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The Terror In The Air
by [?]

“There’s something queer about these aeroplane accidents at Belmore Park,” mused Kennedy, one evening, as his eye caught a big headline in the last edition of the Star, which I had brought uptown with me.

“Queer?” I echoed. “Unfortunate, terrible, but hardly queer. Why, it is a common saying among the aeronauts that if they keep at it long enough they will all lose their lives.”

“Yes, I know that,” rejoined Kennedy; “but, Walter, have you noticed that all these accidents have happened to Norton’s new gyroscope machines?”

“Well, what of that” I replied. “Isn’t it just barely possible that Norton is on the wrong track in applying the gyroscope to an aeroplane? I can’t say I know much about either the gyroscope or the aeroplane, but from what I hear the fellows at the office say it would seem to me that the gyroscope is a pretty good thing to keep off an aeroplane, not to put on it.”

“Why?” asked Kennedy blandly.

“Well, it seems to me, from what the experts say, that anything which tends to keep your machine in one position is just what you don’t want in an aeroplane. What surprises them, they say, is that the thing seems to work so well up to a certain point–that the accidents don’t happen sooner. Why, our man on the aviation field tells me that when that poor fellow Browne was killed he had all but succeeded in bringing his machine to a dead stop in the air. In other words, he would have won the Brooks Prize for perfect motionlessness in one place. And then Herrick, the day before, was going about seventy miles an hour when he collapsed. They said it was heart failure. But to-night another expert says in the Star–here, I’ll read it: ‘The real cause was carbonic-acid-gas poisoning due to the pressure on the mouth from driving fast through the air, and the consequent inability to expel the poisoned air which had been breathed. Air once breathed is practically carbonic-acid-gas. When one is passing rapidly through the air this carbonic-acid-gas is pushed back into the lungs, and only a little can get away because of the rush of air pressure into the mouth. So it is rebreathed, and the result is gradual carbonic-acid-gas poisoning, which produces a kind of narcotic sleep.'”

“Then it wasn’t the gyroscope in that case?” said Kennedy with a rising inflection.

“No,” I admitted reluctantly, “perhaps not.”

I could see that I had been rash in talking so long. Kennedy had only been sounding me to see what the newspapers thought of it. His next remark was characteristic.

“Norton has asked me to look into the thing,” he said quietly. “If his invention is a failure, he is a ruined man. All his money is in it, he is suing a man for infringing on his patent, and he is liable for damages to the heirs, according to his agreement with Browne and Herrick. I have known Norton some time; in fact, he worked out his ideas at the university physical laboratory. I have flown in his machine, and it is the most marvellous biplane I ever saw. Walter, I want you to get a Belmore Park assignment from the Star and go out to the aviation meet with me to-morrow. I’ll take you on the field, around the machines–you can get enough local colour to do a dozen Star specials later on. I may add that devising a flying-machine capable of remaining stationary in the air means a revolution that will relegate all other machines to the scrap-heap. From a military point of view it is the one thing necessary to make the aeroplane the superior in every respect to the dirigible.”

The regular contests did not begin until the afternoon, but Kennedy and I decided to make a day of it, and early the next morning we were speeding out to the park where the flights were being held.