History of Flight: From Kites to Space Travel


There are over 100,000 airplane flights a day, with almost 10,000 planes in the air simultaneously. It's taken humanity thousands of years to get to this point, starting with the invention of the humble kite in China in 475 BC.

The popularity of kite flying in China began people thinking about making human flight a reality. Soaring through the air untethered to the ground. Before, it has been the realm of mythology, such as Icarus, Alexander the Great, and Pegasus.

Images & Video of the History of Flight

On the way, there were many failed attempts over the centuries. At first, many inventors tried to replicate the wings of birds, even using feathers or lightweight wood. But, a human's arm muscles are not like a bird's.

Leonardo DaVinci made over 100 drawings of his theories of flight and flying machines. None of which were built in his lifetime.

It took until 1783, Paris, France before man reached this goal. Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes flew in a balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers.

Balloon travel brought us blimps, zeppelins, and airships. Over time the hot air balloon was refined and morphed by inventors, eventually bringing us to gliders. This development brought us a big step closer to a true airplane. George Cayley designed version of a glider that use the movements of the human body to control it.

T-shirts, Mugs, Notebooks and Other Custom Gifts of the History of Flight

Samuel Langley, who was the Smithsonian Institute Secretary came close to unmanned flight in 1891. He built a model called the Aerodrome, which was powered by a steam engine. It flew for 3/4 of a mile. But, when he scaled it up to fit a person, it never flew successfully. After one test flight over the Potomac River, a journalist said, " It slid into the water like a handful of mortar."

While Langley was concentrating on propulsion, the Wright Brothers, bicycle mechanics by trade, in Kitty Hawk, NC, were focus on balance. They did their research without the help of a large institution, looking into the history of flight so far, and building models and even a wind tunnel.

Finally, on December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully flew the first powered aircraft. Their plane flew 852 feet. In another 11 years, the first scheduled commercial flight took off, transporting people between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida.

Planes become critical during WWI. The Germans used airplanes such as the Fokker Eindecker as well as Zeppelins to drop bombs on the allies.

In 1927 Lindbergh completed the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually, commercial air travel would become commonplace.

Today gigantic cargo planes with wingspans of 290 feet can carry 640 tons.

Humans are never satisfied, so we keep pushing flight further. First to land on the moon and who knows where we'll travel next.


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