Aviation history topic of CRI class

By John Nadeau | Mar 21, 2013

For those who have an interest in aviation, here’s a course at the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) that will compel your attention.

It will cover the history of aviation from the start of the Second World War to and including the jet age.

Topics will comprise the Battle of Britain; the bomber war, especially the role of the Boeing B-17 and production of the B-29; aerospace needs of the cold war; the evolution of commercial and military operations; and a guess at the future.

The instructor is eminently well-qualified.

Mike Lavelle is a former director of the Museum of Flight as well as an historian and author. His more than 48 years of aviation experience include stints at Cessna and Boeing.

He’s an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics as well as a fellow of Great Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society.

CRI, the lifelong learning program at Edmonds Community College, will offer his course on four Tuesdays, May 21 through June 11, from 10 a.m. to noon.  Enrollment is open to all adults, regardless of educational background.


CRI: Was the advent of jet-powered aircraft the most important development during and right after the Second World War?

Lavelle: The jet engine was a breakthrough because it meant aircraft could go faster and higher than before. But an overlooked development was a change in design, namely the swept wing, which allowed for higher mach numbers and more efficient jet engine performance. Boeing played a major role in this after the war.

CRI: What have been some of the major developments after the Second World War?

Lavelle: Right after the war, American engineers focused on breaking the sound barrier. In 1947 Chuck Yeager broke it in the Bell DX-1, a rocket plane designed for strictly that purpose. In the Korean War, the United States and the Soviets competed in the development of jet fighters. At first we were at a disadvantage, but the North American F-86 Sabre proved to be more than a match for the MiG-15. Later on, the Boeing B-52, a huge and very advanced jet bomber, saw action in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf wars.  Still later, the B-2 bomber grabbed headlines because of its design, construction, and stealth capabilities.

CRI: There have been some missteps along the way, right?

Lavelle: Oh, yes. The first passenger jet service began in 1952 when British Overseas Airways Corporation introduced the deHavilland Comet. But a flawed design led to accidents that brought jet passenger service to a temporary halt. In 1957 Boeing introduced the 707, which established the commercial success of jet airliners. For years afterward, Boeing dominated the market.

CRI: Have there been any more recent breakthroughs as important as the jet engine?

Lavelle: The microchip, which has led to computerized software and systems on the ground and in the air. Improved safety and efficiency are the result.

CRI: Where do you think aviation is headed?

Lavelle: Oh, it’s anybody’s guess because there’s so much research going on behind closed doors. Hypersonic aircraft? Maybe, but there are not only technical challenges but also environmental concerns. Drones for passenger service?  We’ll have to wait and see if passengers will accept flight without pilots on board.  So there are always marketing concerns as well.

When he conducts his classes, Mike Lavelle will be ready to answer your questions too.

For more information about this and other CRI courses, phone 425-640-1830.

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