Worlds of David Darling
Encyclopedia of Science
   
Home > Encyclopedia of Science

history of flight





Leonardo da Vinci was the first man to attempt the scientific design of flying machines. But in his time no motor was available which was powerful enough to lift a person into the air. Man's first ascents from the ground had to await the late 18th century and the invention of the Montgolfier brothers' hot-air balloon and Jacques Charles' hydrogen balloon (1783). The addition of steam engines to the balloon gave the first maneuverable airship (1852). Meanwhile George Cayley designed and built the first flying gliders (1810–1853) and William Henson designed a steam-powered model airplane with twin propellers (1842). It was not until the advent of the gasoline internal-combustion engine, though, that the powered heavier-than-air machine became a practical possibility. The first successful controlled airplane flight was made by the Wright brothers near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903 and within a few years there were many competing manufacturers and fliers of airplanes.

Airplane technology was greatly stimulated by World War I and after 1919 commercial aviation developed rapidly. Meanwhile, the autogyro was invented by Juan de la Cierva (1923), to be followed by Sikorsky's helicopter (1939). Jet propulsion (see jet engine) was developed in several countries during World War II and by the mid-1950s had come to be used in the majority of military and commercial airplanes. Radar navigation systems came into use in this period.

The early 1970s saw the introduction of wide-bodied jet airliners with vastly increased carrying capacity and the developed of the first supersonic jet airliners. Modern airliners incorporate more aerodynamic profiles, lighter materials, more efficient engines, and computerized instrumentation.


Related category

   • AERODYNAMICS AND AERONAUTICS