Have you ever flown in an airplane? Since at least the legend of Icarus in Greek Mythology, mankind’s dream of flying has been recorded. This is the legend of a father and son using wings made of wax and feathers to escape Crete. The father, Daedalus, warns the son not to fly too high or the heat of the sun will melt the wax. Icarus ignored his father’s instructions, and did fly too close to the sun. The heat melted the wax causing him to fall into the sea and drown.
even prior to this legend, some men (and women) would look at the birds flying
and wonder if they could fly also. In
about 1,000 B.C. kites were invented by the Chinese. In 852 B.C. English King Bladud attempted to
fly. Legend says he used necromancy to
build a pair of wings that attached to his arms. Bladud made an attempt to fly
at the temple of Apollo while wearing the wings, but the mythical figure
unfortunately didn’t get the right blueprints from the spirits; he fell to his
400 B.C. Archytas of Tarentum is alleged to have designed and built the first
artificial, self-propelled flying device, a bird-shaped model propelled by a
jet of what was probably steam, said to have actually flown about 650 feet. This machine, which its inventor called “the pigeon”, may have been suspended
on a wire or pivot for its flight. It
was described in the writings of Aulus Gellius five centuries after Archytas lived.
1250 A.D. Roger Bacon, an English cleric, proposed flying machines and
motorized ships and carriages in his writings.
In the late 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci designed flying machines and a
1670, Francesco de Lana Terzi published a design for a lighter-than-air
ship. In 1680, Giovanni Borelli an
Italian mathematician concluded that human muscle was inadequate for
flight. Then, in 1709, Bartolomeu
Laurenço de Gusmao designed a model glider.
1783, Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier and Marquis d’Arlandes made the first
free aerial flight in a Montgolfier hot-air balloon. That same year, Jacques Alexandre César
Charles and M.N. Robert flew in a hydrogen balloon. Two years later Jean-Pierre Blanchard and
John Jeffries crossed the English Channel by balloon. Jean François de Rozier and Pierre Romain
became the first documented fatalities of flying that same year, 1785.
1797 André Jacques Garnerin made the first human parachute descent, from a
balloon. George Cayley published a classic
treatise on aviation in 1809. William
Henson’s design for an aerial steam carriage was published in 1843. That same year, George Cayley published a
design for a biplane.
Henri Jacques Giffard invented the
Giffard dirigible. It was an airship powered with a steam engine, and weighed over
400 pounds. It was the world’s
first passenger-carrying airship (then known as a dirigible). Both practical
and steerable, the hydrogen-filled airship was equipped with a 3 horsepower
steam engine that drove a propeller. The engine was fitted with a funnel
pointing down. The exhaust steam was mixed in with the combustion gases and it
was hoped by these means to stop sparks rising up to the gas bag; he also
installed a rudder vertically.
On September 24, 1852 Giffard made
the first powered and controlled flight travelling 16 miles from Paris to
Trappes. The wind was too strong to
allow him to make headway against it, so he was unable to return to where he
had started. However, he was able to make turns and circles proving that a
powered airship could be steered and controlled. In 1867 Wilbur Wright was born near
In 1870 Alphonse Pénaud experimented
with twisted rubber to power a model helicopter. Orville Wright was born in Dayton, Ohio in
1871. In late 1885 Wilbur was accidently struck in the face with a hockey
stick. He became inhibited after the
loss of his front teeth, and subsequently failed to attend college (Yale). In
1886 Orville started a printing business while he was still in high school. In
1889 Otto Lilienthal publishes Der
Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst and two years later he began
successful gliding experiments. In 1895
he flew biplane gliders. He died the
next year in a glider accident.
Also in 1896 Octave Chanute began
biplane gliding experiments in Michigan and Samuel P. Langley produced
successful steam-powered models that flew.
Orville dropped out of high school to publish a newspaper, the
“West Side News,” and Wilbur joined him as editor. The newspaper
business was not profitable and the Wrights returned to contract printing, in
1889. In 1893 the Wright brothers began
to sell and repair bicycles. The Wrights manufactured their own bicycles, the
“St. Clair” and the “Van Cleve.” The bicycle business turned
profitable beginning in 1895. Wilbur developed
an aerodynamic control system for aircraft and built a kite to test it in 1899.
Alberto Santos-Dumont, Brazilian
aviator, circled the Eiffel Tower in an airship in 1901. Beginning in 1900 and continuing through
1902, the Wright brothers flew gliders at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, refining
their control system. At their home in Dayton, Ohio, they built a wind tunnel
and conducted research on wing shapes. In 1903 Samuel Langley’s full-sized,
manned “Aerodrome A” crashed on take-off.
Today, December 17th, is
the 111th anniversary of the Wright brothers first controlled,
sustained powered flights made at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, North
Carolina. The weather was freezing with
a headwind gusting to 27 MPH. With the
four flights made by the Wright brothers on that day in 1903, the era of
powered flight took off.
Halliday is an author, columnist and consultant who resides in Marshall,
Texas. He may be contacted by mail
at: P. O. Box 1551, Marshall, TX 75671;
or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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