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Early History of Flight
Part 2: 19th And 20th Century Flight Efforts
Picture of Lilienthal's glider in flight.
 
One of the many designs for a Glider by Otto Lilienthal
Early History of Flight
Part 1: Humans Imitate Birds in Flight
Part 2: 19th And 20th Century Flight Efforts
Part 3: The Wright Brothers
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Dynamics of Flight
The Parts of an Airplane

1891 Otto Lilienthal
German engineer, Otto Lilienthal, studied aerodynamics and worked to design a glider that would fly. Otto Lilienthal was the first person to design a glider that could fly a person and was able to fly long distances.

Otto Lilienthal 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, Otto Lilienthal was killed when he lost control because of a sudden strong wind and crashed into the ground.

1891 Samuel Langley
A drawing of the Langley AerodromeSamuel Langley was physicist and astronomer who realized that power was needed to help man fly. Langley conducted experiments using whirling arms and steam motors. He built a model of a plane, which he called an aerodrome, that included a steam-powered engine. In 1891, his model flew for 3/4s of a mile before running out of fuel.

Samuel 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. He gave up trying to fly. His major contributions to flight involved attempts at adding a power plant to a glider. He was also well known as the director of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

Picture of Langley Aerodrome.

Model of Langley Aerodrome

1894 Octave Chanute
Octave Chanute was a successful engineer who undertook the invention of airplanes as a hobby, after being inspired by Otto Lilienthal. Chanute designed several aircraft, the Herring - Chanute biplane was his most successful design and formed the basis of the Wright biplane design.

Octave Chanute published "Progress in Flying Machines" in 1894. It gathered and analyzed all the technical knowledge that he could find about aviation accomplishments. It included all of the world's aviation pioneers. The Wright Brothers used this book as a basis for much of their experiments. Chanute was also in contact with the Wright Brothers and often commented on their technical progress.

1903 The Wright Brothers - First Flight
Orville Wright 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. They learned about how the wind would help with the flight and how it could affect the surfaces once up in the air.
A model of one of the Gliders designed by the Wright BrothersThe next step was to test the shapes of gliders much like George Cayley did when he was testing the many different shapes that would fly. They spent much time testing and learning about how gliders could be controlled.
Picture of the Wright Brothers first engine.The Wright Brothers designed and used a wind tunnel to test the shapes of the wings and the tails of the gliders. After they found a glider shape that consistently would fly in the tests in the North Carolina Outer Banks dunes, then they turned their attention to how to create a propulsion system that would create the lift needed to fly.

The early engine that they used generated almost 12 horsepower.

A drawing of the Wright Brother's FlyerThe "Flyer" lifted from level ground to the north of Big Kill Devil Hill, at 10:35 a.m., on December 17, 1903. Orville piloted the plane which weighed six hundred and five pounds.
Picture of the first flight at Kitty HawkThe first heavier-than-air flight traveled one hundred twenty feet in twelve seconds. The two brothers took turns during the test flights. It was Orville's turn to test the plane, so he is the brother that is credited with the first flight.

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.

Next page > The Wright Brothers

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