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Old 03 November 2008, 01:17 AM
lynnejanet's Avatar
lynnejanet lynnejanet is offline
 
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Default Magee's "High Flight" written in stratosphere?

My son has to memorize the poem "High Flight" to present to his drama class tomorrow. His drama teacher told them a highly romantic story about the origin of the poem, and I wondered if anyone could debunk it. Googling produces a wiki entry, repeated word-for-word on several different sites.

According to her story, Gillespie Magee was the first pilot to ever fly into the stratosphere, and he did it in a spitfire. He flew the plane straight up, broke into the stratosphere, came down a bit, then flew up again. While he was up there, he was struck with inspiration for the poem. When he landed, the plane was literally falling apart, but he didn't get out until he finished writing the poem down on a scrap of napkin (a cloth handkerchief would less anachronistic). He carried the poem around in his wallet until he died, and it was subsequently found and published.

The wiki entry says he wrote the poem on the back of a letter to his parents, and it was heavily influenced by a book of flight poetry published 3 years previously.

Anyone know any more details?
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Old 03 November 2008, 02:18 AM
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BoKu BoKu is offline
 
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Airplane

Quote:
Originally Posted by lynnejanet View Post
...According to her story, Gillespie Magee was the first pilot to ever fly into the stratosphere...
The conventional wisdom is that that honor is shared by Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer, who flew in a specially-designed balloon with a pressurized gondola in 1931.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lynnejanet View Post
...and he did it in a spitfire. He flew the plane straight up, broke into the stratosphere, came down a bit, then flew up again...
Getting to stratospheric altitudes was possible if barely practical with the Spitfire marques available during the war.

It's hard to say with certainty because the stratosphere is delineated by the tropopause, an altitude band of relatively constant temperature. Starting from the ground, as you go up the temperature goes down with increasing altitude in the troposphere. When the temperature stays the same as you're going up, you are in the tropopause. When the trend reverses and the temperature goes up as you ascend, you're in the stratosphere. The altitude band of the tropopause varies with the weather, and also with lattitude. The tropopause tends to be lower and often thinner near the polar regions.

But "straight up?" Nope, not happening, even with the Griffon-powered versions of 1944 and 1945.

Thanks, Bob "Perlanyard" K.
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Old 03 November 2008, 02:25 AM
Mycroft Mycroft is offline
 
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From this site the story is essentially true, note that in such an experimental flight he would have had a note pad (usually strapped to his thigh) to make notes during the flight.

[As pointed out by BoKu's post, it certainly not the first flight to 30,000 feet (most Spitfire pilots would have done so when changing to the new version of the Spitfire) and although the Spifire V would have higher climb rates than Spitfire Is it would not be 'straight up'; also it was 3 months between writing the poem and his death, and the poem had already been sent to his parents]

Last edited by Mycroft; 03 November 2008 at 02:37 AM.
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