipment used in airplanes weighs about 1.1 pounds per horsepower, and to approach such a figure with a gas turbine seems beyond the realm of possibility with existing materials.

The Committee on Gas Turbines appointed by The National Academy of Sciences, 10 June 1940. Frank Whittle later said that:

“Good thing I was too stupid to know this.”

The Air Corps … does not, at this time, feel justified in obligating … funds for basic jet propulsion research and experimentation.

Brigadier General George H. Brett, Chief of Material, U.S. Army Air Corps. Letter to Professor Robert Goddard regards the rejection of rocket research proposals. 1941.

It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts, no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs.

Caption to the photograph of the battleship USS Arizona in the program of the Armey-Nacy game of 29 November 1941. It was sunk by Japanese bombs dropped from airplanes eight days later, killing 1,102 men.

After this era of great pilots is gone, as the era of great sea captains has gone — each nudged aside by the march of inventive genius, by steel cogs and copper discs and hair-thin wires on white faces that are dumb, but speak — it will be found, I think, that all the science of flying has been captured in the breadth of an instrument board, but not the religion of it. One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to familiarity with labelled buttons, and in whose minds the knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fiction.

Beryl Markham, in her 1942 memoir West With The Night.

Push Buttons Cartoon

One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day that will be an airborne life.

Beryl Markham, West With The Night, 1942.

Automobiles will start to decline almost as soon as the last shot is fired in World War II. The name of Igor Sikorsky will be as well known as Henry Ford’s, for his helicopter will all but replace the horseless carriage as the new means of popular transportation. Instead of a car in every garage, there will be a helicopter… These ‘copters’ will be so safe and will cost so little to produce that small models will be made for teenage youngsters. These tiny ’copters, when school lets out, will fill the sky as the bicycles of our youth filled the prewar roads.

Harry Bruno, aviation publicist, 1943.

Gliders [will be] the freight trains of the air … We can visualize a locomotive plane leaving LaGuardia Field towing a train of six gliders in the very near future. By having the load thus divided it would be practical to unhitch the glider that must come down in Philadelphia as the train flies over that place — similarly unhitching the loaded gliders for Washington, for Richmond, for Charleston, for Jacksonville, as each city is passed — and finally the air locomotive itself lands in Miami. During that process it has not had to make any intermediate landings, so that it has not had to slow down.

Grover Loening, consulting engineer Grumman Aircraft, in Miracles Ahead! Better Living in the Postwar World, 1944

There has been a great deal said about a 3,000-mile high-angle rocket. The people who have been writing these things that annoy me, have been talking about a 3,000-mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city.

I say, technically, I don’t think anyone in the world knows how to do such a thing. and I feel confident it will not be done for a very long period to come. I think we can leave that out of our thinking. I wish the American public would leave that out of their thinking.

Dr. Vannevar Bush, President of the Carnegie Institute of Washington DC, December 1945.

If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that’s just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.

Igor Sikorsky, 1947. This is the exact wording from the Sikorsky Archives. The line is often misquoted in a somewhat cleaner format as “If you are in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers, but a helicopter can land and save your life”.

direct lift

The way to fly is to go straight up … Such a machine (the helicopter) will never compete with the aeroplane, though it will have specialized uses, and in these it will surpass the aeroplane. The fact that you can land at your front door is the reason you can’t carry heavy loads efficiently.

Emile Berliner, 1948

We are coming into a new era of flight, an era in which all past conception of time and distance is changing and changing at a very, very rapid rate.

Allan Lockheed, founder of Lockheed Aircraft, film outtake of We Saw It Happen, 1953.

Boron powered jet-liner ad

Planes may even replace automobiles someday, just as automobiles replaced horses. Possibly everyone will travel by air in another fifty years. I’m not sure I like the idea of millions of planes flying around overhead. I love the sky's unbroken solitude. I don’t like to think of it cluttered up by aircraft, as roads are cluttered up by cars. I feel like the western pioneer when he saw barbed-wire fence lines encroaching on his open plains. The success of his venture brought the end of the life he loved.

Charles Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

Mass travel by air may prove to be more significant to world destiny than the atom bomb. For there can be no atom bomb potentially more powerful than the air tourist, charged with curiosity, enthusiasm and good will, who can roam the four courners of thw world, meeting in friendship and understanding the prople of other nations and races.

Juan Trippe, Founder of Pan American Airlines and InterContinental Hotels, conclusion of his speech in New York at the 11th IATA conference, 1955.

We have all the prerequisities to build an aircraft powered by an atomic engine, in the near future.

E. P. Slavsky, chief of the Soviet atomic energy effort, reported in Flying magazine at the start of the article Nuclear Power for Aircraft: Though many problems still exist, the A-powered plane’s future looks brighter, June 1957.

No matter what we do now, the Russians will beat us to the Moon … I would not be surprised if the Russians reached the Moon within a week.

John Rinehart, Smithsonian Institution, October 1957.

Supersonic airplanes have carried men at more than 2,000 miles per hour and there are reasons to believe that this speed will be doubled by 1960 or so.

Igor Sikorsky, 14 January 1958.

Pan Am 1969

How can it fail to smash and shatter the petty provincialism and narrow nationalism … making of this world a tragic mosaic of hostility and hate? How can this fabulous new force … fail to serve the hope of the world and the peace of the world? … In one fell swoop, we have shrunken the Earth.

Juan Trippe, Founder of Pan American Airlines and InterContinental Hotels, speech at hangar 10, Washington National Airport, where First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christened Pan Am’s first B-707 Clipper America. 16 October 1958.

The greatest advance in aviation since the Wright Brothers.

Fellow passengers quoted by Paul Friedlander in Merger Muddle, The New York Times, 9 December 1962. A much over used phrase, used here describing the start of the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle between New York and Washington, DC.

The SST is ‘inevitable’—the next logical step in the development of air transport; the progress of aviation is tied to speed, and so is U.S. leadership. The technical challenge is good for us, they say.

Wallace Cloud, Can We Build a 2,000-m.p.h. Airliner?, Popular Science, April 1964. “Top men in U.S. aviation are sweating to make a decisionon how guys like you and me, as fare-paying passengers, will fly like test pilots of the 2000-m.p.h. A-11 interceptor.” The cover showed designs from Boeing, Lockhead and North American. The story inside did mention the British/French Concorde.

Popular Science cover 1964

However fanciful they get, the new air vehicles will never seem as crazy as that first contraption at Kitty Hawk.

Wolfgang Langewiesche, last sentence of Look at the New Flying Machines, Air Facts magazine, May 1964. Reproduced in Reader’s Digest, June 1964.

A great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny.

Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s founder, on the B-747, at the ceremonial 747 contract-signing banquet in Seattle on Boeing’s 50th Anniversary. April 1966. Quoted in the 2014 book The Airbus A380: A History and others.

Pan Am 747 future

The V/STOL aircraft has been to the transport industry just as girls are to a young boy. In both cases very attractive features can be recognized in this new object of interest but the way in which advantage could be taken of them is not at all clear. Just as the boy learns eventually that success is achieved through a sophisticated and often expensive approach to the problem, so the V/STOL user has finally realized that a simple cheap approach will not lead to success. In both cases substantial satisfaction should follow successful solution to the problem.

C. W. Harper, NASA, Flight Safety Foundation Newsletter, November 1966.

The creative conquest of space will serve as a wonderful substitute for war.

James S. McDonnell, Time magazine, 31 March 1967.

Men have perished. But new ships have left their moorings, new aircraft have taxied to the takeoff strip … Nothing will stop us. The road to the stars is steep and dangerous. But we’re not afraid … Space flights can’t be stopped. This isn’t the work of one man or even a group of men. It is a historical process which mankind is carrying out in accordance with the natural laws of human development.

Yuri Gagarin, Russian media statement issued after the first death in space, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, 1967.

The ability to carry out scientific observations at a distance is developing so rapidly that I don’t see any unique role for man in planetary exploration.

Gordon MacDonald, National Academy of Sciences, August 1968. That’s less than seven weeks before the first manned Apollo mission.

No major airline in the world will be able to do without buying Concordes. Pan American and TWA included. And if they sell for around 8 million pound a copy, and it may be a little more, this is going to bring in immense sums of foreign exchange to the British and French economies.

Julian Amery, British Minister for Aviation, speaking to the BBC in March 1969, following the first flight of Concorde. Heard in BBC stories on Concorde, such as Witness History: Concorde's first flight released on 26 March 2023.

If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.

Arthur C. Clarke, what he called his First Law, quoted by Jeremy Bernsteinin in his article Out of the Ego Chamber, The New Yorker magazine, 9 August 1969.

Arthur C. Clarke in The New Yorker

The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.

Attrubuted to a Yale University management professor in response to Frederick Smith’s 1969 undergraduate paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Fred Smith later started FedEx. In a Fortune magazine interview on their website, Fred said that:

“Today that paper is kind of famous, and it’s because of a careless comment I once made. I was asked what grade I got on it, and I stupidly said, ‘I guess I got my usual gentlemanly C.’ That stuck, and it’s become a well-known story because everybody likes to flout authority. But to be honest, I don’t really remember what grade I got. I probably didn’t get a very good one, though, because it wasn’t a well-thought-out paper.”

FedEx hub

Future growth potential looks unlimited … one gross weight doubling, and possibly two, is predicted by 1985; nuclear power can drive [the C-5A’s] optimum weight to 5 or 10 million pounds before the year 2000.

F. A. Cleveland, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Size Effects in Conventional Aircraft Design, 1970.

Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.

J. G. Ballard, Fictions of Every Kind, 1971.

A very friendly boom, like a pair of gleeful handclaps.

Sir James Lighthill, UK government scientific advisor regards Concorde supersonic noise profile, 1971.

LAX in LA Times 9 August 1970

To squander a fortune in public money, billions and billions, stubbornly carrying on with a Concorde we can only sell to ourselves.

Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, Editor of L’Express and member of the the French Chambre des Dputs, 28 August 1972.

The new engines are far quieter than the prototypes, people living near the airports will hardly notice the aircraft.

Henry Marking, British Airways, regards Concorde’s noise profile, 1975.

But the airplane’s potential would not — in fact, could not — be realized by a community of businessmen acting alone. The Federal Government would stand at their side, becoming, in effect, civil aviation’s indispensable partner. The partnership flourishes to this day.

Nick A. Komons, FAA Historian, Bonfires to Beacons, 1977.

There are no practical alternatives to air transportation.

Daniel S. Goldin, NASA Administrator, 20 March 1997.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Dr. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd), last line in the 1985 movie Back to the Future. Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. In the 1986 State of the Union address, 4 February 1986, delayed to mourn the Challenger astronauts, President Reagan quoted Doc Brown:

“Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive, a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film Back to the Future, “Where we're going, we don't need roads”.”

we don't need roads

In a relatively short period of time — maybe 15 to 20 years — I believe we’re going to fly hypersonic and we’ll look at SSBJs [supersonic business jets] as not having been a necessary intermediate stop. we’ll bounce across the top of the atmosphere at Mach 5-6 or do suborbital lobs flying weightless. Travel time may be reduced to as little as 60 minutes anywhere on Earth.

Within 25 years, virtual reality meetings will be essentially transparent to being there in person. Once we can do this, the idea of climbing into an aircraft, and burning up huge quantities of fossil fuels to propel our bodies and briefcases full of papers, will seem absolutely backward.

Burt Rutan, interview in Professional Pilot magazine, March 2006.

Dan Dare BEA Pilot

I think nuclear-powered aeroplanes are the answer beyond 2050.

Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cranfield university and Head of Technology for the UK Government’s Omega project, reported in The Times of London, 27 October 2008.

Although humans today remain more capable than machines for many tasks, by 2030 machine capabilities will have increased to the point that humans will have become the weakest component in a wide array of systems and processes. Humans and machines will need to become far more closely coupled, through improved human-machine interfaces and by direct augmentation of human performance

Werner J.A. Dahm, United States Air Force Chief Scientist (AF/ST) Report on Technology Horizons A Vision for Air Force Science & Technology During 2010-2030. Issued 15 May 2010.

Nothing can prevent us from another day and night, and the myth of perpetual flight.

Bertrand Piccard, co-founder of Solar Impulse, the first manned airplane to stay aloft on battery power through a night. After 26 hours aloft, pilot Andre Borschberg landed the solar-powered four-engine aircraft with a net positive charge in the batteries. Press conference, morning of 8 July 2010.

Solar Impulse

This is the future of aviation. Our children will not believe that people used to drive cars and drive airplanes. We are the weak link in the chain.

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine and founder of 3D Robotics. Regards autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles, reported in The New York Times, 15 May 2011.

The first company to produce a certified two seat electric aircraft with a 1.5 hour range will dominate the aviation training market.

Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh and on the board of the X Prize Foundation, 29 September 2011.

New York to Tokyo could be less than an hour. You could be traveling at 19,000 miles per hour orbitally. After we’ve done the space program, we will be producing supersonic planes, which will go far, far, faster than Concorde.

Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Group, interview on CNBC TV, 6 May 2014.

There’s a real opportunity to have a vertical takeoff and landing electric supersonic jet.

Elon Musk. If anybody else said that, it would be crazy talk. For the CEO of Paypal, Solar City, Tesla and Space X it would be just another project to work on. Instead, he bought Twitter.TV interview with Stephen Colbert, 24 July 2014.

Some of our freighter companies are asking us for [single pilot airliners]. We are quite confident, technologically, that the toolkit is filled. With respect to commercial airplanes, there is no doubt in our minds that we can solve the problem of autonomous flight.

John Tracy, Chief Technology Officer, Boeing Aircraft. Article in Air Transport World magazine, March 2015.

Autonomy is going to come to all of the airplanes eventually. The future of autonomy is real.

Dave Calhoun, Boeing CEO, at an event commemorating the final delivery of a B-747, Everett, Washington. 31 January 2023. Reported by Bloomburg.


Didn’t find what you were looking for? There are many more historical quotes on my First Flight page and the Last Words page. Or try a seach of the entire database: