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History of Flight and The Mongolfier Brothers

Livingsta is a writer who focuses on anything that fascinates, provokes or interests her. She always puts forth her best efforts and focus.

There are so many myths from ancient stories about how man learned to fly just like the birds. Most of us would have read old myths and legends.

A Greek legend states that, Pegasus a winged horse was captured by Bellerophon the valiant, who was son of the king of Corinth. Another ancient Greek legend states that Daedalus was an engineer who was imprisoned by King Minos. It is believed that he along with his son Icarus made wings out of wax and feathers. While they were flying from Crete to Naples, Daedalus successfully reached his destination, while Icarus flew too close to the sun that the wax on his wings melted and he fell dead into the ocean. Another Persian legend states that King Kaj Kaoos attached eagles to his throne to fly around his kingdom. Also from another legend we see that Alexander the Great reined four mythical animals that had wings, to a basket and flew around his kingdom. These are just myths and legends of flight.

But the early efforts of flight took place as early as 400BC in china, with the discovery of kites, which they used in religious ceremonies and to test weather conditions. Some of the other early attempts are listed here. In early days, humans have also made attempts to fly like birds by attaching wings made of light wood or feathers. But the results have been disastrous since man cannot move his arms flexibly and stronger like a bird. The ancient Greek engineer Hero of Alexandria developed an experiment called aeolipile where water was boiled in a kettle and the steam was forced through small pipes that gave a thrust to help the sphere to rotate. Leonardo da Vinci had over 100 drawings illustrating the theories on flight.

Later in the late 1700s man made attempts to actually fly on machines and the most important historical flights are taken into consideration below.

1783 - Mongolfier Brothers carried out their first free flight on a hot air balloon across Paris:

Joseph Michel Montgolfier (26 August 1740 – 26 June 1810) and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (6 January 1745 – 2 August 1799) who were born into a family of successful paper manufacturers in Annonay, in the Ardèche, France, invented the hot air balloon even otherwise referred to as the montgolfière or globe airostatique. In 1782 Joseph was watching the fire in his fireplace and he noticed the sparks of fire and smoke that were lifted up. He and his brother thought that the burning fire created a gas and they named it Montgolfier gas, unaware of the fact that the hot air made the sparks and smoke rise. They experimented with a small silk bag, by lighting a fire underneath the opening at the bottom and the bag lifted up. But Joseph, who was inspired by the floating clouds, filled a paper bag with steam, which was unsuccessful.

They then tried another experiment with a taffeta envelope filled with hot air, and it gave them little confidence as it worked. They then constructed a silk globe and they took it to the gardens of Brogieux, and set fire to the mouth of the globe which ascended 20 metres into the air and descended slowly back. They submitted their results to the Science Academy of France who invited them for a demonstration. On 4th of June 1783, they made a public demonstration with a bigger taffeta bag which was a 10 metres diameter paper lined bag, coated on the inside with alum to prevent fire. The flight covered 2 km (1.2 mi), lasted 10 minutes, and had an estimated altitude of 1,600 – 2,000m, after which it descended.

On the 19th of September 1783, the brothers performed a royal demonstration for King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles with a sheep, a duck and a rooster on board the balloon. The flight lasted approximately 8 minutes, covered 2 miles, and obtained an altitude of about 1500 feet. The king was not very impressed due to the dense smoke, which the brothers believed to be the reason for the lift of the balloon. It was only later that they discovered that it was not the smoke but the hot air that helped in lifting the balloon.

On the 21stof November 1783, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier (a physicist) and François Laurent, Marquis d'Arlandes were the first human pilots to fly on the un-tethered balloon. They flew for 25 minutes about 100 metres above Paris for a distance of nine kilometres. In a time span of one year, the Montgolfier brothers made their dream a reality.

1804 - George Cayley develops a model glider with fixed main wing and movable tail surfaces:

Sir George Cayley was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, on the 27thof December 1773. He is also called the Father of Aviation and father of aerodynamics. He studied the forces which are needed to help flying and designed his first aerial device in 1796 which was a model helicopter. Cayley then designed and built a monoplane glider in 1804 which was 5 ft long, and with a cruciform tail, kite shaped wing and movable weight that was used to change the centre of gravity. The next year he discovered that if the wings were  set lower at the centre and higher outwards, it would improve lateral stability. In 1807 he realised that a curved surface would give more lift than a flat one. In 1810 he stated the three required elements for a successful flight as lift, control and propulsion.

In 1816 he designed a streamlined airship, and in 1837 designed a streamlined airship that was powered by a steam engine. In 1849 he built a large gliding machine and tested it with a 10 year old boy on board.

1853 - George Cayley’s ‘New Flyer’ takes his footman across Brompton Dale in the first man-carrying glider:

In 1853, Sir George Cayley built an even larger gliding machine and tested it with his coachman on board. The glider flew 900 feet across a small valley. He is considered as one of the greatest aerial researchers and theoretician and also the true inventor of the aeroplane. Beside the glider, his inventions include a new type of telescope, artificial limbs and caterpillar tractor. He was also interested in railway engineering and land reclamation. Sir George Cayley died on the 15th of December 1857.

1874 - Felix du Temple carrys out the first piloted powered ‘hop’, after first running down a ramp:

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Felix du temple was born in 1823 in an ancient Normandy Family. He was a French Naval officer. He designed an aerial machine in the year 1857 which had a retractable wheeled landing gear, a tractor propeller, a 6 horse power internal engine and a boat shaped hull. The hull was supposed to be made of light wooden or iron ribs and covered with tarred or rubber cloth.  He also patented this design. Felix du temple then constructed various bird shaped models and studied which one would be more efficient for flight. He then came to a conclusion that dihedral (Of wing pairs, inclined at an upward angle to each other) wings would be more efficient in terms of stability, and so designed a machine on which most of the weight was concentrated to the front leaving the back of the machine free like in the case of birds for the purpose of flexibility. He also designed a light weight steam engine along with his brother Louis and patented a steam engine in the year 1867.

The du Temple brothers constructed their large monoplane in the year 1874 at Brest in France. It had wings which were 40 feet long from tip to tip and weighed 160 pounds and was made of aluminium. It cost more than $6,000. Their attempt to fly the machine with an operator was not a big success, as the machine returned to ground shortly after lifting. But it is the first powered successful flight in history, and was displayed at the World Fair in Parisin 1878. Felix du Temple died in the year 1890

1890 - Clement Ader’s Eole is the first piloted aeroplane to take off under its own power, for a brief uncontrolled hop:

Clement Ader was born on the 4thof February 1841 and is a self taught engineer, and had interests in aeronautical engineering. He invented a number of electrical communications devices. He focused on heavier than air flying machines. He is famous for his two remarkable inventions, the flying machines by name Ader Eole and Ader Avion No. 3. He claims to have flown for approximately 160 feet on low level on his Ader Eole (powered by steam engine) on the 9th of October 1890 on his friend’s estate in the suburbs of France. It was heavier and lacked full flight control. But he succeeded in demonstrating that heavier than air machines could take off from ground with its own power. He also claims to have flown his Alder Avion No. 3 for 900 feet. Alder Avion No. 3 resembles a bat in its wing structure and has a wingspan of 15 metres. Its body was built up of wood, steel, aluminium and brass.  It was fitted with two 20-HP engines and 2 propellers. Despite these achievements his Alder Avion No. 3 claims were disproved, but he is considered as the Father of French Aviation since these inventions were extremely advanced for the time.

He died on the 5th of March 1926.

1893 - Otto Lilienthal makes the first true controlled flights, gliding up to 230m:

Otto Lilienthal was born on the 23rdof May 1848 in Anklam Province of Pomerania, Prussiaand is a German civil engineer who succeeded in his first safe multiple gliding flights in the year 1891 and whose scientific approach was later on adopted by the Wright Brothers. His subjects included studies on birds. He started his first experiments on the physical basics of human flights in 1867, the results of which are found in his book “Birdflight as the basis of Aviation” published in 1889. it also includes results of works by Otto and his brother Gustav, where numerous measurements were made on the lift and drag of various aerofoils during 1874.

In 1873 the Lilientthal brothers became the members of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain and Lilienthal gave his first public lecture on the theory of the flight of birds. From 1874, he started systematic experiments on the force of air and characteristics of natural wind on artificial wings with model kites.

He flew his first flight in 1891 for about 80 feet in Derwitz/Krilow near Potsdamand in 1892 improved his flights with a new glider. His gliders were controlled by changing the centre of gravity by shifting his body. In 1893, he built a flight station near his home, and started his practice flights in the Rhinower Hills. He could glide up to 800 feet, and continued building many flying machines including one that had a flapping wing that was driven by a motor. In 1896 he conducted new experiments in the area of wing stroke. He made over 2000 flights in gliders of his design. But on the 9th of August 1896 he became a victim of a crash on his unsuccessful attempt in steering the glider through a heat wave. He fell from a height of 56 feet breaking his spine  and suffering serious injuries and on the 10th of August 1896 he died in Berlin saying "Kleine Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" ("Small sacrifices must be made!"). He was a German pioneer of human aviation who was known as the “Glider King”.Wright brothers credited him as a major inspiration for their decision to continue manned flights.

1903 - Wright Brothers achieve sustained controlled powered flight at Kitty Hawk:

The Wright brothers are two Americans Wilbur Wright (born on April 16, 1867) and Orville Wright (born on August 19, 1871) and are two among the seven children for their parents. They are officially credited worldwide through the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as the inventors and builders of the successful “first sustained and controlled heavier than air powered flight”. In 1878 their father brought home a toy helicopter made of paper, bamboo and cork, with a rubber band to rotate its rotor. The Wright bothers played with it until it broke and then built one of their own. This shows an interest for the wright brothers in flying machines. In the 1890s they saw articles and photographs of the glides performed by Otto Lilienthal in Germany. The brothers began their experiments in flight in 1896 at their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They began aeronautical experimentation using the works of Sir George Cayley, Chanute, Lilienthal, Leonardo da Vinci, and Langley. Wilbur in 1899 – 1900 started writing about his machine and his plans and his brother Orville joined him later giving that driving force to start the work and keep it going. In their experiments they regarded flight control as the priority as it was an unsolved flying problem that leads to fatal disasters to many gliders.

Based on their studies and observations, Wilbur concluded that birds changed angles at the ends of their wings to change the direction of their bodies towards left or right. This led to the discovery of wing warping. They also thought that the pilot should have absolute control. In 1900 the brothers went to Kitty Hawk in North Carolinato begin their gliding experiments. They chose this place according to the advice from Octave Chanute who suggested that Atlantic coast had regular breezes and soft landing surfaces of sand. They also had privacy from reporters. They conducted lot of experiments manned and unmanned. Wilbur made lot of free glides each day. The glider’s lift was less than that expected. In 1902 they designed a glider with a single rear steerable rudder and Wilbur glided on it over the Kill Devil Hills on the 10th of October 1902. this glider produced the expected lift and provided longer glides. But the glider failed to level off after a turn. This led the brothers to discover the true purpose of movable vertical rudder. Its purpose was to align the aircraft during banking turns and when leveling off from turns and wind disturbances. The change in direction was done by roll control using wing warping. They made 700 to 1000 glides covering 622.5 feet and lasting as long as 26 seconds.

Now the brothers were on the on look for powered flying machine. They discovered the three axis control, with wing warping for roll, forward elevator for moving up and down and rear rudder for moving from side to side. They applied for their patent on the 23rd of March 1903 based on their successful 1902 glider.

They designed their first powered flying machine with spruce and covered the surface with muslin. They designed wooden propellers and fabricated their own gasoline engine. The flyer cost less than a thousand dollars. Its wingspan was 40 feet and weighed 283 kg with a 12-HP engine that weighed 77kg. After many failed attempts, the wrights took to air successfully on the 17th of DECEMBER 1903. The first flight was by Orville and it lasted 12 seconds and he flew 120 feet at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour.  The next 2 flights by Wilbur and Orville respectively covered approximately 175 feet and 200 feet, 10 feet above the ground. The fourth and last flight was by Wilbur. The flight was not steady for up to 300 feet, and after that it had better control and flew for almost 852 feet after which it struck the ground. The flight lasted for 59 seconds. The front rudder was badly broken, but the main frame suffered no damage. The site of the first flights in North Carolina is preserved as the Wright Brothers National Memorial, while their Ohio facilities are part of DaytonAviationHeritageNationalHistoricalPark. The Wright brothers' December 17, 1903 flight is recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight".

Wilbur died on the 30th of May 1912 while Orville died on the 30th of January 1948, and they never married.

 Ever since the invention of the airplanes by the Wright brothers, many engineers and scientists have worked to modify this model and create better airplanes. But the Wright brothers' airplane has been the basis for all the airplanes built after the Wright Brothers' era.



livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on March 21, 2013:

Thank you so much Vinaya, I am glad you enjoyed :-)

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 21, 2013:

I have read about flying history but not such a comprehensive account. Thanks for the peek into history.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 19, 2012:

Thank you so much Unknown Spy. I am glad you liked it!

Life Under Construction from Neverland on September 19, 2012:

very interesting to read and go back to history. perfect!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on February 20, 2011:

Thanks a ton Toknowinfo :-)

toknowinfo on January 29, 2011:

Great hub! Loved the info. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to reading more of your writing. Rated up and beautiful.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on January 26, 2011:

@Michael: Thank you for reading and appreciating!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on January 26, 2011:

@ Prasadjain: Thank you for the valuable information

allweathersforum from Gans Oklahoma on January 24, 2011:

I love history and I love the history of airplanes. This is a job well done, thank you.


Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on January 11, 2011:

Very good hub livingsta. i congratulate you on such works. You have taken pains to do this. This is educative for school goers and commoners.I wish to place a couple of points for your concideration.

1.The picture,'chinese playing kites' doesn't appears to be of Chinese, as revealed by the costume.Though Chineese did new kite flying, the picture is not of that.

2. Indians had developed the scince of designing machines.That branch of knowledge was called 'Vimanashastra'. The original scripts were carried away by Germans are British, when India was under forign rule,at the early stage itself. Researches on this ancient Indian science has been made by later scholors and some important points have been traced out.

A thumb up to this hub along with 'useful'

Mani on November 08, 2010:

very nice information for readers...

keep it up mam...

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 15, 2010:

Thank you girl love

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 10, 2010:

Thank you The indian blues ...happy that you enjoyed :)

theindianblues from Some where on the Globe on August 05, 2010:

What a great narration livingsta? I admire your skills and now will follow you. Good information and I really enjoyed reading. Thank you!

girl love on November 06, 2009:

good article

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on November 05, 2009:

Thanks a lot for reading a dropping a few words Godslittlechild :)

Godslittlechild on November 04, 2009:

Planes and flight have always fascinated me. Very good hub!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on November 03, 2009:

Thank you Habee for reading a commenting....Do they still do demos at Kitty Hawk?

Holle Abee from Georgia on November 01, 2009:

My husband has been to Kitty Hawk several times - he LOVES planes! Great hub.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on November 01, 2009:

Nice to know that you are a fan of air planes Retellect. Thanks a lot for reading and commenting :)

retellect from United Kingdom on November 01, 2009:

Very informative livingsta, I'm a great fan of air planes and found your hub real interesting. Kudos!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 31, 2009:

Hi Suziecat, I am glad that you liked it and thanks for reading and writing a few words :)

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 31, 2009:

Thank you Giirii for reading and appreciating :)

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on October 31, 2009:

What an excellent Hub. I learned a lot here. Thanks.

giirii on October 31, 2009:

wow u r really doin a gr8 job wonderful pstings and gr8 pics u r really doin a wnder ful job regards

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 30, 2009:

Hi Lisa, thank you so much. you are the first person to leave a comment for me. I am glad you liked it. :)

Lisa J Warner AKA Lisa Luv from Conneticut, USA on October 30, 2009:

Wow --You are a pretty smart cookie. Great article and purfect picture usage=)Glad we are connected all around!

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