Barons of the Sky
IN THIS SUMMARY
In Barons of the Sky, Biddle describes the birth and evolution of an important American industry-the Aerospace Industry. Biddle addresses the questions of how and why a liberal democracy has allowed the military to gain such enormous influence on everyday life, as well as the phenomenon peculiar to the 20th century in which industries quickly outgrow their founders, deem them obsolete, and without ceremony exchange them for "leaner, meaner" models.The Wright Brothers flew their first air machine in 1903, but the slow pace of technological innovation and the outlandishness of flying caused an entire decade to pass without much advancement in aviation. Until the beginning of World War I, an American aircraft industry was virtually nonexistent.The year 1916 would see the beginning of a relationship between government and industry compelled by war that would overwhelm all other issues facing the few young aviation companies existing at the time. In June 1916, Congress authorized some $500,000 in funds over and above the Aviation Section’s annual $300,000. In August, Congress created a Council of National Defense that formalized the procedures and membership of the Navy Consulting Board. The council’s operational unit, the National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC), was dominated by big companies and trade associations, thus, without giving up their positions and salaries in private business, industrial leaders became public officials advising the president on war mobilization.In this work, Biddle wonders "what the great burgeoning of aerospace science and technology would have been like without two world wars and myriad smaller conflicts-or whether there would have been any burgeoning at all." And, he reflects on how ominous it is to consider the extent to which our most spectacular American innovations have been shaped continuously, over the century, by wartime values. This is perhaps one of the most critical socioeconomic issues of coming decades.