The 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.