Humans have always desired to fly like birds, to explore the freedom and joy of flight. There are many myths involving humans who tried to fly, one of the more famous ones being that of Icarus and Daedulus who flew with wings of wax and feathers. However, Icarus grew proud and flew too close to the sun. When the wax in his wings melted, he fell to the ground. Many real people met the same fate when they tried in vain to make feathers and wings and other apparatuses to aid them in flight. One of the reasons for their failure was the lack of power in their muscles to hold up their bones and bodies.
Hero and the Aeolipile
Hero, an ancient Greek who came from Alexandria, attempted to harness power enough to lift a human into the air. He used steam and the air pressure caused by it to develop the aeolipile. This aeolipile was a device containing a sphere that rested on top of a water kettle. When the kettle was heated by fire below, it turned air into steam. This steam traveled through a pipe system to the sphere; it contained two release tubes, in an L-shape, on either side of it. When the steam escaped from the sphere, it began to rotate. Though nothing lifted, it certainly demonstrated that motion could be initiated by the use of the heat and steam.
1485 Leonardo da Vinci - The Ornithopter
In the fifteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci began to explore and study flight. He had many drawings and writings purporting his theory of flight. In his drawings he designed an invention called the Ornithopter, which was to be powered by the human operating the machine. It was winged and involved flapping, just as a bird would flap his wings. He also created other things associated with flying, such as parachutes.
1783 - Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier- the First Hot Air Balloon
Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier were brothers who designed and created the first hot air balloon. Using a fire and smoke, the brothers filled a silk bag attached to a basket with hot air. As the heat rose in the bag, it, along with the basket, rose as well. The first flight of the air balloon was in 1783; its first passengers were a duck, a sheep, and a rooster. This success resulted in a flight 6,000 feet high as the balloon traveled more than a mile. Later that same year, on November 21, the first balloon carrying passengers Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Lurent took flight. Hot balloon rides continue to be a popular hobby and entertainment draw as balloon in majestic colors and designs carry passengers many miles, at a height of, on record, 65,000 feet, though 2,000-6,000 feet is more common.
1799 - 1850's - George Cayley
When George Cayley began to look at the possibility of man’s flight, he concentrated his efforts on inventions that could glide. He made many drawings and designs of gliders until he found one that could be manned by a young boy successfully. His gliders used man’s body movements to control the direction of the crafts as they glided to the ground. He worked on his designs over fifty years, equipping his gliders with tails, lofty wing designs, and a bi-plane design. Cayley knew, however, that a source of power would be necessary to keep a man flying through the air. He penned the essay “On Ariel Navigation” in which he illustrated a glider that had a power system to aid in propulsion of the craft as well as a tail to assist in steering of the aircraft.
1891 Otto Lilienthal
The first man to succeed in designing and building a glider able to be flown by a man was Otto Lilienthal. He studied birds’ flight abilities and the specifics behind them. In 1889 he wrote a book on aerodynamics called Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation that was read and studied by the Wright Brothers when they prepared their airplane designs. Lilienthal was killed during one of his flights when he lost control during strong winds, but he succeeded more than 2,500 times prior to the deadly incident.
1891 Samuel P. Langley
Samuel Langley, astronomer and director of the Smithsonian institute in Washington, D.C., knew that a flying device must have power in order to fly any distance. His aerodome model contained a steam-powered engine and flew three quarters of a mile before it ran out of fuel. When Langley received a grant of $50,000 to build a full-size aerodome, however, the glider was too heavy, and it crashed. Langley was so disappointed that he ceased any further endeavors at inventing a powered glider.
1894 Octave Chanute
Progress in Flying Machines, penned by Octave Chanute in 1894 analyzed all the specifics and technical data on flying that was available to date. Used by the Wright Brothers, the book detailed all previous attempts at flight and made assertions as to what failed in these prototypes. Chanute also was a resource to the Wright Brothers and made technical comments on their attempts at flight as well.
1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright and the First Flight
The first true airplane flight is attributed to brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. They studied all the material available to them up to date; they created their own theories; they tested those theories with kites and balloons. Eventually they began creating and testing various gliders, such as the one invented by Cayley. They, too, realized that a source of power would be necessary to make a true flight, and they chose to utilize a 12 horsepower engine. Their first plane, the “Flyer” lifted on December 17, 1903; it flew from a level surface on Big Kill Devil Hill at 10:35 a.m. The flight lasted 12 seconds, and the 605-pound plane traveled 120 feet. The plane was piloted by Orville Wright, whose turn it happened to be for testing the plane.