Idle hands

Fulton Airphibian

One of the best measures of a man is what he does when he has nothing to do. ~Robert Edison Fulton

Robert Edison Fulton invented the Airphibian, the first ‘roadable airplane’: an automobile you could fly or an airplane you could drive.  I like to imagine Fulton tinkering around in the garage when he came up with a crack-pot idea – and then he had the stamina to build it, get it approved, and to tool around in the contraption for over 100,000 miles.  Because of huge development expenses, Fulton was forced to sell the Airphibian to a company that never manufactured it.  Some considered it a bad idea:  a 1989 a Smithsonian magazine article said it was “underpowered as an airplane and overpowered as a car.”  I happen to consider it an amazing idea — and Fulton an amazing man.

At age 24, Fulton drove 24,000 miles on a motorcycle — nearly all the way around the world — to “see great architecture”.  According to the New York Times, Fulton “spent a night in a Turkish jail, dodged bandits in Iraq, was shot at by Pathan tribesmen in the Khyber Pass and was entertained by Indian rajahs.”  Fulton also invented the Skyhook, an aerial rescue system used secretly by the US military and intelligence agencies to grab embedded spies off the ground during the cold war (made famous by the Bond film Thunderball).

Obviously, the man practiced what he preached.

Fulton got it right.  Life is an adventure — a 60 to 80 year opportunity (God willing) — to dream and create.  Some of the greatest contributions to humankind have sprung from the minds of tinkerers.  Consider Benjamin Franklin or Leonardo DaVinci.  The common denominator among these men seems to be a deep curiosity, a keen power of observation, and a tireless spirit.

What are you doing when you have nothing to do?

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste. ~Henry Ford

More information about Fulton in this New York Times obituary.
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