Everything on Flying from Hidden History to Hardcore Engineering

The book isn't published yet. You can read essays drafts of the upcoming book below:

These essay drafts are part of an upcoming book of an exploration of teaching myself everything on flying from hidden history to hardcore engineering.

Where do I begin on this? Since I started college, I refused to get a bike because I wanted to use that time to think about new ways to move across space and time. I average about 40 miles every week of running and walking around campus.

But then, around April of 2022, we interviewed Kiruba Haran, a professor working on electric propulsion, on the UIUC Talkshow. This interview gave me the idea of building an electric flying machine. I thought it would be a cool idea, but then I watched the first Top Gun Movie, and oh my goodness, that movie gave me inspiration like nothing else. Not just about my project but about the whole “flying” world.

Planes are one of the most extraordinary things we’ve created and the hardest, but I had never really understood how the entire thing worked, let alone the history or basic physics principles.

This is the note I made on my phone after watching the first Top Gun.

A few weeks later, I watched Top Gun: Maverick and was curious about how everything worked!!!

In June of 2022, I started building a drone and got everything done except the controller. I still need to finish it. Read more about the project with pictures here. When I started working on this drone, I was trying to put everything together but didn’t understand the basics of anything behind it. Why was the design this way? Or how did the electronic thing work?

The thing itself was fantastic, but suddenly, I wanted to know the history of the whole thing, so I started writing to teach myself. I started working on a mega-essay about flying so I could learn and feed my curiosity. But really, this essay aimed to teach myself everything I wanted to know.

This quickly turned out to be not just a mega-essay but more like a book because I was soon curious about everything. My initial motivation for writing was teaching myself all the different components, but then I became obsessed with the history. That’s all I wanted to know, and frankly, what a significant portion of my writing became.

This is an important lesson. Learning the history of things is so interesting because you can see the different possibilities of our present could have turned out, but for some reason or at times, the stubborn willingness of curious people will their way into whatever they thought was possible.

Life is like tree roots, and the roots are all the possible futures. Our present is simply one root out of an infinite number of roots (or possible futures).

And sometimes our future is willed by some people for better or worse. But most of the time, due to an insane curiosity and work ethic, our future ends up going down one route (or tree root). And that is good because that is present, and I’m grateful for it.

All the roots represent all possible futures. The root, with the arrow, represents our present.

But I’ve realized that there are a TON of other roots that were not developed and where an infinite^infinity of opportunities await to be discovered and for someone to work on them. Often, solutions to problems of the present lay in the past.

That’s the beauty of writing to learn rather than writing to write. I’m not writing to be a writer. I’m writing because I want to find things out and because of curiosity. And that, my friends, is the most beautiful feeling you can ever experience.

So I started writing and writing. I started with the Wright Brothers and continued moving along to find things such as the most beautiful engineering masterpiece: The Jet Engine. I wrote every day for 90 minutes throughout the summer, so three months of writing turned out to be significant.

Writing has important but was only a part of the process. I was working on my drone project and looking for experiences such as reaching out to a local pilot and asking him to give me a ride.

I wanted to fly a plane because it’s so cool and I had never flown in a small plane. Some places charge $100 to give you a ride and even fly it for a bit, but I didn’t want to pay, so I found an alternative in the EAA chapters across the nation. I sent emails, text messages, and LinkedIn requests to about 20 people across different chapters nearby.

One person replied, an experienced pilot from United Airlines, who agreed to give me a ride and showed me his plane. I was ecstatic! His plane was about 90 minutes from where I lived, so I drove there on a Saturday morning and met everyone in the chapter.

But he couldn’t give me a ride that day because his kid needed to go to a birthday party and had to leave earlier. I was devastated, but at least I got to talk to lots of interesting and see the plane.

This is his plane.

This is the inside.

And I continued writing and trying to learn from real-world experiences like that.

My eyes were open to anything remotely close to flying. I read a local library was launching rockets, and I didn't know what that was, so I went! And I launched my first "rocket." Cape Canaveral, you’re next!

I designed a paper rocket, and it was a lot of fun. It’s more complicated than it seems, but you can only know until you try it.

There I was—a space mogul among two other 7-year-olds in the public library.

The summer was coming to an end and that meant, I was going to get back to campus and build the personal flying vehicle.

The document reached about 20,000 words, but something happened once I returned to campus in the Fall of 2022.

I started going hard by writing a proposal for the Personal Flying Vehicle (here the proposal, here) so I could get funding from the school or whoever I could find, but soon, no one wanted to help, and I realized how much regulation there is to build a simple thing. Building it was relatively inexpensive (I estimate about 20k), but all the regulations would make it impossible and, quite frankly, discouraged me.

I didn’t consciously think about it like this, but I decided it was a project I advanced quite a lot, but the timing wasn’t right. Part of me thinks it’s wiser to return to this project with FU money. It doesn’t have to be necessarily mine, but I would like to, as I don’t think creating a personal flying vehicle makes any sense. I think it’s cool and want to build to learn and fly around in it. So in a way, it would be donation money because I don’t want to get money to build a company. After all, I don’t think there’s a company to be made out of here. I could lie and hype this up, but that adds the wrong incentives.

A fun project is only what it seems because you never know what kind of opportunities might appear as you start building. And let’s not forget that the money and even the innovation aren’t necessarily in the invention but rather in manufacturing (aka the machine that makes the machine). Making one is easy, but making hundreds or thousands is the real breakthrough.

I'm not too fond of the ending of this story. It feels wrong and not entirely done yet. I don't want to say I'm done with the project because I don't want to be. I'm still interested in aerospace, but my angle of attack could be better. But also, while this excites me like very few things, I still need to find my angle of excitement/opportunity. Through the building of a physical flying object. I have yet to find that. But I'll keep looking.

In the beginning, I told you I started writing a book to teach myself everything I wanted to know. For more than ten weeks, I published essay drafts.

Here are the flying-related essays I published in 2022:

Now that I listed the essays I published. I realized I enjoyed and wrote extensively about history. My excuse to enter the field was to build a personal flying machine, but the timing wasn't right. But what about continuing to learn about the history of flying? I'm down for that. I might consider finishing and publishing a book about flying because why the hell not?


Reflection (Improvement):

Finishing the book as an excuse to find opportunities, create a podcast, and interview people at cool aerospace companies while working on a cool project could be fun.

This is an interesting endeavor to learn and meet the leading engineers, entrepreneurs, historians, and interesting people in this field. That plus visiting museums, learning to fly a plane and working on cool ideas like the drone project.

A plan might look like this:

Then Steven suggested an even more specific route:

Steven also said, “Then your book wouldn't just be "words," but an homage to everything you've learned, your process, and, of course, flying.”