The Spectacle of Flight

Aviation And The Western Imagination, 1920-1950
Wohl, Robert
Date published: 
April 2005

In the decades following the First World War, when aviation was still a revelation, flight was perceived as a spectacle to delight the eyes and stimulate the imagination. Robert Wohl takes us back to this time, recapturing the achievements of pioneering aviators and exploring flight as a source of cultural inspiration in the United States and Europe.

Wohl begins the story of aviation in this era with a fresh account of Charles Lindbergh’s dramatic New York-Paris flight in 1927, then goes on to discuss how Mussolini identified his fascist regime with the modernist cachet of aviation. Wohl shows how the Hollywood film industry - aided by such director-flyers as William Wellman, Howard Hawks, and Howard Hughes - created the aviation film; how writers such as Antoine de St-Exupery helped foster France’s self-image as “the winged nation”; and how the spectacle of flight reached its tragic apotheosis during the bombing campaigns of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Generously illustrated with rare photographs, paintings, and posters, this book offers a gripping account of aviation and its hold on the popular imagination during the first half of the twentieth century.

Robert Wohl is Distinguished Professor of History, University of California at Los Angeles.