Transport in the air

Painting of Icarus and Daedalus. Source: www.dl.ket.org

Ancient stories tell of people's desire to fly like a bird. The Greek myth about Icarus and Daedalus is one of the most famous stories. According to the story, Daedalus was an artist, inventor and engineer. He and his son were prisoners of King Minos, and Daedalus invented wings for him and his son to fly away with. But Icarus flew to close to the sun. The wax with which the wings were fastened melted, and Icarus fell down and died.

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci designed an aircraft and a helicopter but he never got them built. It was only in 1783 that the first human flight was recorded. That was in a hot air balloon. The first recorded plane flight was only made in 1903. Today, flying has become very sophisticated. Air travel has become the most popular and convenient way to get from one country to another. Helicopters are another way of flying. Even space travel has become an everyday reality.

Some of the first attempts to fly was made by attaching big wings to a persons arms and trying to flap them like a bird. This did not work. People themselves cannot fly like birds, because they are much heavier and built in a completely different way. Birds were built to fly; humans were not. So people began to realise that a machine was needed to enable them to fly. During the 18th century, there were many attempts to design and build flying machines. In 1783 one of these attempts were finally successful.

Balloons and airships

The Montgolfier brothers designed a balloon that was powered by hot air. This hot air was produced by a wood fire. That year the first known human flight took place in such a balloon. It went as high as 26 metres and just over 8 km far. The problem with these hot air balloons was that their direction could not be controlled. You simply had to go where the wind took you. Yet they were very popular. Almost 100 years later, an airship was built that was powered by steam. In the first trip in such an airship in 1852, the craft travelled over 24 km. Unlike the air balloon, the airship could be controlled and it became possible to direct the route of the craft.

But people wanted more than hot air balloons and airships. The idea to build an aircraft with wings was kept alive, and different inventors and engineers designed and tried to build gliders. Two that made some of the most important developments were Sir George Cayley and Frank Wenham. Both of them worked in Britain during the 19th century. From the 1880s onwards, many more scientists worked on such gliders, and the designs became more and more practical. Otto Lilienthal made several gliders, and they kept on getting better and better. He also made designs for small engines for aircraft. But he died after the wing of his last glider broke and he fell from about 17 metres. Another pioneer was John J. Montgomery, who flew in 1883.

The flight of the Wright brothers. Source: www.thaitechnics.com

The Wright brothers and the invention of the first areoplane

These and other scientists' improvements all made it possible for the first controlled, powered flight to be recorded in 1903. The designers of this craft were the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur. They were not necessarily the first ones to fly like this. There were a number of other people who claimed that they had already done this by the time the Wrights took to the air. The Wrights' flight was the first one to be recorded.

Eleven years after this flight, World War One broke out. Planes had by then developed quite a bit, and they became widely used in the war. Most of the planes had been made from wood and canvas. After the war people were beginning to make them from aluminium. Planes became faster and could fly further. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping. He flew from New York to Paris in about 33 hours. His plane was called 'The Spirit of Saint Louis'. In the 1930s, the jet engine was invented in both England and Germany. Today, jet engines are still being used. In 1947, Chuck Yeager managed to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Modern forms of air transport

In the 1930s, the jet engine was invented in both England and Germany. Today, jet engines are still being used. In 1947, Chuck Yeager managed to fly faster than the speed of sound.

It did not take too long for people to want to fly even higher than planes could. They wanted to travel to outer space. In 1957 the Russians sent the first spacecraft into space. It was called Sputnik, which means 'travelling mate' in Russian. In 1961 the Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go up into space. Then, in 1969, two Americans became the first people to set foot on the moon. They were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Last updated : 08-Feb-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 26-Jul-2011

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