What is the Story of Flight?


For thousands of years, people must have watched birds flying around them and dreamed of copying them. Many actually tried it. These “birdmen” strapped on wings and leapt from towers, trying to flap their arms. Most were killed.

The first manned flight took place in Paris in 1783, in a hot-air balloon built by the French brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. Aviators also began to develop airships – balloons with a streamlined shape, pushed through the air by an engine. Balloons and airships are described as lighter-than-air aircraft because they float upwards in the heavier air around them.

The first heavier-than-air aircraft were gliders, built and flown in the nineteenth century by pioneers such as the German Otto Lilienthal. In the USA, two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, were experimenting with kites and gliders. They made thousands of test flights in their gliders, gradually perfecting their controls. In 1903 they finally built an aeroplane, called Flyer 1, with a petrol engine. It made the first-ever powered, controlled aeroplane flight, which lasted just 12 seconds.

The Montgolfiers’ balloon carried the first pilot and passenger on a 25-minute flight. The air in the balloon was heated by straw burning on the ground. In 1852 Frenchman Henry Giffard took off in his steam-powered airship. The envelope was filled with lighter-than-air hydrogen gas rather than hot air. Airships such as the 245-metre-long Graf Zeppelin II had a steel skeleton covered in fabric. The gas was contained in huge bags inside.

In the decade after the Wright brothers’ historic flight, aviation became a popular sport. Race meetings and airshows were held, and pilots made historic long-distance flights. Aircraft technology steadily improved. Aviators began to understand how to build stronger aircraft structures without increasing weight, wings which gave better lift and created less drag, and controls that made life easier for the pilot. The standard aircraft shape, with a tail section supporting a fin and tailplane, began to become popular. More efficient and powerful engines and propellers gave aircraft greater speed, endurance and reliability. By 1913 the speed record was 203 kilometres per hour, and the distance record 1021 kilometres.

Armies began ordering aircraft from manufacturers such as Glenn Curtiss in the USA and Louis Bleriot in France. During World War I, aircraft became specialized for certain jobs, such as fast, maneuverable fighters and large, long-distance bombers. Large, flat decks were added to some battleships where aircraft could take off to attack enemy ships with torpedoes.

Picture Credit : Google