Lighter than air craft first gave humans the ability to fly. Balloons and airships were the first chapters in the story of the history of flight which have seen mankind reach for the stars. These craft were magical in their ability to float through the air, but they had many drawbacks. Balloons only went where the wind blew them, and were limited to good weather. Dirigibles were controllable, but were saddled with inappropriate engines in their beginning stages and also were vulnerable to storms. They were also very slow.
The dream of controllable, powered flight was an ancient aspiration which had occupied some of the philosophers thoughts early in our history. Many believed that flight could be achieved by imitating the wing movements of birds, but human body is too weak and heavy to achieve flight this way. Recent years muscle powered flight has been achieved using a bicycle-like apparatus. Only athletes in top condition can fly these machines.
The first aircraft built were kites, which apparently made their appearance sometime in the fifth century. They were flown chiefly for amusement, but were also used by early scientists studying the possibilities of flight. An English monk, and scientist, Roger Bacon was the first person in history that we know of who seriously studied the concept of flight. He lived from 1214 - 1294, and was one of the western world’s first real scientists. His studies convinced him that if a craft were properly constructed, air would support it in the same manner in which water supports a boat.
We had to wait three hundred years before the next notable advancements came in the history of flight. Leonardo Da Vinci never flew, but he thought about it a lot. He designed three different types of flying machine - the helicopter, glider, and ornithopter. The ornithopter was designed with wings which were supposed to flap like a bird’s. These craft were never built, and wouldn’t have flown anyway, as they were designed to use the human body as a power source. Da Vinci lived about four hundred years before the steam or internal combustion engine was developed and muscle power was the only power source he knew.
As we’ve seen earlier in this series, advances in engine technology proved revolutionary the history of transportation and flight. The invention of the internal combustion engine in the nineteenth century virtually created the aircraft revolution. The light, powerful engines were ideal for aircraft. Although steam engines were used by some early aviators, they were too heavy and cumbersome for airplanes.
History of Flight and Avaition