History of the Airplane

Even though the Wright Brothers made the first successful airplane flight in 1903, the history of the airplane goes back much farther than that. Man has always been enthralled with the thought of flying, even in the stories of Icarus and Daedalus in prehistoric times. As early as 400 B.C., Archytas designed a bird-shaped flying machine in ancient Greece that is reputed to have flown about 200 meters. In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci prepared detailed plans for the design on an aircraft and two Frenchmen actually flew in a hot-air balloon.

Sir George Cayley, called the father of aerodynamics built and flew model aircraft as early as 1803. He actually was successful in building a passenger glider in 1853. In 1866, Jean Marie Le Bins made the first powered flight with a glider flying in the air but pulled along by a horse. The first successful flight of a self-propelled model aircraft occurred in 1848. This model was designed and flown by John Stringfellow from Chard in Somerset, England.

In 1890, Clement Ader designed the first self-powered aircraft, which did succeed in flying for a distance of about 50 m. He designed several others, which succeeded in flying for longer distances in 1892 and 1897. Richard Pearse from New Zealand made an uncontrolled flight in 1903, but there was not sufficient documentation for this to be considered a major event in the history of flight and the airplane.

Thus, the Wright Brothers are known as the fathers of flight and their flight of December 19, 1903 is recorded as the first sustained and controlled aircraft flight in history. The brothers perfected their design and by 1905, they had perfected a design, called the Wright Flyer 111, which was capable of controlled flights for longer periods of time. The wings of this aircraft were not fixed, but rather it used a mechanism called wing flapping to help it fly. Later the brothers used ailerons, which were attached to the wings.

The first fixed wing aircraft was developed by Alberto Santos-Dumant. He built the first fixed wing aircraft in Europe. This aircraft was capable of taking off, flying and landing on its own. Technology continued to develop allowing the airplane to be used in warfare in the First World War, although on a limited scale. Alcock and brown performed the first trans-Atlantic flight in 1919 and the first passenger jest began operating between Canada and the United States in the same year. Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic in 1927. Once the tubine jet engine was invented in the 1930’s, aircraft design and use became more common. It was at this time that military aircraft were developed and played a major role in the Second World War.