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The Economic Context for the Development of “Blind Flight”

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Abstract:

Temme LA, Rupert A. The economic context for the development of “blind flight.” Aviat Space Environ Med 2003; 74:779–84.

On 24 September 1929, at Mitchel Field, Long Island, NY, Jimmy Doolittle performed the first so-called “blind flight.” He executed a flight plan and landed using only cockpit instruments, a feat that culminated a research program supported by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. Contemporary aviation medicine, with its understanding of the challenges of spatial (dis)orientation, has a special understanding and appreciation of the complex human performance, medical and technical problems that had to be overcome to make instrument flight possible. It is likely that the problems would not have been solved unless a socioeconomic context provoked a sufficient motivation to address them. This paper outlines some of the economic factors that motivated the research and development necessary for instrument flight. These factors were the direct consequence of the sudden, huge explosion of the aviation industry caused by World War I, and with the Armistice, the equally sudden loss of the industry’s primary customer, the military. Finding a civilian role for aviation awaited the development of air mail, which, in turn, depended on the ability to fly according to a reliable schedule. The need to reliably adhere to a schedule forced the scientific and technological research needed to develop all-weather, blind flight.

Keywords: Jimmy Doolittle; air mail; blind flight; history; instrument flight

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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