Early flying machines

Early flying machines begins more than a century before the first successful manned aeroplane, and the earliest aircraft thousands of years before.

Primitive beginnings

From the earliest times there have been legends of men mounting flying devices or strapping birdlike wings, stiffened cloaks or other devices to themselves and attempting to fly, typically by jumping off a tower. The Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus is one of the earliest to come down to us. According to Ovid, Daedalus tied feathers together to mimic the wings of a bird. Other ancient legends include the Indian Vimana flying palace or chariot, Ezekiel’s Chariot, various stories about magic carpets, and mythical British King Bladud, who conjured up flying wings.

Tower jumpers
Eventually some tried to build real flying devices, typically birdlike wings, and attempted to fly by jumping off a tower, hill, or cliff. During this early period physical issues of lift, stability, and control were not understood, and most attempts ended in serious injury or death when the apparatus lacked an effective horizontal tail, or the wings were simply too small.

In the 1st century AD, Chinese Emperor Wang Mang recruited a specialist scout to be bound with bird feathers; he is claimed to have glided about 100 meters. In 559 AD, Yuan Huangtou is said to have landed safely following an enforced tower jump.

In medieval Europe, the earliest recorded tower jump dates from 852 AD, when Abbas ibn Firnas made a jump in Cordoba, Spain, reportedly covering his body with vulture feathers and attaching two wings to his arms; on landing he is said to have crashed and sustained a back injury which some critics attributed to a lack of a tail. In 1010 AD, English monk Eilmer of Malmesbury flew from the tower of Malmesbury Abbey in a primitive glider. Eilmer was said to have flown over 200 yards (180 m) before landing, breaking both his legs. Eilmer later remarked that the only reason he did not fly further was that he forgot to give his machine a tail. This burst of activity was followed by a lull of several centuries.

Jumping revived in 1496 with Seccio breaking both arms in Nuremberg. In 1507, John Damian strapped on wings covered with chicken feathers and jumped from the walls of Stirling Castle in Scotland, breaking his thigh, later blaming it on not using eagle feathers.

Similar attempts continued until the early 19th century, with never more than partial success. Francis Willughby’s suggestion, published in 1676, that human legs were more comparable to birds’ wings in strength than arms, had only occasional influence. On 15 May 1793, the Spanish inventor Diego Marín Aguilera, jumped with his glider from the highest part of the castle of Coruña del Conde, reaching a height of approximately 5 or 6 m, and gliding for approximately 360 metres. As late as 1811, Albrecht Berblinger constructed an ornithopter and jumped into the Danube at Ulm.

Early kites
The kite was invented in China, possibly as far back as the 5th century BC by Mozi (also Mo Di) and Lu Ban (also Gongshu Ban). These leaf kites were constructed by stretching silk over a split bamboo framework. The earliest known Chinese kites were flat (not bowed) and often rectangular. Later, tailless kites incorporated a stabilizing bowline. Designs often emulated flying insects, birds, and other beasts, both real and mythical. Some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying.

In 549 AD, a kite made of paper was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources list other uses of kites for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signalling, and communication for military operations.

After its introduction into India, the kite further evolved into the fighter kite. Traditionally these are small, unstable single line flat kites where line tension alone is used for control, and an abrasive line is used to cut down other kites.

Kites also spread throughout Polynesia, as far as New Zealand. Anthropomorphic kites made from cloth and wood were used in religious ceremonies to send prayers to the gods.

By 1634 kites had reached the West, with an illustration of a diamond kite with a tail appearing in Bate’s Mysteries of nature and art.

Man-carrying kites
Man-carrying kites are believed to have been used extensively in ancient China, for both civil and military purposes and sometimes enforced as a punishment.

Stories of man-carrying kites also occur in Japan, following the introduction of the kite from China around the seventh century AD. It is said that at one time there was a Japanese law against man-carrying kites.

In 1282, the European explorer Marco Polo described the Chinese techniques then current and commented on the hazards and cruelty involved. To foretell whether a ship should sail, a man would be strapped to a kite having a rectangular grid framework and the subsequent flight pattern used to divine the outlook.

Rotor wings
The use of a rotor for vertical flight has existed since 400 BC in the form of the bamboo-copter, an ancient Chinese toy. The bamboo-copter is spun by rolling a stick attached to a rotor. The spinning creates lift, and the toy flies when released. The philosopher Ge Hong’s book the Baopuzi (Master Who Embraces Simplicity), written around 317, describes the apocryphal use of a possible rotor in aircraft: “Some have made flying cars [feiche 飛車] with wood from the inner part of the jujube tree, using ox-leather (straps) fastened to returning blades so as to set the machine in motion”.

The similar “moulinet à noix” (rotor on a nut) appeared in Europe in the 14th century AD.

Hot air balloons
From ancient times the Chinese have understood that hot air rises and have applied the principle to a type of small hot air balloon called a sky lantern. A sky lantern consists of a paper balloon under or just inside which a small lamp is placed. Sky lanterns are traditionally launched for pleasure and during festivals. According to Joseph Needham, such lanterns were known in China from the 3rd century BC. Their military use is attributed to the general Zhuge Liang, who is said to have used them to scare the enemy troops.

There is evidence the Chinese also “solved the problem of aerial navigation” using balloons, hundreds of years before the 18th century.

The Renaissance
Eventually some investigators began to discover and define some of the basics of scientific aircraft design. Powered designs were either still driven by man-power or used a metal spring. The Englishman Roger Bacon predicted future designs for a balloon filled with an unspecified aether and a man-powered ornithopter in his book De mirabili potestate carto et naturae (Secrets of Art and Nature), 1250.

Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci studied bird flight for many years, analyzing it rationally and anticipating many principles of aerodynamics. He understood that “An object offers as much resistance to the air as the air does to the object”. Newton would not publish the Third law of motion until 1687.

From the last years of the 15th century on he wrote about and sketched many designs for flying machines and mechanisms, including ornithopters, fixed-wing gliders, rotorcraft and parachutes. His early designs were man-powered types including ornithopters and rotorcraft, however he came to realise the impracticality of this and later turned to controlled gliding flight, also sketching some designs powered by a spring.

In 1488, he drew a hang glider design in which the inner parts of the wings are fixed, and some control surfaces are provided towards the tips (as in the gliding flight in birds). While his drawings exist and are deemed flight-worthy in principle, he himself never flew in it. A model he built for a test flight in 1496 did not fly, and some other designs, such as the four-person screw-type helicopter, have severe flaws. He drew and wrote about a design for an ornithopter in c. 1490.

Da Vinci’s work remained unknown until 1797, and so had no influence on developments over the next three hundred years. Nor were his designs based on particularly good science.

Lighter than air

The modern era of lighter-than-air flight began early in the 17th century with Galileo’s experiments in which he showed that air has weight. Around 1650, Cyrano de Bergerac wrote some fantasy novels in which he described the principle of ascent using a substance (dew) he supposed to be lighter than air, and descending by releasing a controlled amount of the substance. Francesco Lana de Terzi measured the pressure of air at sea level and in 1670 proposed the first scientifically credible lifting medium in the form of hollow metal spheres from which all the air had been pumped out. These would be lighter than the displaced air and able to lift an airship. His proposed methods of controlling height are still in use today; by carrying ballast which may be dropped overboard to gain height, and by venting the lifting containers to lose height. In practice de Terzi’s spheres would have collapsed under air pressure, and further developments had to wait for more practicable lifting gases.

The first documented balloon flight in Europe was of a model made by the Brazilian priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão. On 8 August 1709, in Lisbon, he made a small hot-air balloon of paper with a fire burning beneath it, lifting it about 4 metres (13 ft) in front of king John V and the Portuguese court.

In the mid-18th century the Montgolfier brothers began experimenting with parachutes and balloons in France. Their balloons were made of paper, and early experiments using steam as the lifting gas were short-lived due to its effect on the paper as it condensed. Mistaking smoke for a kind of steam, they began filling their balloons with hot smoky air which they called “electric smoke”. Despite not fully understanding the principles at work they made some successful launches and in December 1782 flew a 20 m3 (710 cu ft) balloon to a height of 300 m (980 ft). The French Académie des Sciences soon invited them to Paris to give a demonstration.

Meanwhile, the discovery of hydrogen led Joseph Black to propose its use as a lifting gas in about 1780, though practical demonstration awaited a gastight balloon material. On hearing of the Montgolfier Brothers’ invitation, the French Academy member Jacques Charles offered a similar demonstration of a hydrogen balloon and this was accepted. Charles and two craftsmen, the Robert brothers, developed a gastight material of rubberised silk and set to work.

1783 was a watershed year for ballooning. Between June 4 and December 1 five separate French balloons achieved important aviation firsts:

4 June: The Montgolfier brothers’ unmanned hot air balloon lifted a sheep, a duck and a chicken in a basket hanging beneath at Annonay.
27 August: Professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers flew an unmanned hydrogen balloon. The hydrogen gas was generated by chemical reaction during the filling process.
19 October: The Montgolfiers launched the first manned flight, a tethered balloon with humans on board, at the Folie Titon in Paris. The aviators were the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, the manufacture manager Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, and Giroud de Villette.
21 November: The Montgolfiers launched the first free flight balloon with human passengers. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots, but Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, along with the Marquis François d’Arlandes, successfully petitioned for the honor. They drifted 8 km (5.0 mi) in a balloon powered by a wood fire. 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) covered in 25 minutes,
1 December: Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert launched a manned hydrogen balloon from the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. They ascended to a height of about 1,800 feet (550 m) and landed at sunset in Nesles-la-Vallée after a flight of 2 hours and 5 minutes, covering 22 miles (35 km). After Robert alighted Charles decided to ascend alone. This time he ascended rapidly to an altitude of about 3,000 metres (9,800 ft), where he saw the sun again but also suffered extreme pain in his ears.
The Montgolfier designs had several shortcomings, not least the need for dry weather and a tendency for sparks from the fire to set light to the paper balloon. The manned design had a gallery around the base of the balloon rather than the hanging basket of the first, unmanned design, which brought the paper closer to the fire. On their free flight, De Rozier and d’Arlandes took buckets of water and sponges to douse these fires as they arose. On the other hand, the manned design of Charles was essentially modern. As a result of these exploits, the hot-air balloon became known as the Montgolfière type and the hydrogen balloon the Charlière.

Charles and the Robert brothers’ next balloon, La Caroline, was a Charlière that followed Jean Baptiste Meusnier’s proposals for an elongated dirigible balloon, and was notable for having an outer envelope with the gas contained in a second, inner ballonet. On 19 September 1784, it completed the first flight of over 100 kilometres (62 mi), between Paris and Beuvry, despite the man-powered propulsive devices proving useless.

In January the next year Jean Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries crossed the English Channel from Dover to the Bois de Felmores in a Charlière. But a similar attempt the other way ended in tragedy. In an attempt to provide both endurance and controllability, de Rozier developed a balloon with both hot air and hydrogen gas bags, a design which was soon named after him as the Rozière. His idea was to use the hydrogen section for constant lift and to navigate vertically by heating and allowing to cool the hot air section, in order to catch the most favourable wind at whatever altitude it was blowing. The balloon envelope was made of goldbeaters skin. Shortly after the flight began, de Rozier was seen to be venting hydrogen when it was ignited by a spark and the balloon went up in flames, killing those on board. The source of the spark is not known, but suggestions include static electricity or the brazier for the hot air section.

Ballooning quickly became a major “rage” in Europe in the late 18th century, providing the first detailed understanding of the relationship between altitude and the atmosphere. By the early 1900s, ballooning was a popular sport in Britain. These privately owned balloons usually used coal gas as the lifting gas. This has about half the lifting power of hydrogen, so the balloons had to be larger; however, coal gas was far more readily available, and the local gas works sometimes provided a special lightweight formula for ballooning events.

Tethered balloons were used during the American Civil War by the Union Army Balloon Corps. In 1863, the young Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was acting as a military observer with the Union Army of the Potomac, first flew as a balloon passenger in a balloon that had been in service with the Union army. Later that century, the British Army would make use of observation balloons during the Boer War.

Dirigibles or airships
Work on developing a dirigible (steerable) balloon, nowadays called an airship, continued sporadically throughout the 19th century.

The first sustained powered, controlled flight in history is believed to have taken place on 24 September 1852 when Henri Giffard flew 15 miles (24 km) in France from Paris to Trappes with the Giffard dirigible, a non-rigid airship filled with hydrogen and powered by a 3 horsepower (2.2 kW) steam engine driving a 3 bladed propeller.

In 1863, Solomon Andrews flew his aereon design, an unpowered, controllable dirigible in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He flew a later design in 1866 around New York City and as far as Oyster Bay, New York. His technique of gliding under gravity works by changing the lift to provide propulsive force as the airship alternately rises and sinks, and so does not need a powerplant.

A further advance was made on 9 August 1884, when the first fully controllable free flight was made by Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs in a French Army electric-powered airship, La France. The 170-foot (52 m) long, 66,000-cubic-foot (1,900 m3) airship covered 8 km (5.0 mi) in 23 minutes with the aid of an 8.5 horsepower (6.3 kW) electric motor, returning to its starting point. This was the first flight over a closed circuit.

These aircraft were not practical. Besides being generally frail and short-lived, they were non-rigid or at best semi-rigid. Consequently, it was difficult to make them large enough to carry a commercial load.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin realised that a rigid outer frame would allow a much bigger airship. He founded the Zeppelin firm, whose rigid Luftschiff Zeppelin 1 (LZ 1) first flew from the Bodensee on the Swiss border on 2 July 1900. The flight lasted 18 minutes. The second and third flights, in October 1900 and on 24 October 1900 respectively, beat the 6 m/s (13 mph) speed record of the French airship La France by 3 m/s (6.7 mph).

The Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont became famous by designing, building, and flying dirigibles. He built and flew the first fully practical dirigible capable of routine, controlled flight. With his dirigible No.6 he won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 October 1901 with a flight that took off from Saint-Cloud, rounded the Eiffel Tower and returned to its starting point.

By now, the airship was established as the first practicable form of air travel.

Heavier than air: parachutes and kites

Da Vinci’s design for a pyramid-shaped parachute remained unpublished for centuries. The first published design was the Croatian Fausto Veranzio’s homo volans (flying man) which appeared in his book Machinae novae (New machines) in 1595. Based on a ship’s sail, it comprised a square of material stretched across a square frame and retained by ropes. The parachutist was suspended by ropes from each of the four corners.

Louis-Sébastien Lenormand is considered the first human to make a witnessed descent with a parachute. On 26 December 1783, he jumped from the tower of the Montpellier observatory in France, in front of a crowd that included Joseph Montgolfier, using a 14 feet (4.3 m) parachute with a rigid wooden frame.

Between 1853 and 1854, Louis Charles Letur developed a parachute-glider comprising an umbrella-like parachute with smaller, triangular wings and vertical tail beneath. Letur died after it crashed in 1854.

Kites are most notable in the recent history of aviation primarily for their man-carrying or man-lifting capabilities, although they have also been important in other areas such as meteorology.

The Frenchman Gaston Biot developed a man-lifting kite in 1868. Later, in 1880, Biot demonstrated to the French Society for Aerial Navigation a kite based on an open-ended cone, similar to a windsock but attached to a flat surface. The man-carrying kite was developed a stage further in 1894 by Captain Baden Baden-Powell, brother of Lord Baden-Powell, who strung a chain of hexagonal kites on a single line. A significant development came in 1893 when the Australian Lawrence Hargrave invented the box kite and some man-carrying experiments were carried out both in Australia and in the United States. On Dec. 27, 1905, Neil MacDearmid was carried aloft in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada by a large box kite named the Frost King, designed by Alexander Graham Bell.

Balloons were by then in use for both meteorology and military observation. Balloons can only be used in light winds, while kites can only be used in stronger winds. The American Samuel Franklin Cody, working in England, realised that the two types of craft between them allowed operation over a wide range of weather conditions. He developed Hargrave’s basic design, adding additional lifting surfaces to create powerful man-lifting systems using multiple kites on a single line. Cody made many demonstrations of his system and would later sell four of his “war kite” systems to the Royal Navy. His kites also found use in carrying meteorological instruments aloft and he was made a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. In 1905, Sapper Moreton of the British Army’s balloon section was lifted 2,600 feet (790 m) by a kite at Aldershot under Cody’s supervision. In 1906, Cody was appointed Chief Instructor in Kiting at the Army School of Ballooning in Aldershot. He soon also joined the newly established Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough and continued developing his war kites for the British Army. In his own time, he developed a manned “glider-kite” which was launched on a tether like a kite and then released to glide freely. In 1907, Cody next fitted an aircraft engine to a modified unmanned “power-kite”, the precursor to his later aeroplanes, and flew it inside the Balloon Shed, along a wire suspended from poles, before the Prince and Princess of Wales. The British Army officially adopted his war kites for their Balloon Companies in 1908.

Source from Wikipedia