Musings from the Combat Pits

Quotes and quips

By Buzz Wilson

Quotes and Quips

For the past couple of “Hot Stove Seasons” I have been reading aeronautical history books.  These have ranged from the Wright Brothers to books on the Skunk Works: from Goddard to Von Braun and various stops along the way to look at NACA reports. Interspersed between these have been online classes from MITedx. If you are not familiar with these classes, they are online and cover a variety of topics.

Below are a series of quotes and quips from these books.  You might ask yourself why are you posting these? The answer is simple. Many of these apply to our hobby as an example of the quote from William B. Stout: “Simplicate and add more lightness.”

Failures, it is said, are more instructive than successes: And thus far in flying machines there have been nothing but failures. -- Octave Chanute

It seems well to make clear why these two writers should be taken seriously by trained and experienced engineers, especially in these days when aeronautical science is in the infancy, and when much harm has been done both to the development of aeroplanes and to the good repute of genuine aeroplane designers by people who pose as “aeronautical  experts” on the strength of being able to turn out strings of incomprehensible calculations resulting from empirical formulae based on debatable figures acquired from inconclusive experiments carried out by persons of doubtful reliability on instruments of problematic accuracy. -- C.G. Grey 

A science can develop a purely empirical basis for only a certain time. Theory is a process of systematic arrangement and simplification of known facts. As long as the facts are few and obvious no theory is necessary, but when they become many and less simple theory is needed. Although the experimentation itself may require little effort, it is, however, often exceedingly difficult to analyze the results of even simple experiments. There exists, therefore, always a tendency to produce more tests results than can be digested by theory or applied by industry. -- Theodorsen

He resorted to a familiar ploy of theoreticians: He proceeded to try to explain away the difference on the basis of solid dust particles and water vapor in the atmosphere. -- Newton (on the difference in the speed of sound)

Nasmyth built imaginary electrical machines in his mind and ran them for weeks on end ... periodically checking them for signs of wear. -- Curt Wohleber

More important to a designer than a set of techniques (empty of content) to induce creativity are a knowledge of current practice and products and a growing stock of firsthand knowledge and insights gained through critical field observation of engineering projects and industrial plants. In the 1950s, engineering schools still provided many opportunities to gather such knowledge. It is ironic that the radical change in curricula that occurred during the 1950s eliminated those activities that put students in touch with the authentic world of engineering. -- "Engineering and the Mind’s Eye," Eugene S. Ferguson

Understanding was growing, though a few years would elapse before it became firm and widespread, that surface condition can have as much effect on airfoil performance as the shape of the airfoil itself.  -- Walter G. Vincenti, "What Engineers Know and How They Know It."

We take wisdom to be the art of making correct decisions on insufficient evidence, under conditions of uncertainty. -- Phillip Rhinelander

A statistician is a man who draws a mathematical precise line from an unwarranted assumption to a foregone conclusion. -- Unknown source

Science, he suggested, could be defined as “accumulated and accepted knowledge, systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths on the operation of general laws,” and research as “careful or critical examination in seeking principles or facts.” Just because their research had a practical object, he said, did not disqualify it as scientific; after all, “research need not necessarily be aimless to be scientific.” -- Elton W. Miller

Unfortunately, he was always officious and priggish, and in his latter years he grew downright pompous and oracular. -- Alex Roland referring to John Victory

Follows meekly and does not lead boldly. -- Unknown source

Blazing a trail through a forest of fundamental mysteries. -- Alex Roland

Theory is useful to explain what went wrong. -- Unknown source

The airplane mobilized invention, intelligence, and daring: imagination and cold reason. It is in the same spirit that built the Parthenon. -- Le Corbusier

A Boeing executive, asked if Boeing learned any valuable lessons from the XB-15 project, replied, “Sure -- we learned not to build huge underpowered airplanes.”

Some people come up with half-baked ideas and call them theories. Whitcomb comes up with a brilliant idea and calls it a rule of thumb. -- Adolf Busemann

The epistemology of the practical man was intuitive and qualitative. It was formulated in conscious opposition to the pedantic concern with accuracy and irrelevant detail attributed to the despised figure of the mathematician. -- J. H. Ledeboer

If one asks what is left when all the hated calculations, experiments, and instruments have been swept away, the answer is intuition. -- C.G. Grey

Since perfect fluid theory is known to be unrealistic from the outset, one more piece of unreality hardly matters. -- Albert Betz

They tested their conclusions for utility rather than their assumptions for truth. -- David Bloor

Science, put at the disposal of humanity and its peoples, is the most powerful of all weapons. -- August Föppl

Given good faith and genuine curiosity, a true theory will eventually prevail over false ones. -- David Bloor

All would have noticed how often new variables were introduced into the equations to deal with failures of the original hypothesis. -- Leonard Bairstow

Simplicate and add more lightness. -- William B. Stout

Fresh thinking could leave the lethargy of industrial weight long behind. -- Lance Cole

… but doing a clear-cut job, but with some shaggy edges. -- Beverley Shenstone

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This page was upated Feb. 12, 2017