The Remarkable History of The Airplane: How Man Began To Fly

The Remarkable History of The Airplane: How Man Began To Fly

When you do something repeatedly for a very long time, you get bored and start wanting to experiment with other things right? Yes. At least, that’s what man thought when he began fantasizing about how to navigate the air like birds.

This had been a puzzling concept for man from time immemorial. He had made several attempts at flight using diverse means but to no avail. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that significant progress was made in the attempts to fly.

But how did man actualise his dream of flying? Let’s take a brief walk through airplane history

READ ALSO: Top 10 Funniest Inventions In History

Leonardo Da Vinci and the Ornithopter

Ornithopters may not be so practical in this time and age but there was a time they were considered to be the ideal means of flying. When the Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci became consumed with the field of aviation, he came up with the concept of the Ornithopter and designed a plan for it. His chief source of inspiration were the simple yet elegant creatures called birds.

Leonardo was intrigued by how birds soared through the skies effortlessly. As a result, he sought to invent a wing-flapping device that would lift man off the ground while attached to his arms. Unfortunately, Leonardo soon realised that the concept was not feasible as it would take more than just wings attached to arms for man to fly. The genius, however, sketched the device which we now know as the Ornithopter. For centuries after that, the Ornithopter would continue to be known as the device capable of flying but lacking the technology to lift man off the ground.

Sir George Cayley and the Conceptualisation of the Airplane

From the 15th century – the da Vinci era- to the 18th century, several concepts for flight were conceived but no significant progress was made. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the French Bayonet Sir George Cayley conceived the idea for a machine that would rely on a pair of opposite-facing wings, a propulsion system,and control surfaces. This idea was what laid the groundwork for the modern airplane. With this knowledge, George Cayley went on to build the prototype of the airplane.

A replica of George Cayley’s airplane prototype

Although, this model of the airplane was crude, it kicked off a new era that would see the rise of several machines capable of flight. George Cayley also correctly identified the forces which would indeed make flight possible: weight, drag, lift,and thrust.  In the subsequent years, various inventors  would begin using his model to test and experiment with the idea of the airplane.Wilbur and Orville Wright are the most notable of them for their success in inventing the first powered aircraft.

Two Siblings With the Passion to Fly

Following George Caley’s significant contributions to the concept of flight, simple aircrafts called gliders began to gain prominence among investors. By the late 1890s, Otto Lilienthal, the famous German scientist who was dubbed “flying man” had succeeded in flying over 2000 gliders. Unfortunately, Otto Lilienthal died in a gliding crash in 1896.

Inspired by the work of Otto Lilienthal, two brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright set out on their work with aerodynamic surfaces. This would lead to the creation of the world’s first controlled, sustained, powered aircraft.

Neither of the Wright brothers finished high school but they both had an innate capacity to understand mechanics. They had also gained extensive knowledge about bicycles which had gained a lot of popularity in 1896. In fact, it was their work with bicycles that gave them an understanding of the forces required to control a flying machine in mid-air.

In 1902, after several unsuccessful attempts, the Wright brothers built their first controlled gliding machine using the principles of aerodynamics. Following this success, they were convinced it was time to build a powered aircraft.

Their next step was to acquire an engine light yet powerful enough to propel a flying machine. No manufacturer possessed an engine of this sort, hence they proceeded to build their own. On December 17th 1903, the Wright brothers had successfully built the first heavier-than-air powered aircraft called Wright Flyer; they launched it on a hill with sufficient breeze.

The first flight, which was conducted by Orville Wright 10:35 am, travelled 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. The Wright brothers conducted three more flights which lasted for longer periods of time and travelled at greater distances.

They had made history by building the first powered aircraft and this set the pace of a new era of foundation. In the coming years, many budding pilots would study the brothers’ work and build aircrafts which would eventually surpass the Wright Flyer. This successive progress in aviation has led to the development of the several variations of flying machines which we now know today. Aeroplanes, float planes, bomber, and helicopters are just a few to mention.


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