Magazine Article


The Aviation Century Project
A Very Large Tale

Dan Patterson and Ron Dick
Dan Patterson and Ron Dick, retired Air Vice Marshal, RAF, standing, with The Very Large Book. Photo: Mike Ullery.
© Mike Ullery

putting book together at TransImage
At TransImage, drilling through the pages for final assembly, prior to bolting the book together.
© Dan Patterson

The Very Large Book
The Very Large Book on exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
© Dan Patterson

Macchi-Castoldi MC-72
In 1934, this Macchi-Castoldi MC-72 set the standing world speed record for floatplanes: 440 m.p.h.
© Dan Patterson

replica of Wright Bros. 1902 glider
Nick Engler and his organization, Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, have built and flown replicas of most of the Wright aircraft. Shown is the replica of their 1902 glider.
© Dan Patterson

A World War II P-47
A World War II P-47 "Thunderbolt."
© Dan Patterson

Elray Jeppesen personal collection
This still life features the personal collection of Elray Jeppesen, an airline pilot for United in the '20s and 30s. His notes on airports and routes became the system now used worldwide for aerial navigation and information.
© Dan Patterson

Text and images by dan patterson

How do you set out to capture the 100-year history of aviation with a different angle? In 1998, I did just that.

My colleague, Ron Dick, and I launched The Aviation Century Project, telling our publisher we would prove aviation changed our world more than any other factor in the 20th century.

We began by creating a book series Aviation Century, published by Boston Mills Press of Canada. In 2003, we wrote the first of five books, The Early Years, for the centennial of flight. In 2004, we followed up with The Golden Age and World War II. The fourth book, Wings of Change, will be in bookstores this fall. Our fifth and final book, War & Peace, In the Air, is due for release in the summer of 2006.

Beyond the book series, this project has led us to develop an innovative resource for the study of aviation history. This includes 400,000 words of written text and library of over 35,000 original color images, spanning 100 years of history.

A project this extensive doesn't spring up over night. In 2001, I began exhibiting a selection of images, which served to promote the books and the project as it evolved. The National Portrait Gallery in London has purchased several of my portraits for their permanent collection.

In 2004, the director of The National Museum of the United States Air Force asked me to assemble a major exhibit for summer '05. "Could I come up with something unique?" he asked. Earlier, I had seen a piece on CBS TV's "Sunday Morning"about an MIT project that had used a Hewlett-Packard wide-format printer to create a giant book. I filed away that idea and when the opportunity came along for us to create a giant book, I recalled that TV segment.

I worked out the idea in a sketchbook and presented it to Mark Roll, co-owner of TransImage color lab in Dayton, Ohio. We decided it was a bit crazy, but doable.

The Very Large Book
Our super-sized perfect-bound book, measuring four by five feet, was covered in heavy-gauge aluminum and built similar to a metal-covered maintenance manual: the pages bound into the book with posts and bolts.

The text was produced in Adobe InDesign at 25 percent of final size. The pages were printed on a Hewlett-Packard 5000 wide-format printer with archival inks. Mark Roll and I worked out the process, then TransImage printed the pages on one side of InteliCoat luster photo-based paper. Each page was printed separately and laminated with Seal Floorguard, a satin finish that keeps the white very clean and the photos and type very crisp.

The pages were adhered, back to back, using corner marks and a very large light table for registration. Final trimming was done by hand. The completed book's pages are fairly heavy, but flexible.

On a parallel path was the construction of the bookstand—made from aircraft wheels and under-carriage, with a tail wheel—at LSI Industries in Blue Ash, Ohio. The aluminum covers were cut and prepared by Budde Sheet Metal in Dayton, Ohio, and etched by TradeMark Designs in Minster, Ohio.

The Very Large Book was assembled and delivered to the National Museum of the United States Air Force the morning of June 23. The exhibit opened on June 24.

My concept of an interactive display that requires no electricity—just the manual turning of pages of The Very Large Book—has been realized.From the U.S. to the U.K., Canada, France, Italy, Denmark/Greenland, Sweden, Germany, and Poland, we've photographed hundreds of aviation icons—the inventions, locations, and people who are part of this history.

At press time, The Very Large Book was off to the National Business Aviation Association in Orlando, then to the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas.

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