Even in Paris, the most romantic city on Earth, romance seems scarce in this harsh and angry age. The historic airfield at Le Bourget may conjure up memories of the adventure of flight, from Lindbergh's landing after crossing the Atlantic, to the launch of the Concorde. But at the big international air show taking place there this week, aviation is all about hardware and deal-making and cold, hard cash -- isn't it?
While sifting through all the news from the Paris Air Show this week, I found plenty of the above -- billions of dollars of contracts signed for tons of powerful heavy metal, both civilian and military. But I was surprised to also find a lot of breathless stories about the flight of Solar Impulse, a useless little airplane that barely carries one pilot, never mind any paying passengers or cargo. Solar Impulse, the result of years of effort led by Bertrand Piccard, struggled to make it a mere 636 nautical miles from Brussels to the show.
At one point, the news stories said the flight would have to be canceled, due to inadequate sunshine to charge the aircraft's batteries. But the team kept trying, and finally made the flight, which took 16 hours, in time for opening day. This gentle feat was mentioned in about 1,300 stories found via google news -- a lot less than the 6,300 that turn up in a search for "Airbus + Paris," but still impressive.
Maybe Paris inspired the world to pay attention, if only for a moment, to an airplane so slow, so quiet, so impractical, so magical, glinting in the reflected romance from the city of light.