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Early Experiments

As early as 400 B.C. Archytas, a Greek scholar, built a wooden pigeon that moved through the air. It is unknown exactly how this was done, but most believe that the Greek connected it to a steam powered arm that made it go in circles. About 300 B.C, the Chinese developed kites, which are a form of gliders, which much later in history allowed humans to fly in them.

During Greek times a great mathematician, Archimedes discovered the principle of buoyancy in about 200 BC. He discovered how and why some objects float in liquids. This fact helped in the progress of true flight. When the great libraries in Alexandria, Egypt were destroyed in 500 A.D. the discoveries of Archimedes and many others were lost for a thousand years. 2000 years later men used Archimedes' principle to help them with the hot-air-balloon. Later in 1290 A.D Roger Bacon theorized that air, like water, has something solid around it, and something built correctly could be supported by the air. In about 1275-1292 A.D. Marco Polo witnessed kites carrying humans in China.

First Attempts

Early attempts to defy gravity involved the invention of ingenuous machines, such as ornithopters. These were based upon designs written in 1500 by Leonardo da Vinci. This type of flying machine utilizes the flapping of the wings in order to achieve flight. Needless is to say that all attempts to fly using this type of machine failed. In 1680, Giovanni Borelli stated that people's muscles are too weak to flap the large surfaces needed to obtain flight. Later, additional reasons were found. Since the remarkable physiological capabilities of birds can never be matched by human beings. In other words our heart beat rate must have to go up to 800 heart beats per minute in order to be able to achieve flight.

2nd Attempts at Flight

The first free flight in an artificial device was done by two Frenchmen, Jean F. Pilatre de Rozier, and Marquis d'Arlandes. They achieved this with large linen balloon, and floated for more than five miles over Paris, France.

The idea of filling a closed container with a substance that normally rises through the atmosphere was as early as the thirteen century. Over a five hundred year span, different substances came to be known as being lighter-than-air. Between 1650 and 1900 this approach was used to flight. The most common gases proposed was water vapor, helium and hydrogen. The first successful attempts at achieving flight using his type of crafts were made by the Montgolfier brothers in France. Their most successful attempt was in 1783 when in a public demonstration, they achieved 6000 ft in a balloon with a diameter of more than 100 ft. As time went by, it was soon recognized that balloons although able to achieve flight, were basically handicapped by a total lack of directional control. This problem was solved with the introduction of power plants or engines in elongated-like balloons. This elongated shape helped reduce drag in order to decrease the power size. The most successful builder of this type of lighter-than-air craft was Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, whose name is synonymous with large rigid dirigibles. The term "dirigible" really means controllable. In the early 1930's the German Graf Zeppelin machine was able to make a Trans-Atlantic flight to the United States. They flew 18 mph and had a rigid metal frame that kept it in flight even if gas or power was lost. The Zeppelin design was copied and improved by others throughout the world. One such airship was 3 times larger than a Boeing 747 and cruised at 68 mph. It made regular flights from Europe to South America in which 24 people had their own suites and dined from menus prepared by famous chefs. The large Hindenburg was equally successful until it was destroyed by fire while attempting a landing in 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The Hindenburg marked the end of large scale Zeppelin travel. Nowadays, the blimp has become ubiquitous, appearing over the skies of ballgames and large outdoor events.

Glider Flight

In 1804, a British inventor, George Cayley, built the first successful glider. His original craft was a small model. A later full-sized glider carried his coachman, going unwillingly, across a valley. He founded the study of aerodynamics, and was the first to suggest a fixed wing aircraft with a propeller.

Otto Lilienthal, a German, developed the first gliders in which the glider could be piloted. His work (1891-1896) inspired other inventors to take up the work of gliders. They included: Percy Pilcher of Great Britian, and Octave Chanute of the United States. These early gliders were hard to control, but could carry the pilot hundreds of feet into the air.

Powered Flight

In 1843, William S. Henderson, patented plans for the first plane with an engine, fixed wings, and propellers. After one unsuccessful try the inventor gave up. Then in 1848, John Stringfellow built a small model which worked, but could only stay up a short period of time.

In 1890, a French engineer by the name of Clement Ader attempted flight in his steam powered plane. His plane failed, he could not control, or keep the plane in the air. Another steam powered plane, built by Sir Hiram Maxim, lifted off briefly, but did not fly. It was a gigantic steam powered machine with two wings, two engines, and two propellers.

In the 1890's an American by the name of Samuel P. Langley, a scientist, attempted piloted flight. His early experiments involved a small steam powered plane called the aerodrome. In 1896 it flew half a mile in ninety seconds. Later he created a full-sized aerodrome with a gas engine which was designed for piloted flight. Two attempts were made, on October 7, 1903, and December 8, 1903, and both failed.

December 11, 2004

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