It is hard to disagree that this world and its incredible innovations and development of an extended number of areas and fields are brilliant and astonishing. People continue improving healthcare, transportation, education, economics, and other social spheres. If one looks back hundreds and thousands of years ago, one will be surprised how far and quickly society has stepped in its development. What is more, there are some fields the impact of which may be underestimated by some people. One such sphere is aviation, and it has an incredible history that dates back to the 6th century B.C. and demonstrates the greatness of humans’ determination to fly (Grant, 2017). Though there are people who are certain that the story of aviation started with the invention of the first aircraft, precisely kites, balloons, and gliders mark the beginning of humans’ efforts to conquer the air.
The Earliest Attempts
One may suggest that one of the dreams of people has always been to learn to fly. As mentioned above, they started their attempts to peruse the skies and create flying objects, namely, kites and gliders, over 2,000 years ago (Mabonga, 2015). It is believed that the first man to ever fly was Yuan Huangtou, a son of a Chinese emperor, who was flown via a large kite from the tower against his will (“History of aviation: Aircraft through time,” 2020). According to historians, “in 400 B.C., a Grecian scholar by the name of Archytas, designed and constructed a steam-powered aircraft modeled after the shape of a bird” (“History of aviation: Aircraft through time,” 2020, para. 2). As for attempts to use air to move objects, they began in approximately 200 B.C. in China with the invention of kites (Grant, 2017). Noticeably, in China, hot air balloons were invented circa 3rd century B.C. Later, in the 1st century A.D., Xiong Nu used a bird feather to bound himself and successfully glided about one hundred meters. After ten centuries, an English monk Eilmel Malmesbury flew a glider for approximately two hundred meters but then got injured. In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci expressed his great desire to fly in some of his paintings, but these intentions were not meant to become a real constructed flying vessel. Finally, “in 1647, Tito Livio Burattini built a model aircraft with four pairs of fixed glider wings” (“History of aviation: Aircraft through time,” 2020, para. 2). Though it could never support a human passenger’s weight, it is believed that in 1648 the aircraft lifted a cat (Grant, 2017). Then, in 1670, Francesco Terzi suggested the possibility of inventing lighter-than-air flying vessels. Though people were eager to fly and use air to move objects, necessary skills and knowledge were still missing.
Modern Flight: 18th and 19th Centuries
The development of aviation became easier with the invention of hydrogen. In the 1780-s, the Montgolfier brothers started their attempts of creating a hot air balloon, and on October 19, 1783, they demonstrated a tethered balloon, which was the first one with passengers – a sheep, duck, and chicken (Mabonga, 2015). On November 21, 1783, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes, two of the first pioneers of aviation, took part in the first manned free balloon flight (Grant, 2017). According to researchers, “they drifted in the hot air balloon for about five miles powered by wood fire” (“History of aviation: Aircrafts through time,” 2020, para. 3). Then, Nicolas-Louis Robert and Jacques Charles became famous for deploying their first manned hydrogen balloon on December 1, 1783, and having a flight for about two hours (Mabonga, 2015). Historians also state that “the first people to successfully fly across the English Channel were Jean Pierre Blanchard, a French balloonist, and John Jefferies, his American co-pilot, in 1785” (Mabonga, 2015).
After the discovery of atmosphere and altitude correlation, inventors started trying to create an easily steered hot air balloon. In 1852, a lighter-than-air steam-engine craft was flown by Henri Giffard for a total of fifteen miles (Grant, 2017). The first person to fly with the Union Army of Potomac was Ferdinand von Zepplin in 1863. One of the first persons to seriously probe into aerodynamics was Samuel Pierpont Langley. In 1869, he created unmanned heavier-than-air crafts – the Aerodrome No. 5 and No. 6. About fifteen years later, Arthur Krebs and Charles Renard “powered the first Army electric-powered ship in free-flight” (Mabonga, 2015). The first unmanned steam-powered helicopter was developed by Enrico Forlanini in 1877, and it is famous for remaining thirteen meters above the ground for twenty seconds. Finally, a rigid wing aircraft that operated on a compressed-air motor and had flap blades was invented by Lawrence Hargrave in 1891 and flew ninety-five meters above the ground (Grant, 2017). This invention increased hope in the industry of aviation and the abilities of inventors.
The successful and determined development of aviation continued. Blimps were the first aircraft to make route-controlled flights, and Alberto Santos-Dumont became the first human to fly a non-rigid airship that was equipped with an internal combustion engine. In 1901, he successfully flew the “Number 6” airship around the Eiffel Tower, which took him less than thirty minutes. At the same time, there was a great development of rigid body dirigible aircraft, and the pioneer of such design was Ferdinand von Zeppelin. His work on the first Zeppelin airship began in 1899, and in 1900, it lasted for eighteen minutes and landed on a lake because of mechanical problems (Mabonga, 2015). This issue was eliminated in 1902 by Leonardo Torres Quevedo, who modified the balancing problems in his own version of the Zeppelin. Between 1900 and 1902, the Wright Brothers created a number of glider and kite models but were not satisfied with the results until their third glider.
Its testing had a significant contribution to the aeronautical engineering field. The Wrights solved the control problem by creating wing warping for a steerable rudder and yaw and roll control (Grant, 2017). According to historians, “in 1906, Alberto Santos-Dumont announced his first takeoff with his machine entitled, “14-bis,” in Paris” (“History of aviation: Aircraft through time,” 2020, para. 3). He is also famous for gaining lateral stability by adding movable surfaces to the wings. The first human-crewed helicopter that successfully rose off the ground was created by Paul Cornu in 1907. Heavier-than-air craft significantly overshadowed the existence of airships, even though they were useful during the First and Second World Wars. As soon as airplanes were invented, the military started using them for defensive and offensive purposes. “Arado Ar 234,” the first jet-powered bomber, was developed in 1942 (“History of aviation: Aircraft through time,” 2020). Helicopters achieved rapid development during the Second World War, too. The sector of commercial aviation, it also continually improving and adopting some modifications.
To draw a conclusion, one may say that there was a rather progressive development that incorporated sophisticated technology in the aviation industry from the 6th century B.C. to nowadays. It is incredible how kites and gliders that seemed unrealistic thousands of years ago developed into planes and helicopters that can deliver tons of cargo and hundreds of passengers. Indeed, people’s abilities and desires are endless and powerful, and the great history of aviation proves that talented persons can achieve the impossible.
Grant, R. G. (2017). Flight: The complete history of aviation. Penguin.
History of aviation: Aircrafts through time. (2020). JACO Aerospace & Industrial. Web.
Mabonga, F. (2015). Introduction to aviation. AuthorHouse.