12 SEPTEMBER 1940, Page 14

Daedalus A word about the natural history of flight. A

number of people through the ages have prophesied the conquest of the air from the Daedalian myth to Roger Bacon and Tennyson, whose " airy navies grappling in the central blue " is the precisest of the forecasts. The prophets were all inspired by the analogy with birds. Even the brothers Wright, as one of them told me, spent years on the study of the bird's secret. What has happened is that the internal combustion engine has supplied the drive possessed by the short-winged birds, such as duck or pigeon, and the planes the gliding capacity of the gulls and the buzzard, that was the special object of the Wrights' observa- tion. In spite of the power of their engines, the fliers still learn a good deal from the gliders. The up-current is important.