Praise for Spread Your Wings

With Spread Your Wings Jacqueline Gibbons makes a uniquely readable contribution to the story of flight. She starts with the idea of flight in early Greek mythology and through the Middle Ages, but moves quickly to the courageous pioneers — both men and more than a few women — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who made powered flight a practical reality. The story is told through concise, but personal, sketches of these heroes which are richly illustrated with archival photographs that bring their subjects to life for the reader. Adding to the book’s visual feast, its chapters are tied together with a series of stunning contemporary photos of birds in flight. A pleasure for the history buff….

— Mike Potter, Retired/Founder, Vintage Wings of Canada [Les Ailes d’époque du Canada], Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Spread Your Wings offers a fascinating look at human engagement with the idea of flight, from its diverse renderings in myth and literature through to the pioneering efforts of both men and women whose passionate pursuit of the skies first turned the dream of ‘flying like a bird’ into reality.

Gibbons guides her reader through various figures and motifs of flight in Greek mythology (Icarus, the Sirens, and Pegasus), folklore (The Arabian Nights), and contemporary literature (Harry Potter) to trace the deep roots of flight in human imagination, before shifting focus to the historical figures who attempted or made the leap from imaginary to real flight. Notably, Gibbons makes sure to include in her book the many women who partook in our earliest explorations of the sky, dedicating two entire chapters to the achievements of these too-often-forgotten figures of aeronautic history (Élizabeth Thible, Marie Madeline-Sophie Blanchard, Aida de Acosta, and Edith Berg among them). Accessibly written, meticulously researched, and beautifully illustrated, Spread Your Wings brings together a wealth of knowledge about the human quest to take flight and the many individuals and inventions that opened our way to the sky. 

— Dr. Pia Kleber, Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature, Helen and Paul Phelan Chair in Drama, University of Toronto, University College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The story of flight remains one of the most fascinating, and entertaining, subjects in the history of human evolution. Ever since the first primitive communities gazed up into the air above to see the birds enjoying the freedom of the skies, there has been a burning ambition to emulate them. Yet, over many thousands of years of steady progress in developing mobility over the surface of the Earth and across rivers and seas, it has only been during the Twentieth Century that air travel has become an every-day reality for millions of ordinary people. Even more incredible is how quickly, once the first tottering pioneering flights were accomplished, scientific and engineering innovation then took less than seventy years to deliver and safely return a manned space vehicle to and from the Moon! But it is a focus on the struggle to get started in aviation that is wonderfully described by Jacqueline Gibbons in Spread Your Wings, which provides a refreshing and hugely informative background story, told in a manner that makes it hard to put down, once started.

There have been many historical books aimed at describing the birth of aviation, but this new work really does start right at the beginning with the legend of Icarus, and it is full of well-researched detail throughout its 240 beautifully illustrated pages, that places the main real-life characters in the context of their times. Leonardo Da Vinci applied his foresight and anatomical knowledge of the operation of feathered wings to recognize some very basic conclusions that were later to be applied by pioneering followers centuries later. Sir George Cayley was such a key figure, and inspired by the study of bird-flight he soon assembled a list of essential factors comprising lift, thrust, weight and drag, that have remained a constant in all subsequent aircraft design. How lessons were learned, and how they were used to make step-by-step progress, often with fatal results along the way, is told in a readable, but fact-filled manner. 

The development of flying machines as we recognize them today came via nearly a couple of centuries of starts developing gas balloons, kites and gliders, before lightweight piston engines made powered flight a practical proposition. 

The author has certainly mentioned many familiar pioneers, but not without good reason, for she has highlighted their important contributions that justify the space and associated illustrations. Anecdotes and interesting incidents are to be found in every chapter, and one of the great features is the inclusion of many women aviators who each well deserve a place in the history of pioneering flight, but who may not be so well known to readers. Edith Berg, Thérèse Peltier, Blanche Stuart Scott, Bessica Raiche, Harriet Quimby … are all described in a way which truly brings them and their exploits to life.

The pictures are all very well chosen, including people as well as flying machine photographs and early drawings, and the reproduction quality is exceptionally high, as is the design and presentation of the whole book, which comes complete with a useful glossary, selected aviation websites and references. A most excellent publication, a real joy to read, and certainly one to keep handy for references!

— Richard Gardner, Chairman, Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, Farnborough, Hampshire, UK.

Men and women across the world and throughout the ages have dreamed of defying the gravity that prevents them from seeing the world in all of its beauty. Gibbons has beautifully and eloquently told the many stories that belong to the narrative of our ambition to take flight. Spread Your Wings is a narrative that is rich in storytelling, illustrations, and photographs, from the Greeks and Egyptians, through the Middle Ages along the way to the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk and Ingenuity [the helicopter that flew] on Mars.

— Shawn Perras, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Hamilton, Ontario Canada.

The history of human flight is a story interwoven among cultures, myths, and individual stories. Spread Your Wings: Icarus to 1912 portrays the progression from imagination to experimentation in a fascinating look at the people who led humanity to machine-powered aviation. Dr. Gibbons captures unique narratives of perseverance among a diverse cadre of individuals who overcame barriers, both social and engineering, through collaboration and inventiveness. It is fascinating to juxtapose the stories of well-known inventors and experimenters with the little-known stories of so many others whose achievements are brought to light in the book. 

— James Quint, Executive Director, Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, Hammondsport, New York, USA.

In a lavishly illustrated book, the author takes the reader on a stardust-sprinkled voyage through early aviation. We meet many of the accepted pioneers, including women, and learn about the Canadian contribution heavily supported by American inventor Alexander Graham Bell and brilliant US engine designer Glenn Curtiss.

…this unashamedly enthusiastic and ambitious account of the early heroic age of aviation takes the reader along at a spanking pace and truly makes time fly by. 

— Lt. Col. Peter Reese, aviation author, UK.