Monthly Archives: June 2014

Library: Box Kite to Bali

Box Kite to Bali (cover)Box Kite to Bali: The Last Great Adventure of a U.S. Navy Pilot is a delightful story of a memorable trip based on drafts of a never-published article for The Saturday Evening Post by George Thackray Weems, Naval aviator son of PVH Weems. In early 1950, Weems, nicknamed “Bee,” convinced his father, Capt. PVH Weems, to join him on a trip halfway around the world in a prewar biplane along with Bee’s aviator friend Willie Eddins and aircraft engineer James WH Smith. The story of their journey from England to Australia — four men and a plucky wood-and-fabric biplane battling monsoons, red tape, and postwar political upheaval all while maintaining a sense of humor — makes for a fast and fun, but highly informative, read in classic travel-narrative style.

Box Kite to Bali was edited by Gwen Manseau, great-granddaughter of PVH Weems. It is lavishly illustrated with photos taken on the trip as well as reproductions of documents such as letters and telegrams from the trip and saved by the Weems family. It also offers some valuable insights into the character of PVH Weems, who was a spry 61 at the time of the trip.

I highly encourage anyone who’s interested in the history of PVH Weems, air navigation, postwar European and Southeast Asian history, or travel narratives to get a copy. You will enjoy it. I am grateful to Ms. Manseau and the Weems family for correcting The Saturday Evening Post’s oversight in sharing this charming tale with the reading public.

Box Kite to Bali is available from publisher Fox Road Press and on Amazon.

Library: Most Probable Position

Most Probable PositionThe book that launched my interest in air navigation was Monte Duane Wright’s Most Probable Position: a History of Aerial Navigation to 1941 (University Press of Kansas, 1972), which I picked up while browsing the history section of Wonder Book & Video in Frederick, Maryland, while in college. I must admit that the reason I picked it up was not so much interest, as resignation!

The bookstore had several copies of the book, and as I browsed the chaotically disorganized shelves, I would keep bumping into another copy. Then when I would return to the store again a few weeks later, I would again bump into them. After a few such visits, it became something of a game—where would I find Most Probable Position this time? Eventually, I picked up a copy and flipped through it, and realized that it was not a dry textbook, but a well-researched and engagingly written trove of early aviation history, science, and technology. So I ended up buying a copy. And wouldn’t you know it, the next time I visited the store, there were no copies to be found.

I’m not superstitious by any means, but sometimes it seems that there are things that you are just meant to find.

Monte Wright joined the United States Air Force in 1951, where he specialized in radar interception systems, plans and analysis, and—not surprisingly—navigation instruction. He earned a doctorate from Duke University and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. After serving as an associate professor of history at the USAF Academy, Wright joined the NASA History Office where he eventually became director and, ultimately, served as NASA’s second-ever Chief Historian from 1978-1982.

Information on Dr. Wright is unfortunately scarce online, but I would love to discover whether he is still active in aerospace history. I owe him a debt of gratitude, as his work serves as the foundation for Line of Position and was my first introduction to Captain PVH Weems, USN.

If you are just starting out in the history of air navigation, or in the history of aviation science and technology in general, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book! Don’t take a chance on missing out on it, like I almost did.

Introducing “Line of Position”

Hello!

I am Paul Lagasse, a full-time freelance generalist writer/editor with a lifelong interest in the history of aviation. Line of Position will be the online home of my research into the life and work of Captain Philip Van Horn Weems, USN, widely recognized as the founder of air navigation.

I have a BA and MA in history as well as an MLS in archival studies. For my Master’s thesis I wrote what is probably still the definitive history of Westinghouse Electric’s jet engine R&D and manufacturing program 1940-1960. (One of the advantages of picking a topic related to an all-but-forgotten chapter of technology and business history is that it allows you to be able to still call your thesis “definitive” twenty years later!)

Topics that I will cover here include the biography of Captain Weems and other pioneers of air navigation; the history of maritime, air, and space navigation; books, articles, and other scholarship of interest; and conferences and events related to the history of air navigation. You can read more about Line of Position on the About page.

Welcome! I hope that Line of Position will eventually become a hub for people who share an interest in the history of air navigation. Please feel free to leave a comment and share links of interest. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone who has an interest in the history of air navigation!