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Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

1. Materials, symbols, and ideologies of progress,   pp. [3]-21

Page 21

MATERIALS, SYMBOLS, AND IDEOLOGIES                                  21
choice by suppressing alternatives, making specific choices seem inevitable
and natural. In this way, ideologies present the contingent as necessary and
the particular as universal.53
Within the community of American aviation, the progress ideology of
metal operated primarily on the first and third levels. First, this ideology
helped the aviation community define itself as part of the technological van-
guard, as the bearer of the most exciting technology of the new century
For aviation engineers in particular, working with wood was incompatible
with this self-definition. At the same time, the progress ideology of metal
also functioned as a system of distortion by representing the shift to metal
as a necessary and universal stage in airplane design. This ideology did
help identify the technical potential of metal airplanes, but it blinded avia-
tion engineers to the advantages of wood structures, preventing them
from appropriating the useful and valid aspects of the wood tradition. The
American aviation community worked hard to solve the problems of metal
construction. At the same time, this community systematically ignored ar-
guments and evidence that supported wood, while actively discouraging
research and practical efforts to improve wooden airplanes.

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