10 Images from the History of Flight

10 Images from the History of Flight

Celebrating one of mankind’s most ambitious endeavors

For thousands of years, we have looked up to the sky and dreamt of one day taking flight. Today this is pretty easy and flight is accessible to a large portion of the population. To celebrate our accomplishment, here is a look at a few milestones of aviation.

1. Da Vinci’s Ornithopter

Da Vinci ornithopter

Leonardo Da Vinci had a lot of scientific interests and flight was one of them. He made various sketches detailing machines that he thought would be able to achieve flight. Some of them had no chance of ever working, but the ornithopter was different. Basically, an ornithopter is an aircraft that stays in the air by flapping its wings similar to a bird. Hundreds of years after Da Vinci sketched his idea, ornithopters have become a reality, including ones capable of carrying people.

2. Montgolfier Hot Air Balloon


What you are seeing here is a collecting card from around 1890 depicting the first manned flight in a hot air balloon. The Montgolfier brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne are the famous inventors of the first balloon capable of carrying a human (two actually), but something that is forgotten is that they weren’t actually the ones flying. That honor went to Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes. In October 1783, they became the first passengers in a tethered balloon and just a month later they made the first flight over Paris.

3. L’Intrépide

Photo Credit: Sandstein via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Sandstein via Wiki Commons

This is The Intrepid, a hydrogen balloon dating back to 1796. It is an observation balloon, meaning that it was used in the military in order to spy on the opposing army. It is the oldest flying device still in existence and is located at the Museum of Military History in Vienna.

4. Giffard Dirigible


Once balloon flight became more and more commonplace, people began to feel unsatisfied with simply being at the mercy of the wind so they looked for ways of being able to steer. Henri Giffard was the first to build such an aircraft which was both steerable and powered by a steam engine. Giffard took this airship on its maiden voyage on September 24, 1852 on a 17 mi (27 km) long trip. What you are seeing is a faithful model of the dirigible located at the London Science Museum.

5. Human Glider


The concept of using a glider as a means of flight had been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t thought possible for a glider to be strong enough to carry a human. George Cayley is the one who proved everyone wrong when he built and successfully piloted the first human glider in 1804. His concept was taken and refined by many others who came after him including Otto Lilienthal who we see pictured above in a successful glider flight from 1895.

6. Avion III

Photo Credit: Poulpy via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Poulpy via Wiki Commons

Clement Ader was another aviation pioneer who constructed several flying machines that advanced the industry greatly. His first invention was called the Éole and had bat-like wings. However, as opposed to an ornithopter, it flew using an engine, not by flapping its wings. Their role was simply to provide extra lift. He worked on other machines afterwards and his crowning achievement was the Avion III, a more refined version of his previous efforts. It had two propellers powered by two engines and a small rudder to steer it. It also totally didn’t work. It was tested in 1897 and almost immediately crashed. Still, the craft is in excellent condition after being restored three decades ago and can be seen at the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris.

7. Wright Flyer


Probably the most famous name in aviation, the Wright brothers were the ones who designed, built and flew the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft pictured above, the Wright Flyer I. The first flight took place on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Before they built the actual Flyer, the brothers built and flew several gliders that had the same basic shape but without the engine.

8. Cornu helicopter

Cornu helicopter reproduction

Although the airplane is clearly the preferred aircraft of today, there is another which has been very successful – the helicopter. Paul Cornu is the one generally credited with achieving in 1907 the first free flight using a rotary-wing aircraft which resembles what we would call a helicopter today.

9. Fokker Dr. I

Photo Credit: J.Klank via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: J.Klank via Wiki Commons

As soon as flying machines were invented, their usefulness in combat was explored. However, at first they were merely used for recognizance and for targeting. If two enemy aircrafts ran into each another, they were usually restricted to making obscene gestures or occasionally throwing stuff at one another.  The concept of arming an airplane didn’t really come about until World War I. Here is also where the term “flying ace” appeared, used to designate someone who managed to take down an enemy craft. Without a doubt, the most successful and most famous flying ace from WWI was Manfred von Richthofen, more popularly known as the Red Baron. His famous red Fokker Dr. I became an iconic image that evoked fear in his enemies and inspired his allies, although it should be said that Richthofen only used a Fokker Dr. I towards the end of his flying career.

10. Hindenburg


There is a lot of trial & error going on in any new industry so a lot of accidents and fatalities were bound to occur in the early stages of flight. The Hindenburg disaster has become the most infamous aviation accident ever and received worldwide news coverage. The Hindenburg was built in 1936 and flew successfully for over a year before it caught fire when trying to dock in New Jersey coming in from Frankfurt, Germany. Before this tragedy, the zeppelin had 17 successful transatlantic flights. Technically, it’s called a rigid airship; Zeppelin originally was the name of the company that built it. Also, the full name of the airship was LZ 129 Hindenburg as Hindenburg was the name of the class of airships.