Flying - dream

Flying – the history of mankind’s dream

Esther Nestle
3 pictures
4 minutes

Even the ancient Greeks incorporated the fascination of flying into their mythology:

Icarus was given a set of wings made of feathers and wax by his father. Thus winged, Icarus rose into the air until the sun stopped his high-altitude flight by melting the wax. Icarus’ feathers broke and the poor boy fell into the sea.

We all dream of flying, and have probably done so since first coming into exitance. For a long time, it was just a dream. During the Middle Ages, witches were said to be able to fly on broomsticks. In the fifteenth century, the horse-drawn rascal has just been rediscovered which perished together with the Roman Empire. With a horse droschke clattering over the cobblestones as a high-end of locomotion, people looked up in the air like a grasp on the stars: unattainable, a figment of the imagination as a mere fantasy.

All except one:

Leonardo da Vinci

Da Vinci first constructed flying machines in the 15th century, using birds, insects and bats as his models. He did quite well with his ideas of flying, but without artificial propulsion, his research was stuck in theory, and the practical overcoming of gravity was denied him. He was sadly too far ahead of his time, but his elegant flying machines can today be admired in Milan at the magnificent Leonardo da Vinci National Museum. His designs bear witness to his outstanding creative power and visionary ingenuity.

After da Vinci, the world went quiet on the flying front for over 200 years. It was only in the 18th and 19th centuries that the idea began to pick up speed once again: more and more researchers were able to overcome gravity. They experimented with all sorts of ideas, from flying machines and integrated auxiliary balloons to gliders with bat-shaped wings.

Otto Lilienthal

Wilbur und Orville Wright

On December 17th, 1903, the time had come. Orville sat in his self-built engine plane, took off, flew at least 37 meters in 12 seconds (*) and then landed safely back on the ground in North Carolina. Et voila! The first motor flight hopper in history was made!

The Wrights’ most ingenious masterpiece was perhaps the aerodynamic rudders they designed for their motorized prototype and all of their following designs. This gave them something with which to oppose the wind. Two years after their initial success, the two flight-obsessed innovators managed a 40-kilometer flight.

From that moment, things moved quickly. Faster and faster, many researchers, inventors and developers continued to drive performance, speed and action. Representing the many two “effective” names at the end:

(*) other sources speak of 52 meters


Named after the Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli (1700 to 1782), this effect plays a decisive role in today’s modern aircraft construction. It tells us that the faster the air flow, the lower the pressure. Low pressure creates a suction and this is crucial for the calculation of the lift of aircraft wings.


The Romanian aeronautical engineer Henri Coanda (1885 – 1972) found that flowing gases always follow curved surfaces. That is to say that air arriving at bends displaces the air already existing there, filling the space itself. Contemporary aircraft manufacturers use the Coanda effect to create more lift.

As ludicrous as the age-old dream of mankind appeared to be in the past, flying from A to B appears self-evident to us today. We gladly forget that there are hardly more than 100 years between the first powered flight hopper and today’s globe-spanning metropolitan traffic.

Cover picture © Wikimedia Commons – Luc Viatour

by Esther Nestle

Related Posts