The Business of Aviation: History of Flight

For hundreds of years, humans have watched birds and wanted to fly. Early attempts involved making wings out of wood and feathers and attaching the wings to a person’s arms to try to fly. Unfortunately, the results were usually disastrous. This is because human physiology is not the same as that of birds, and humans don’t have the same strength.

How Did We Learn to Fly Like the Birds?

Myths and Legends of Flight

  • Pegasus: In Greek myth, Pegasus was a winged horse. Bellerophon the Valiant, the prince of Corinth, captured Pegasus, and he rode the horse into battle against Chimera, a three-headed, fire-breathing monster.
  • Icarus and Daedalus: Daedalus, a Greek engineer, was imprisoned along with Icarus, his son. Daedalus constructed wings out of feathers and wax that they could use to fly to freedom. Daedalus used his wings to fly to Naples, but his son flew too close to the sun, despite Daedalus’s warnings. The wax of Icarus’s wings melted, and he plunged to his death.
  • King Kaj KaoosKing Kaj Kaoos was said to have tethered eagles to his throne so he could fly.
  • Alexander the Great: Alexander the Great tied four griffins to a basket so the mythical beasts could carry him through the air around his kingdom.

Early Attempts at Flight

  • 400 B.C., China: The Chinese invention of Kites was the first step toward flying. The Chinese used kites in religious ceremonies, and they also made colorful kites that were used for recreation. Kites have also been used to learn about weather conditions high up in the air, and they were an important forerunner to gliders and balloons.
  • Ancient Greece, Hero of AlexandriaHero of Alexandria was a Greek engineer who experimented with using air pressure and steam for power. He attached a sphere to a kettle filled with water. He heated the water in the kettle until it turned to steam, at which point it was piped into the sphere. Tubes attached to the sphere on opposite sides let the gas escape, which caused the sphere to rotate.
  • 1485, Leonardo da Vinci: Leonardo da Vinci studied flight and made many drawings to illustrate his theories. One design, the Ornithopter flying machine, was never built. However, da Vinci’s design for a flying machine showed how flight might be possible. The design of the modern helicopter is similar to the ornithopter.
  • Leonardo da Vinci and Flight
  • 1783, Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier: Brothers Joseph and Jacques invented the first hot air balloon. The contraption used a fire that produced smoke, which was used to inflate a silk bag. This bag was tied to a basket. The first passengers in this balloon were a duck, a rooster, and a sheep. They rose about 6,000 feet into the air and traveled more than a mile. The first human passengers would ride in the balloon on Nov. 21, 1783.
  • A Short History of Ballooning
  • 1799-1850, George Cayley: George Cayley designed gliders that relied on a human rider to control them. Cayley spent more than 50 years working on and improving his glider designs. He made adjustments to features such as the wing shape and tail.
  • Sir George Cayley 1773 – 1857
  • Sir George Cayley Bt. – Pioneer of Flight
  • Sir George Cayley – Making Aviation Practical

19th and 20th Century Efforts