'Latham threw his machine about in the air in a way that made fellow airmen gasp. They had never seen anything like it before. But in making one final manoeuvre he misjudged by a matter of inches his height above a shed. One of his wing-tips just touched the roof. Instantly there came a devastating crash. A huge cloud of dust arose. And then the monoplane could be seen hanging - a mass of wreckage - on the top of the roof. It seemed almost certain that Latham must have been killed. The impact had appeared so tremendous - the crash so complete. But suddenly, amid the drifting dust clouds, a slight, dapper figure could be seen disengaging itself from the battered fuselage, and lowering itself deftly to an undamaged part of the roof. Then out came that inevitable cigarette case, and Latham sat there smoking till someone arrived with a ladder.'Ironically Hubert Latham was not killed in an aeroplane crash, but was either murdered by gunshot or gored to death by a wild animal in Africa.
One need in regard to the aerial problem now overshadows all others and concerns intimately every man, woman and child in this country.
It is that we should, by means of armed, high-speed aeroplanes - handled confidently by expert crews - and by the use of the most effective high-angled guns procurable, proceed to guard our shores and vital points inland against the menace of aerial attack. Here - amid a confusion of counsel - is the task which is vital and lies first to hand.
Plain men, who are untroubled by technical differences between airships or arguments in favour of rival types of aeroplane, are beginning to lie awake at night to ponder the aerial problem; and they seek assurance, before sleeping peacefully again, that the necessary counter-move to protect us against this peril from above is being planned upon an adequate scale.
But where, asks the plain man, is the air guard which should by now definitely be taking shape? Briefly, it does not exist; any immediate danger would indeed find us helpless. The aerial programme of the Government is, as a matter of fact, a jerry-built structure consisting of rhetoric and evasion with jugglings of facts and figures, shuffling of machines and men, and, above all, a bold reliance upon the ignorance which still prevails concerning the problems of air defence. Of far-seeing policy there is none; and the bubble may be pricked with a question: If war broke out tomorrow, have we protection against aerial attack? For all practical purposes, the answer is 'No'.
But neither Colonel Seely's chronic optimism - which may be likened almost to a disease - nor Mr Churchill's weighty platitudes will avail them further if plain men will but seize the opportunity now presented to them and arise in their common sense to demand that:-
Other requirements exist, of course; but our position is so critical that we must concentrate upon primary needs. Over the details of any scheme the experts - both Government and civilian - may be relied upon to argue; but plain men need not concern themselves unduly with this. Seeing that it is they ultimately who pay the piper, it is certainly for them, in their millions, to call the tune. Ministerial affectations as to the necessity for reticence and for prolonged and secret research before any reasonable air policy is launched merely act as a cloak for ineptitude. Frankly, they are nothing but humbug - and the sort of humbug that in either France or Germany, where the public is enlightened, no statesman would dare to attempt.
Efficient airships, aeroplanes and high-angle guns could be obtained without delay and in sufficient numbers, were the necessary money forthcoming and were the present sporadic efforts to be focused on what is essential.
… Even in the War period when this plan was first under review and when aircraft were carrying bombs rather than mails, the possibilities of the flying machine as a transport vehicle were beginning to be realized, and people were speculating as to its future, commercially, as soon as hostilities ceased. It was to examine such questions officially that the Government decided to adopt the plan put forward by advisers and bring into existence the Civil Aerial Transport Committee. When, in the spring of 1917, that famous committee had been established and had actually set out on its fascinating and hitherto untrodden path, I had the honour of being one of its secretaries - having already, at that time, devoted 10 years to a study of aeronautics. Even while hostile aircraft were dropping bombs on London we found ourselves drawing up tentative plans for an era when the aerial conquest would be devoted to constructive rather than destructive purposes.
A memorable committee, that! The late Lord Northcliffe, enthusiastic supporter of aviation, was its chairman; while one of our members - who used to linger with us occasionally, after official meetings were over, discussing informally the commercial era of the air - was Mr H G Wells.
The recommendations of our committee were followed, early in 1919, by the establishment of the first Civil Aviation Department, and a few months after that some of our dreams came true with the institution of the world's first daily air service, for passengers and freight, between London and Paris. So dependably did that pioneer service operate that within three months it was entrusted by the Post Office with the carriage of mails.
Driven by 360 h.p. engines those first London-Paris aircraft carried a pilot and two passengers at about 80 m.p.h. Today, as a contrast to that, British craftsmen are making ready for flying trials 3,200 h.p. aircraft which will carry 40 passengers and a crew of five at 200 m.p.h.
In the earliest days of the London-Paris service it cost half-a crown to send a letter for 250 miles by air between the two capitals. Today one can send a ½ oz letter 8,000 miles by air, between England and South Africa, for 1½d. At the end of civil aviation's first year, in 1919, the total mileage of the world's airlines did not reach a figure of more than 3,000. Today that figure has reached, and slightly exceeded, 300,000.
What it all amounts to is this. The rate of civil air progress which most of us envisaged 21 years ago has been exceeded by the developments actually achieved since then with aircraft, routes and loads. Fact has outstripped even optimistic anticipations, and pioneers themselves have been astonished at the pace at which civil air progress has swept ahead, triumphing not only over trade depressions but over many other difficulties, both political and international.
Next month we reach the thirtieth anniversary of the first aeroplane crossing of the English Channel - an achievement which attracted greater world attention probably than any other in air history, even allowing for the amazement caused by Lindbergh's solo flight from New York to Paris.
Perhaps it was because I stood on the sand dunes near Calais at sunrise on July 25, 1909, watching Bleriot set off in the direction of Dover, that this flight always strikes me as being one of the greatest of all milestones in the annals of the air.
Bleriot himself is no longer with us; but he lived long enough to see come true, in actual fact, many of the developments which he discussed with us, with such animation, immediately after he had crossed the Channel.
On this impending thirtieth anniversary of Bleriot's flight it seems as though we should mark the occasion by some sort of special commemoration; not any conventional banquet, with speeches that are so apt to become banal, but perhaps by some simple ceremony on the actual spot near Dover Castle where Bleriot's little 25 h.p. monoplane made its landing after its 37 miles flight from Les Baraques.