AIRWAYS OF THE EMPYREAN
The First World Flight. As told to LowellT homas. (HutehinsOn. 24s.) EVERYTI1ING is right' about this book : the wrapper whets our curiosity with its photograph of aeroplanes over the
Shwe Dagon, the map on the inside covers tracing the route from Seattle to Belgrade and thence to Seattle again prepares us for the story that is to follow, and that story and its accom- panying illustrations are worthy of their subject. What a subject it is ! Man's first aerial circumnavigation of his earthly home will be a notable event as long as chronicles endure.
Those restless men who keep alive the spirit of adventure by which the world progresses are worthy of all honour : their deeds are too fine to be given to us with the sophisticated
sauce of an that stYle, the flavour of them is so good
in itself that Mr. Thomas is right to give us the story in a straight and simple way, full of slang, asides and breezy ease. The six lieutenants of the United States Army "Air Service whose adventures are recorded, here are of the line of Drake, Frobisher and Ralegh. They are of our kith and kin, save one, a Swede. Their names arc Smith, Arnold, Wade, Ogden, Nelson and Harding : everyone of English ancestry, save Nelson, who appropriately enough is of Viking blood.
" These young Americans," writes Mr. Thomas, " went across the world with the light heart of youth, but the courage of a day that knows not death. They had the shrewdness of Men who had won their way in the rough and tumble of the market place ; they had the grit of the pioneer stock from which they came, the loyalty to high ideals, the skill to achieve and the Strength to endure which were needful to their task. . . . In one respect especially were these boys typical of their day and age. From childhood their toys were not swords or soldiers, but clocks and engines. To-day their ambitions are not concerned with the old tools of conflict, but with the new, delightful and dangerous arms of peace. They are of the race that shall forge us new powers to carry us where the spirit wills, from horizon to horizon, perhaps from star to star."
Three of these six modern Magellan ran away from home when they were youngsters, and all of them had amusing and erratic adventures in various parts of the world before starting on the World Flight. They are of the stuff heroes are made of, and only boys of exceptional stamina could have stood the incessant strain which their long journey demanded of them. They left Santa Monica, near Los Angeles, at 9.30 a.m. on March 17th, 1924, and returned thither at 2.25 p.m. on September 28rd, after an absence of over six months, during which they had flown over 28,000 miles. What this means only those who have flown, and who read this book carefully can tell :-
" The strain on nerve and sinew—endless tension of every faculty—which long distance flight still entails, is an ordeal which only the youngest and fittest of men can undergo. With blind weather ahead, hurtling into nothingness at ninety miles an hour, snow slashing their eyes, ice numbing their hands, air-pockets and eddies swinging their ships giddily God-knows-where—is there a rnan whose pulse does not quicken in admiration for the pilots of the World Flight ? . . . Magellan's journey round the world opened up the sea-routes and civilization of to-day : the voyage pf which these pages tell is the forerunner of a commerce that shall bring the nations closer still and of aerial enterprises so vast that they stretch beyond living sight."
Of the terrible dangers of their Alaskan leg, of the loss of a machine near Chignik, of the blizzards of the Aleutians, their adventures in Tokio and down the China Coast, of Smith's forced landing in the jungles of Indo-China, of how they flew from Siam to Burma in a day, of Calcutta, Queen- city of the East, and their adventures along the Grand Trunk road there is not space to tell. We pause a moment at Benares, " the holy city that was old two-thousand years before Europe began to build by Thames and Tiber. After circling over this city of ceaseless prayer where eight thousand Brahmin priests have conned the Aryan texts of our forefathers for unnumbered centuries, and have embarked, incidentally, on mental flights as daring as any physical adventure of the West," the Flight went on to Allahabad, then to Agra with its flashing fountains and avenues of cypress and thence to the white city of Delhi—" dream of Eastern potentates since history began." Then across the Indian desert to Arabia, but not before one of their motors fell to pieces in mid-air, a crash being saved only by Erik Nelson's superb skill as a pilot. Then up the Tigris by Ezra's tomb (" a green ribbon with a silver thread in its centre, coiling across the desert sand ") and past the mounds of once-mighty Babylon until against the westering sun the minarets of Baghdad appeared. " A river-steamer struggled through the sand- banks where Sinbad and his slave-girls feasted?'
From Baghdad to Europe, across the corn-lands and poppy- fields of Anatolia, the aureate and glittering Golden Horn, the tangle of trenches which guard Constantinople from the North, to the boulevards and kodaks and American tourists of Vienna. Thence, after a glance at the graves of those gallant Frenchmen who said, " They shall not pass," down the valley
of the Marne, where Wade says, " I was thinking of my pals who had fought their last fight here, pour la belle France, when Ogden pointed to a fleet of aeroplanes approaching us." It was not Richthofen's Circus, but a welcoming squadron from Le Bourget. Paris was in fete when they arrived, and opened her warm heart to them. In London, Arnold says, he was detailed to " assemble a few spare parts for our wardrobe in this home of sartorial perfection . . . I milled around between bankers, tailors, hatters, and bootmakers " and he was much impressed by the tailors' advertisements of royal patronage : " how effective it would be to advertise in the Saturday Evening Post that you are pyjama maker to the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan." They had a ban- quet and one of them says, " Hot dog, but how my heart bleeds for the Prince of Wales ! " As they flew north, they saw Lincoln Cathedral, lawn-girt and set high on its hill, and with a rising wind astern the greys and blues and greens of
summer produced a lovely harmony. " I still remember this flight across great little England as something that pulls the heart-strings, I.hardly know why." Shakespeare's lines came to mind : " Wizard as he was," the pilot reflects, " it probably took William half a life-time to figure it out, but up in the air one saw at once that England was just what he said—'s jewel set in a silver sea. "
Here I must leave the World Fliers and let readers learn for themselves how they crossed the North Atlantic and landed
at Icy Tickle to the plaudits of a continent and the congratu- lations of kings and dustmen. Here is a human touch at the end :- " History will forget that these dauntless lads faced death a hundred times on their long flight and that their assistants achieved miracles. We shall remember rather that Nelson, a knightly figure, carried his sweetheart's picture as oriflamme on his instrument board, that Wade's touch on the controls was that of a master evoking the melody of motion, and that the strange, shy Smith. who navigates as well as he speaks badly and is as modest as he is brave, possesses one of the rarest combinations of the human mind —selflessness and strength."
Mr. Thomas has written a brilliant book, with glorious pictures, on this great achievement of the age. History will always remember these " globe-girdlers," and everyone who is " Twentieth Century " in thought and feeling should read of their high adventure. F. Y.-B.