History of Flight

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Airplane

Most of us only have to look up into the sky to see an airplane, and many of us have traveled by airplane to places that would have taken much longer by any other means of transportation. An airplane by definition is an aircraft that has a fixed wing and is powered by propellers or jets. Let us look at the history of airplanes before the 1st engine plane took off the ground.

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Airplane
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Kites

Around 400 BC in China, the discovery of the kite that could fly in the air by the Chinese started humans thinking about flying. Kites were used by the Chinese in religious ceremonies. They built many colorful kites for fun, also. More sophisticated kites were used to test weather conditions. Kites have been important to the invention of flight as they were the forerunner to balloons and gliders.

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Kites
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Leonardo da Vinci - The Ornithopter

IN 1485, Leonardo da Vinci made the first real studies of flight in the 1480's. He had over 100 drawings that illustrated his theories on flight. The Ornithopter flying machine drawn by him, was never actually created. It was a design that Leonardo da Vinci created to show how man could fly. The modern day helicopter is based on this concept.

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Leonardo da Vinci - The Ornithopter
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Hot air balloon

In 1783, the brothers, Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, were inventors of the first hot air balloon. They used the smoke from a fire to blow hot air into a silk bag. The silk bag was attached to a basket. The hot air then rose and allowed the balloon to be lighter-than-air. In 1783, the first passengers in the colorful balloon were a sheep, rooster and duck. It climbed to a height of about 6,000 feet and traveled more than 1 mile. After this first success, the brothers began to send men up in balloons. The first manned flight was on November 21, 1783, the passengers were Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent.

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Hot air balloon
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Glider

In 1799, George Cayley worked to discover a way that man could fly. He designed many different versions of gliders that used the movements of the body to control. Over 50 years he made improvements to the gliders. He changed the shape of the wings so that the air would flow over the wings correctly. He designed a tail for the gliders to help with the stability. He tried a biplane design to add strength to the glider. He also recognized that there would be a need for power if the flight was to be in the air for a long time.

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Glider
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Otto Lilienthal's gliders

In 1891, German engineer, Otto Lilienthal, studied aerodynamics and worked to design a glider that would fly. He was the first person to design a glider that could fly a person and was able to fly long distances. He was fascinated by the idea of flight. Based on his studies of birds and how they fly, he wrote a book on aerodynamics that was published in 1889 and this text was used by the Wright Brothers as the basis for their designs. After more than 2500 flights, he was killed when he lost control because of a sudden strong wind and crashed into the ground.

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Otto Lilienthal's gliders
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Powered flight

In 1891, Samuel Langley realized that power was needed to help man fly. He built a model of a plane, which he called an aerodrome, that included a steam-powered engine. In 1891, his model flew for 3/4th of a mile before running out of fuel. Langley received a $50,000 grant to build a full sized aerodrome. It was too heavy to fly and it crashed. He was very disappointed and gave up trying to fly.

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Powered flight
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Wright brothers make history

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright were very deliberate in their quest for flight. First, they spent many years learning about all the early developments of flight. They completed detailed research of what other early inventors had done. They read all the literature that was published up to that time. Then, they began to test the early theories with balloons and kites before building their airplane and trying to fly. Their efforts paid off and history of flight never looked back. Humankind was now able to fly! During the next century, many new airplanes and engines were developed to help transport people, luggage, cargo, military personnel and weapons. The 20th century's advances were all based on this first flight at Kitty Hawk by the American Brothers from Ohio.

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Wright brothers make history
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