Flight History up to 1900

When we look back at the history of flight from the beginning of time so to speak, it is amazing how far we have travelled… We have learnt to fly in the sky like birds have done so for centuries.

We gaze up into the heavens, and wonder what mysteries await us… Man would gaze up at the sky, and observe the flight of birds, and desire to fly like them in the sky.  In early times man would cover his body in feathers, or light weight wood attached to one’s arms to test their ability to fly.

Early attempts to fly were often a disaster, often causing serious injury or deaths as they leapt from towers, flapping their arms in belief they could fly.  Much of man’s failure was his lack of understanding issues of stability, lift and control.  You could say if we were due to fly, why weren’t we born with wings to fly.

According to an ancient Greek legend, Icarus made wings of wax and feathers, proving flight was possible.  Yet he made an error by flying too close to the sun; the wax in his feathers melted, and his feathers fell apart, and poor Icarus plunged to his death.

An ancient Greek engineer named Hero from Alexandria devised a scheme using air pressure and steam to create power.  In one of his experiments, he placed a sphere upon a water kettle and fire below the kettle turned water into steam, which created thrust and rotation to the sphere.

The Chinese discovered around 4th – 5th century BC that kites could fly, and larger versions were capable of lifting a man into the air.  By the 3rd century BC, they discovered hot air rises, and they used their new found knowledge on the development of hot air balloons.

Leonardo da Vinci started his studies into the question of flight and whether man could actually fly around 1480, constructing many theories in the process.

The “Ornithopter” flying machine designed by Leonardo showed how it was possible for man to fly, without even building the machine.  The modern helicopter flown to-day is based on his early concept of design.

The modern era of flight, began in the early part of the 17th century, when Galileo proved that air actually had weight.  Cyrano de Bergerac wrote that if bags of weight were dropped from a balloon, it would rise in height, much as we do to-day.

The first officially documented flight in Europe was carried out by Bartolomeu de Gusmao a Portuguese priest on the 8th August 1709 in Lisbon.  It was a simple but effective experiment using a hot-air balloon constructed out of paper, with fire burning beneath, forcing it to lift itself from the ground some thirteen feet.

In 1783, Joseph Michael and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier were one of many hot-air balloon designers.  Their design used smoke from a fire, which would blow hot-air into the balloon, and in 1783, during a test flight rose 6,000 feet with a sheep, rooster and duck as passengers.

Their first manned flight was on the 21st November 1783 and the passengers were Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent.  It had its problems; sparks of fire could alight the balloon, so water buckets were needed to douse any fires .

Another hot-air balloon was the brainchild of Professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers who used hydrogen gas.  On the 1st December 1783, their manned balloon ascended to 1800 feet, travelling some twenty-two miles in a little over two hours.  This was followed by an elongated design which undertook its maiden flight on the 19th September 1784; Paris to Beuvry.

Genuine advances were taking place in the history of flight, with airship designs.  For it was on the 9th August 1884, Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs flew the French Army electric-powered airship “LaFrance.”

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin founded Zeppelin and the “LZ1” was born and made its maiden flight on the 2nd July 1900.

Alberto Santes-Dumont built controllable air-ships proving that one could steer it easily and went on to win the “Deutsch de la Meurthe” prize on the 19th October 1901, with a fight from Saint-Cloud, round the Eiffel Tower and back to Saint-Cloud.

The airship had arrived, and took its place in history for manned passenger travel.

George Cayley aged ten studied the physics of the bird as it flew across the sky… ever intent on understanding the principles of flight.

In 1799 he set down the early design of the modern aeroplane, as a fixed wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion and control.

In 1804 his research took him further with the construction of a model glider having a layout which resembles the look of a modern plane.  It had an inclined wing towards the front and adjustable tail at the back with tail plane and fin.

He conducted ever more scientific experiments which would give one better understanding of drag, streamlining, movement of the centre of pressure and by curving the wing one would increase flight.  He demonstrated a manned glider, flying through the air.  His design being that of a fixed wing, fuselage and tail assembly.

In 1846 he was called the “Father of the Aeroplane” for his research and experiments, these that other inventors would find of use in later years.

Henson improved on Cayley’s work in 1842 by designing a mono-plane with a 150 feet wing span, complete with two propellers powered by a steam engine… it was the first in history to have a plane driven by propellers.

He collaborated with John Stringfellow and in 1886 the “Aeronautical Society of Great Britain” was founded in 1890. Stringfellow was awarded a £100 prize for a steam engine with the best power-to-weight ratio at the world’s first Aeronautical Exhibition held at Crystal Palace in London.

In 1871 Wenham and Browning created the first wind tunnel and learned that cambered styled wings generated more lift than expected.  This clearly demonstrated the possibility of building heavier-than-air flying machines.

Otto Lilenthal known as Germany’s “Glider King” or “Flying Man” produced a series of gliders, and in 1871 became the first person to make control glides on a regular basis, this made him one of the early pioneers in flight.

In England Percy Pilcher, built several gliders in the 1890’s and in 1899 constructed a prototype of a powered aircraft.  He died in a glider accident before he was able to test out his theories.

In 1891 Samuel Langley an astronomer deduced if man was ever to fly for long distances he would require power.  He built a model plane, the “Aerodrome” which stayed in the air using a steam-powered engine.  He received a $50,000 grant to build a full size version, it was too heavy and crashed on its trial run.

Octave Chanute published “Progress in Flying Machines” in 1894, containing much of the advancements getting man into the air, and man’s achievements so far.

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