History of Transportation - A Brief History Of Flight And The Airplane - Part Two
In the Nineteenth Century the embryonic science of aviation was a hotbed of activity and the history of flight had some new stories written. Much of the new engine technology which had been developed was applied to try to achieve flight. Compressed air, rubber bands,muscle power, and steam all were tested in aircraft propulsion. All these systems worked, but none were suitable to power a manned craft in sustained, controllable flight.
About four hundred years after Leonardo Da Vinci designed his ornithopter, a gentleman named George Cayley developed some theories of his own about flight. He lived in the period immediately preceding the era when flight was achieved (1773 - 1857). He proved his theories with kites and gliders, earnig the title of ‘the father of aviation’. He designed the helicopter, and most later achievements in flight were based on his work.
Various motions were also tried including flapping wings, paddles, and flappers. None of these motion devices worked with any degree of success.
A few inventive men were willing to try new things. John Stringfellow, in 1848, launched a steam powered machine from a wire. It didn’t fly, but did demonstrate lift and proved that with the proper design and materials a flying craft could be built and was an important developement in the history of flight.
An astronomer named Samuel Pierpont Langley was a bit more successful. Most of his experiments were conducted in and around the year 1896. His steam powered models had a wing span of about 15 feet and flew successfully. These were unmanned models which descended gracefully when the steam engine’s fuel was exhausted.
Also contributing greatly to the final effort were the flights of Otto Lilienthal in Germany. He flew gliders for several years, but was killed in a crash. The Wright brothers studied his progress and he was an important figure in the history of flight.
By the beginning of the twentieth century most of the groundwork had been laid for the achievement of powered, controllable flight. The design work for the first craft was largely worked out and the materials tested. Many propulsion systems had been tried, to no avail. Steam engines were too heavy, and the fuel too inconvenient. Gliders were valuable tools for testing theories, but were too inconsistent, relying on winds which might fail. The improving technology of the gas engine provided the final impetus to the goal. The engine was light and powerful and the fuel was portable.
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur finally worked out the remaining problems on the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. Their achievement was another turning point in human history. Transportation became faster and easier. People could travel long distances over land and water in a single craft. The airplane freed people from land based transportation.
Many pioneers in aviation came after the Wrights. Charles Lindburg and Amelia Earhart are the best known heros in a long list of people who left their mark on the history of flight and transportation in our world.