Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Heathrow 3rd runway: the lessons to be learned from an 11th Century monk

On a bright spring morning in the year 1010, a young monk called Eilmer climbed up onto the roof of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, attached two wings fashioned from wattle, birch-tar and goose feathers to his back and launched himself forth into the air. In an act inspired by the legend of Daedalus and his half-witted son Icarus, the slightly built Benedictine floated gracefully through the air and alighted some 600 feet away on a spot just off the 'High Street'. Fatuous and feeble-minded souls have long claimed that the 'first flight' was performed by a couple of American bicycle repair-men called Wright. They are wrong. Accurate scholarship proves that along with most other innovations of note from democracy to the inter-web, flight originated in Britain. 

It is a curious fact, oft noted, that while the English are very good at creating things we are exceptionally bad at elaborating upon them. Having troubled to invent aviation we seem to have rather sat on our laurels over the matter for some nine hundred years. It was only when the predictably emulous French flew one of their chaps over the white cliffs of Dover in 1909 that we finally pulled our stockings up and got on with the job. Inevitably once we did so we rapidly surpassed our 'continental' rivals and produced a string of outstanding aircraft from the unforgettable Sopwith Strutter to the Harrier 'jump' jet.

In recent years the emergence of the 'green' movement has put paid to our aviation heritage. Through fear mongering and often disgraceful lobbying the 'do-gooders' of the left and their fellow travellers in the 'ecological movement' have managed to convince millions that aeroplanes are a 'bad thing'. Heathrow airport, once the greatest aerodrome in the western hemisphere, has been allowed to languish while our EU 'partners' have goose-stepped ahead, giving themselves a not inconsiderable advantage in the process. Enough frankly is enough and unless we take swift and immediate action to rectify the situation it may well take another millenium to seize back the initiative. 

There are those who argue that airport expansion takes time and needs considerable consultation. One can only be grateful that such nincompoops were not around in the months leading up to the Battle of Britain. By the end of the second war the United Kingdom boasted hundreds of airports. The sad decay of these historic sites is a matter for another day, but to argue that the country has 'no room for flight expansion' is not just rot, but 'sandal wearing rot'.

The eminent medieval historian 'William of Malmesbury', writing of Eilmer's astonishing achievement nearly a century after the event, relates how the Abbott was so enraged by the monk's astonishing feat, that he set about him with a wooden rake and forbade him from ever attempting to emulate fictional Cretans again. One trusts that the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, will be inspired less by the Abbott and more by his monk. 

Capax infiniti.

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