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Early Interest in Human Flight

Interest in aviation can be traced back as far as Leonardo da Vinci; a human-powered aircraft based in part on his designs, Daedalus 88, flew 72 mi (115 km) in 1988. However, real progress toward achieving flight in heavier-than-air machines only began in the middle of the 19th cent. In 1842 the Englishman W. S. Henson patented a design for a machine that closely foreshadowed the modern monoplane; another Englishman, John Stringfellow, developed a model plane said to be the first power-driven machine to fly; and a third Englishman, F. H. Wenham, devised the first wind-tunnel experiments. In France, Alphonse Penaud made successful flying models of airplanes, while Clément Ader actually achieved flight (over a distance of about 150 ft/45 m in 1890 and about 300 yd/280 m in 1897) in a power-driven monoplane fashioned after a bat. In 1894 a plane built in England by Sir Hiram S. Maxim, operated by steam engines and carrying a crew of three, rose into the air from the track on which it was being tested. In the United States, S. P. Langley, Octave Chanute, and Otto Lilienthal made notable contributions to the early development of the airplane.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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