An Idea Is Born

The first ancestor of Aviation Week & Space Technology sprang to life Aug. 1, 1916, in New York City as a twice-monthly magazine christened Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering. It sold for 5 cents a copy and was published by the Gardner, Moffat Co., Inc., at 120 W. 32nd St. in midtown Manhattan.

It was the first publication of its kind in the U. S.

The science of aeronautics had just passed through the period of rule-of-thumb design and empirical experimentation. By 1916, it was becoming a recognized discipline in its own right, subdivided into many branches.

Only a few years before, the subject had lacked standing in the scientific community. Flying itself was dismissed as the province of dolts and thrillseekers. To be sure, some of the early enthusiasts lent to aviation a patrician character, owing to their wealth, their tony social status or their cachet as yachtsmen. But this borrowed respectability would compete for decades with the popular notion that aviation was at best a pastime for daredevils.

Turn-of-the-century aeronautics sorely needed recognition of its intellectual worth. It also needed a clearinghouse for the reduction and dissemination of the great volume of technical data being amassed, most of which remained unpublished.

Lester D. Gardner, who would become known as one of aviation’s elder statesmen, concluded both needs could be met at once. He elected to publish Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering, a journal of technical record that would adhere to rigorous standards of scholarship.

Gardner was well placed to do this. He had taken a degree in engineering administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1898 and had studied administrative law for a year at Columbia University in 1900. He possessed valuable connections in business, government and the military and counted among his friends some of the best aeronautical minds in the country.

Glenn Luther Martin, who was to become one of the country’s leading aviation industrialists, had urged Gardner to found an aeronautical engineering journal. For many years, Martin would back the magazine with steady advertising support.

Grover Loening, who had been the first U. S. Army aeronautical engineer and would found a famous airplane company, advised Gardner on policy and would be largely responsible for the editorial course the magazine was to follow in its formative years.

Together with A. Roy Knabenshue, the pioneer balloonist, Gardner had persuaded Orville Wright to rescue the flood-damaged, 1903 Kitty Hawk airplane from storage in Dayton, Ohio. It went on public display for the first time in 1916 at MIT's new facilities in Cambridge, only weeks before publication of the first issue of Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering.

MIT and Harvard aeronautical scholars led and contributed to the magazine through several incarnations, from its inception until the mid-1940s.  The schools had been instrumental in the creation of the Boston Aeronautical Society in 1895, and MIT had created an Aero Club in 1909.

Several other influences inspired Gardner to publish an aviation magazine. He believed the Wrights had performed their most important experimental work not in the field, but in their mathematical calculations and in the testing they had conducted in a crude laboratory and in a primitive wind tunnel»they had designed and built in 1901. In retrospect, he concluded that their success had lain in the technical data they had tracked down from every source available.

Publishing such data in organized fashion had become essential for another reason. In Gardner's view, the U.S., while backward in fostering aviation at the federal level, had come quietly to the fore in research. The technical schools had established courses in aeronautics. Highly trained specialists had been investigating various problems for some time. Abroad, numerous laboratories had produced a huge volume of material.

There was a further impetus from abroad. By mid-1916, World War 1 had gripped Europe for nearly two years. Although U. S. President Woodrow Wilson was running for reelection that year on a campaign pledge of “He Kept Us Out of War” [the U. S. entered the war in April, 1917), Congress had begun to shore up the aeronautics budget as the conflict hastened advances in European aviation. But the war had draped secrecy over important sources of new data in Europe, accentuating the need for a clearing-house to handle the immense amount of information already available.

It was the conjunction of these scientific, educational and security developments that animated the new magazine’s charter.  Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering and its descendants would undergo radical changes in character in the ensuing 100 years, but Gardner's founding statement of purpose remains fresh and enduring:

'‘The future of the aeroplane will depend largely on the use that is made of the technical information that is being gathered in all parts of the world.

Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering intends to assemble this vast amount of material and make it useful to the constructor, the engine maker, the aviator and the sportsman. It will follow construction both abroad and in the United States, and present the latest developments in accurate, scientific and unbiased form. It is hoped that by undertaking this task a great cumulus will be given to the whole aeronautical profession…”

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