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The Conquest of the Air

Early Theories & Attempts at Flying Machines


Ornithopter Flying Machine Designed and Drawn by Leonardo da Vinci

The Ornithopter Flying Machine Designed and Drawn by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci
While air balloons allowed mankind to float, inventors dreamed of making flying machines that would allow mankind to have controlled flight.

The Dreamers

Roger Bacon and Leonardo daVinci, each in his turn filled manuscript upon manuscript with drawings and plans on the subject of flying machines. Bacon, the scientist, put forward a theory of thin copper globes filled with liquid fire, a flying machine which would soar. Leonardo, the artist, studied the wings of birds.

In 1670, the Jesuit Francisco Lana working on Bacon's theory sketched an airship made of four copper balls with a skiff attached; this flying machines was to soar by means of the lighter-than-air globes and to be navigated aloft by oars and sails.

Flying Machines - From Paper to Practice

Four years after Francisco Lana drew his airship with balls and oars, Besnier, a French locksmith, made a flying machine of four collapsible planes like book covers suspended on rods. With a rod over each shoulder, and moving the two front planes with his arms and the two back ones by his feet, Besnier gave exhibitions of gliding from a height to the earth. But his machine could not rise.

The First Patented Flying Machine

What may be called the first patent on a flying machine was recorded in 1709 when Bartholomeo de Gusmao, a friar, appeared before the King of Portugal to announce that he had invented a flying machine and to request an order prohibiting other men from making anything of the sort.

The King decreed pain of death to all infringers; and to assist the enterprising monk in improving his flying machine, he appointed him first professor of mathematics in the University of Coimbra with a fat stipend. However, the inquisition happened and Bartholomeo de Gusmao was pronounced a sorcerer, his flying machine was destroyed, and he was imprisoned until his death.

Continue > Motorized Gliders of Samuel Langley

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