Pie with Einstein March 14, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Biology, Books, Einstein, Math, Nobel Prize, Physics, WWI
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We’re working on our regular post for Wednesday, thinking about scale in the wake of the earthquake in Japan, and wishing things were better than they are there.
For now, we’ve distracted ourselves because today is Pi Day. The shorthand for today’s date is 3/14, and that’s the start of the numerical representation of the mathematical constant pi: 3.14. A circle’s circumference is always its diameter multiplied by pi. Because homonyms matter, celebrate today with a piece of your favorite kind of pie! In fact, it’s Pie Week at the Olde Ship, one of the places where we meet for our weekly writing night.
March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday; he was born in 1879. When we created tags and a tag cloud for Lofty Ambitions just more than a week ago, we discovered that beer was somehow weightier than Uncle Albert. Today, we try to rebalance our attention.
Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for discovery of the photoelectric effect and not for his special theory of relativity, though articles on both ideas were published in 1905. Sure, the photoelectric effect is important, but the slight of his work on relativity was a snubbing of his heritage, his pacifism, and his preference for thought experiments over the laboratory.
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson and J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life by Abraham Pais and Robert Crease both point to J. Robert Oppenheimer’s description of Albert Einstein’s character: “There was always in him a powerful purity at once childlike and stubborn.” Pais and Crease also quote Oppenheimer’s eulogy of Albert Einstein: “His presence among us stayed us from the worst folly, and touched those who knew him with the light of magnanimity.”
For another take on Albert Einstein, click HERE to read what our Guest Blogger Brain Foster, a physicist and daily practitioner of the violin has to say. For the post in which we mention Einstein’s brain, click HERE.
Of course, Einstein—his life, his work—is enough fodder for a blog post—for many posts. But since this post is one of our on-this-date pieces in which we see how much we can reasonably cover, we turn to Gervais Raoul Lufbery, the French-American World War I pilot who was born on this date in 1885. Eddie Rickenbacker, another WWI ace, a native of Colmubus, Ohio, and CEO of Eastern Air Lines, credited Lufbery with the modern airport pattern—downwind-base-final—for visual flight rules. The Lufbery circle, however, which Lufbery may or may not have invented, is a defensive tactic in which planes, especially the slower bombers, fly in a horizontal circle when they come under attack. A circling of wagons, knowing that no one would take a wagon out without packing a rifle.
March 14 is also the birthday of two other men who took to the air—and beyond. Apollo 8 and Gemini 7 astronaut Frank Borman was born on this date in 1928. Lest you think this post is a little weak on connections, Borman, like Rickenbacker, served as CEO of Eastern Air Lines. Eugene Cernan is the other astronaut born on March 14, in this case in Chicago in 1934. Cernan went to space on Gemini 9A, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17, when he became the last man to walk on the Moon. According to Rocket Men author Craig Nelson, who was in the OC last week, NASA conned the astronaut crew of Apollo 10 into believing they didn’t have enough fuel for a Moon landing, when they actually did.
But everyone talks about Einstein, and we spend a lot of blog space on astronauts. So here’s something new: Lucy Hobbs Taylor was born on March 14, 1833. Taylor was the first American female dentist. She studied and practiced in Ohio, Iowa, and Chicago—all places we’ve lived. Celebrate her birthday with Anna by going to the dentist this week!
Happy Birthday, Bessie Coleman January 26, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Wright Brothers, WWI
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Before we moved to California two-and-a-half years ago, we lived in suburban Chicago. O’Hare International Airport was our local way out of town for major travel. When we traveled together, we’d get on I-190 heading into the airport, then veer off onto Bessie Coleman Drive to long-term parking. Now, when we fly in to see family downstate, we head to Bessie Coleman Drive to pick up our rental car.
On this date in 1892, Bessie Coleman was born the tenth of thirteen children to George and Susan of Atlanta, Texas. No one had any expectations that she would become a pilot. After all, the Wright brothers didn’t really get off the ground under power until 1903. A life of laundry was Bessie’s likely lot.
To educate herself, she read books as a young girl, books which she checked out from the traveling library that came though town a few times every year. Though she attended school sporadically, she graduated from high school and attended college for a year. But she needed to earn money.
By 1915, she was living with her brothers in Chicago, attended beauty school, and then worked as a manicurist. When her brother John returned from his military service in Europe during World War I, he teased Bessie that French women were ahead of American women: French women could fly!
Because no pilot training was available to an African-American woman in the United States, Bessie Coleman, with the help of a couple of backers, including the publisher of the Defender, went to France for flight instruction. She earned her pilot’s license on July 15, 1921, the first black woman to do so. She was, at that time, the only licensed black pilot in the world.
She went on to a vibrant career flying the Curtiss J4 Jenny and other aircraft on the airshow circuit. Quickly, her nicknames became “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie.” Less than two years after she’d earned her pilot’s license, her airplane stalled and crashed. Bessie Coleman was rendered unconscious, broke several bones, and took more than a year to get back to flying. But she did get back into the cockpit and take to the skies. When she returned to her childhood home of Waxahatchie to perform, she insisted that whites and blacks share a single entrance gate, though the seating areas remained segregated.
Bessie Coleman died when she was just 34 years old. Preparing for an airshow, she was surveying the terrain from the passenger seat when a planned nosedive turned into a dangerous tailspin. She fell to her death from 500 feet. The problem was mechanical; a wrench had become wedged in the gears. Her mechanic, who was piloting the plane, died in the ensuing crash. Her coffin drew more than 15,000 mourners, including equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells, in three separate funeral services. Bessie Coleman is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.
That street near O’Hare in Chicago where we now find our rental car was renamed Bessie Coleman Drive in 1990. In her birthplace of Atlanta, Texas, another Bessie Coleman Drive leads to that town’s small airport. A branch of the Chicago Public Library bears her name, and she is included in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. Coleman’s face was featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp in 1995, the same year she was inducted into the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame. A group of pilots has honored her legacy for decades with an annual flyover of her grave.
Bessie Coleman is said to have remarked, “The air is the only place free from prejudices.”