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The Business of Aviation: History of Flight
For hundreds of years, humans have watched birds and wanted to fly. Early attempts involved making wings out of wood and feathers and attaching the wings to a person’s arms to try to fly. Unfortunately, the results were usually disastrous. This is because human physiology is not the same as that of birds, and humans don’t have the same strength.
How Did We Learn to Fly Like the Birds?
Myths and Legends of Flight
- Pegasus: In Greek myth, Pegasus was a winged horse. Bellerophon the Valiant, the prince of Corinth, captured Pegasus, and he rode the horse into battle against Chimera, a three-headed, fire-breathing monster.
- Icarus and Daedalus: Daedalus, a Greek engineer, was imprisoned along with Icarus, his son. Daedalus constructed wings out of feathers and wax that they could use to fly to freedom. Daedalus used his wings to fly to Naples, but his son flew too close to the sun, despite Daedalus’s warnings. The wax of Icarus’s wings melted, and he plunged to his death.
- King Kaj Kaoos: King Kaj Kaoos was said to have tethered eagles to his throne so he could fly.
- Alexander the Great: Alexander the Great tied four griffins to a basket so the mythical beasts could carry him through the air around his kingdom.
Early Attempts at Flight
- 400 B.C., China: The Chinese invention of Kites was the first step toward flying. The Chinese used kites in religious ceremonies, and they also made colorful kites that were used for recreation. Kites have also been used to learn about weather conditions high up in the air, and they were an important forerunner to gliders and balloons.
- Ancient Greece, Hero of Alexandria: Hero of Alexandria was a Greek engineer who experimented with using air pressure and steam for power. He attached a sphere to a kettle filled with water. He heated the water in the kettle until it turned to steam, at which point it was piped into the sphere. Tubes attached to the sphere on opposite sides let the gas escape, which caused the sphere to rotate.
- 1485, Leonardo da Vinci: Leonardo da Vinci studied flight and made many drawings to illustrate his theories. One design, the Ornithopter flying machine, was never built. However, da Vinci’s design for a flying machine showed how flight might be possible. The design of the modern helicopter is similar to the ornithopter.
- Leonardo da Vinci and Flight
- 1783, Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier: Brothers Joseph and Jacques invented the first hot air balloon. The contraption used a fire that produced smoke, which was used to inflate a silk bag. This bag was tied to a basket. The first passengers in this balloon were a duck, a rooster, and a sheep. They rose about 6,000 feet into the air and traveled more than a mile. The first human passengers would ride in the balloon on Nov. 21, 1783.
- A Short History of Ballooning
- 1799-1850, George Cayley: George Cayley designed gliders that relied on a human rider to control them. Cayley spent more than 50 years working on and improving his glider designs. He made adjustments to features such as the wing shape and tail.
- Sir George Cayley 1773 – 1857
- Sir George Cayley Bt. – Pioneer of Flight
- Sir George Cayley – Making Aviation Practical
19th and 20th Century Efforts
- 1891, Otto Lilienthal: Otto Lilienthal was a German engineer who focused on studying aerodynamics in his quest to create a glider. Lilienthal was the first to make a glider that would allow a person to fly for a long distance. Lilienthal took more than 2,500 flights himself and was eventually killed when a strong gust of wind caused him to lose control of his glider.
- Otto Lilienthal1848 – 1896
- Lilienthal Glider
- From Lilienthal to the Wrights
- Otto Lilienthal: The Glider King
- 1891, Samuel P. Langley: Astronomer Samuel Langley focused his work on generating power for flight. He built an aerodrome, a model plane that used a steam-powered engine, and it could fly for three-quarters of a mile before it ran out of fuel. Langley was given a $50,000 grant to scale up his project to a full-size aerodrome, but the result was too heavy for flight and crashed. This caused him to give up his quest to fly.
- Samuel P. Langley Collection, 1891-1914
- Samuel P. Langley: Aviation Pioneer
- The Race for Flight
- Langley Aerodrome A
- Samuel Pierpont Langley
- Flying Machines
- Samuel Pierpont Langley, Flying Machines
- 1894, Octave Chanute: Octave Chanute gathered technical knowledge of the day to write a book about flying machines. His book included information about all of the aviation pioneers of this time.
- American Engineer – Octave Chanute
- The Business of Flight
- Octave Alexandre Chanute, Flying Machine
- Octave Chanute
- Progress in flying machines
- Octave Alexander Chanute(1832-1910)
- 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright: Orville and Wilbur Wright spent years learning about flying and the inventions of other aviation pioneers. They began working on a glider first to see how to control one. After they found a glider design that would withstand strong winds, they then worked to develop a propulsion system to lift a flying machine up into the air. In 1903, they succeeded in piloting a plane 120 feet in 12 seconds. Credit for the first flight goes to Orville Wright.
- The Wright Brothers – First Flight, 1903
- First airplane flies – HISTORY
- 1903-The First Flight
- Flight History
- Overview of the Wright Brothers Invention Process
- The Road to Flight
- Wright Brothers Negatives from the Library of Congress
- How the Wright Brothers Influenced NOAA
- The Wright Brothers
- 1903 Wright Flyer
- Wright Brothers & First Flight
- Wright Brothers History, First Airplane Flight
- The Wright Brothers | The First Successful Airplane