Model Airplanes and The History Of Flight - Aviation History In A Nutshell
The ability to fly like a bird is an ancient aspiration of mankind. There are many legendary accounts of men flying, the most famous of which is the Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus, his son. Daedalus was a famous architect and sculptor, working for King Minos of Crete. He displeased the king, so the king imprisoned Daedalus and his son. Wanting freedom, Daedalus fashioned wings out of wax and feathers. These he put on himself and Icarus so they could fly to freedom. He cautioned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, but once they were in the air Icarus became enraptured by the flight and flew higher and higher until the sun was close. Too close, because the wax began to melt and the feathers fell out of the wings. Icarus fell to his death in the sea, becoming the first aircraft casualty!
Icarus' fate illustrates the dangers the early aviators faced. Many gave the ultimate sacrifice in giving mankind the gift of flight. The history of aviation is a long story with many chapters. This short account will only attempt the highlights of the history of flight.
Kites were the first aircraft in aviation history, and were flown by the ancient Egyptians and other cultures. The Mysteries Of Nature And Art by John Bates, first published in 1634, includes a woodcut of a man flying a diamond kite.
The first person to take a scientific approach to human flight was Leonardo Da Vinci. His designs included three types of aircraft - the ornithopter, helicopter, and glider. His designs required human power to fly, and thus were impractical. but remember, he was working well before the steam or internal combustion engine. Human powered craft in recent years have been built and flown.
By the 1800's the model builders finally entered the story of aviation history. Modeling has, and still plays, an indispensable role in aircraft development. An early modeler, John Stringfellow, built a steam powered model aircraft in 1848. Although it did not fly, it did demonstrate lift and proved the viability of the concept and was an important first step in the history of the airplane. Steam engines also powered the first models built by aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley. Two of these flew 3000 and 4200 feet respectively. Langely built full size craft in early 1903 utilizing gas engines. These failed their test flights, however, and powered human flight was still unachieved.
Many other power sources were used for model airplanes in the late 1800's. Rubber bands, compressed air, compressed air motors, comprise some of the more successful flying models in aviation history. Although none of these modelers succeeded in achieving powered, sustained, controlled human flight, they were contributing to the vast amount of knowledge being accumulated.
Glider pilots were also making progress. The most successful and famous - Otto Lilienthal of Germany - experimented extensively with kites and gliders. He met Icarus' fate in 1896 when he lost control of his glider and crashed.
Model aircraft, gliders, and kites all played an indispensable role in the development of practical aircraft that could sustain powered, controllable, human flight. This was finally achieved, of course, by Orville and Wilbur Wright on the sands of Kitty Hawk on December 17. 1903. The Wright brothers designed their craft using the best technology of the time, their own considerable ingenuity, and the accumulated knowledge of those who came before.
History of Flight and Avaition