A Short History of Flight

People have dreamed of flying since ancient times. About six thousand years ago drawings on tombs in Egypt showed gods that could fly. Leonardo da Vinci, who lived five hundred years ago, was very interested in flight and believed the way to do it was to flap wings as birds do. He drew numerous pictures of flying machines, but never tried to build any.

The invention of the steam engine changed everything and contributed to the development of flight. Machines could make products such as new kinds of steel, cloth and metal wire. Inventors used these materials to try and build flying machines. Between 1891 and 1896, Otto Lilienthal of Germany, made over two thousand flights in gliders constructed of wood, cloth, and wire and proved that flight was possible.

Then the Wright brothers came along. Though they repaired bicycles for a living, they were very interested in flight, and after studying the work of Lilienthal, they decided to design a flying machine with strong but lightweight materials. The Wright brothers used metal tubes from bicycle frames, the wires from the wheel spokes and the bicycle chain to drive the propeller. After thousands of test flights and a long search for a light engine they came up with the first biplane. Their first historic flight on December 17, 1903, took place near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and they traveled at 36.5 meters, the length of a modern Boeing 747. By 1905, they could fly for thirty minutes and do circles and figure eights.

By the time the first World War broke out, airplanes, though unreliable were used in combat. As the war progressed, airplane design improved. Better engines resulted in bigger planes, higher speeds and longer flights. By this time people thought of airplanes as military machines, so once the war ended, production of new airplanes stopped for awhile. By the mid-l920’s, other uses evolved for the airplane, which changed the perception of it being only a military tool. Pilots flew to remote areas, bringing supplies and opening up the lines of communication. Surplus bi-planes from the war were being used for stunt flying, airplane races and short rides for ordinary citizens.

All this changed in 1927, when Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in thirty three hours. This stirred people’s imagination and eventually led to flights into unheard of territory. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly a plane. In the l930’s planes became people movers, and as they say, the rest is history. Things will only get better with development of new technologies and materials. The next great frontier to be explored will probably be space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *