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Saturday, 17 December 2011

In Review: Cinebook Recounts The Wright Brothers

Cinebook return to their historically factual series Cinebook Recounts with the story of the first manned flight of a powered aeroplane at Kitty Hawk in America in 1903 with The Wright Brothers, written by J P Lefevre-Garros and illustrated by Marcel Uderzo.

Engineers Orville and Wilbur Wright had made their money printing newspapers in Daytona, Ohio and, by the turn of the twentieth century, had moved on to manufacturing the new craze of the day, bicycles. However their real desire was to fly and leaving their sister in charge of the bicycle business they used the winters to travel to the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, were they flew firstly large kites before moving on to gliders. With the experience of designing and flying the gliders, their next task was to design a light but powerful engine that they could fit to their aircraft to power it. But they were not the only engineers around the world with similar plans.

This book has a bit of tortuous history. It was originally published in Europe as Biggles Raconte Les Frères Wright in 2005, part of a series of factual aviation history books themed around WE John's pilot character but not actually featuring Biggles himself. Cinebook managed to release two of the books from this series, Biggles Recounts The Falklands War and Biggles Recounts The Battle Of Britain, in 2007 and 2008 with Biggles Recounts The Wright Brothers due for 2009 but issues arose between the estate of WE Johns and Lombard, the original French publishers. This lead to Lombard loosing their Biggles licence, meaning that Cinebook could no longer release any Biggles titles. While this stymied further releases in their fictional Biggles series, as the character was not in the factual series they retitled it as Cinebook Recounts and started again.

With Battle of Britain and The Falklands War rereleased under the new series title, The Wright Brothers is the first of the "new" Recounts books, albeit with an English translation dating from 2008.

This was originally the sixth book in the Biggles Raconte series and by this point the French series had covered mainly war topics with their inherent action and adventure, so the tale of two engineers who designed big kites and then incrementally modified their designs until they reached a controllable, manned aircraft was a change of pace. This is not a dull book by any means but readers expecting a tale of adventure and daring pilots will be disappointed. Lefevre-Garros gives the background to the brothers work, setting the historical scene by mentioning some of the other people working towards manned flight at the time and even suggesting in the second panel of the book that a Frenchman beat them to it (Clement Ader did just struggle into the air in 1897 but it was an uncontrolled hop). While many others appear to have started by jumping in the deep end and building a powered aircraft that they didn't know how to fly, the Wrights started with kites to learn aerodynamics and then moved on to gliders so that they knew how to control an aircraft in flight before finally progressing to a powered aeroplane.

Backed up by Marcel Uderzo's detailed and accurate artwork, Lefevre-Garros takes the reader through the years of test flying the kites and gliders and the Wrights' redesigns on them as they found the weaknesses of each stage of their development before reaching the morning of 17 December 1903 when Orville Wright lay down in the pilot's position of the aircraft they simply called Flyer but we now refer to as Wright Flyer 1, turned the engine on and literally flew into the history books.

Cinebook Recounts The Wright Brothers is not an action packed tale of daring pilots but it is a detailed and well illustrated account of the logical design steps of two engineers that lead up to a moment in history - and that is what makes it worth reading.

There are more details of Cinebook Recounts The Wright Brothers and the other titles in the Cinebook Recounts series on the Cinebook website.

There are more details of the original French Biggles Raconte books on the International Biggles Association
website.

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