THE DREAM OF FLYING
The dream of man to fly like birds goes back to unthinkable times, already in Greek mythology represents it in one of his stories where he tells how King Mimos confines Icarus and his father Daedalus in the labyrinth of the island of Crete.
With the intention of fleeing, Daedalus made wings for himself and his son. He attached them with wax to Icarus’ shoulders and then to his own, beginning the flight that would take them to freedom. The father had warned his young, reckless son not to fly too high or too low.
Despite his father’s warnings, Icarus, fascinated by the wonder of flight, soared into the air, disobeying Daedalus, who was unable to stop him. Moreover, Icarus felt he was the master of the world and wanted to go even higher, getting too close to the sun, where the heat melted the wax that held his wings, so he lost them. The unfortunate and reckless young man ended up falling into the sea.
There are many types of stories and legends in the different cultures of our world, Incas, Egyptians, Mayans among others, even referring to characters of various kinds with the ability to fly as witches, who had the ability to fly on a broom. Whatever the reason, the seed of the desire to fly was planted in the mind of the restless human being.
In the 13th century, the English monk Roger Bacon concluded that air could support a machine in the same way that water supports a ship, a fact that Da Vinci tried to demonstrate.
Leonardo Da Vinci made designs that, according to experts, inspired the creation of the propeller, the helicopter, the glider, the parachute and the paraglider. He also conceived the ornithopter, a device with wings like those of a bird that could move mechanically. For Da Vinci, who analyzed the anatomy of bird wings and studied the muscular strength of man, he thought that this could allow the flight of his designs, which turned out to be false years later. He was the first to apply for the first time scientific techniques to develop his inventions.
The experiments that failed were those that tried to imitate the movement of the wings of birds with paddles or wings moved by the arms of men; and the greatest successes and advances were achieved with the study of gliders. In general, the contributions of the time were focused on aerodynamics and flight stability.
The first ascent of a manned apparatus took place on October 15, 1783. It was a balloon designed on the basis of the physical principles described by the Montgolfier brothers. These principles stated that an object could rise as long as it weighed less than the atmospheric air surrounding it. Knowing that hot air weighs less than cold air, a balloon was constructed with a cloth envelope and the air inside it was heated. The success was immediate, and numerous followers appeared who imitated and improved the invention.
However, keeping the air at a sufficiently warm temperature relative to the outside air posed a problem: as it cooled, it had to be heated again by some method on board the balloon, which meant building a fire in a confined space and carrying enough wood or other combustible material. The solution was to use balloons that held gases lighter than air, and therefore did not need to be heated. One of the gases that was interesting was hydrogen, because it was easy to get it, but its drawback was safety: hydrogen explodes in contact with the atmosphere, making it difficult to handle and very dangerous; it was not useful in balloons with fabric surface and easy to break. The practical use of the balloon was scarce. It was used for some time as a means for amusement and also observation, especially in times of war. In this case, it was tethered to land to prevent it from drifting; this type of balloon was called captive.
The aeronautical engineer George Caley in the 19th century tested kites and gliders carrying human beings, and designed a helicopter-shaped device propelled by a propeller on the horizontal axis. He was considered in England as the father of aviation.
It is incredible how Aviation has been developing in the last decades if one would like to go back in time and go back to the XIX century we could meet outstanding European inventors and see how intrepid was that desire to fly as the French Clément Ader (1841-1926) and the German Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896).
Ader invented an airplane propelled by a steam engine of 2 cylinders, taking him to fly in his first experiences to 20 cm high and a distance of 50 meters, because his ship had no tail and no lateral control, later he tried to create a ship in the shape of a bat. What must be emphasized in this Frenchman is that he was the first to call “airplane” to this type of apparatus.
The one who is really considered as the first man who flew and landed safely is the German Otto Lilienthal, who since he was young had a series of accidents trying to fly, it is said that in one of these adventures he broke his legs when he jumped from a mill with wings tied to his arms. This brilliant engineer wrote a book in 1889 called “The Flight of Birds: A Basis for the Art of Flying”, making public his research in this field.
Although he was unsuccessful in his first flights, since the way to obtain initial propulsion was by pulling himself off a hill and the control of the airplane depended on the balance of the driver, he was able to reach a height of 25 meters.
He reached 2,500 gliding flights and died in one of his attempts.
Finally, on December 17, 1903 in North Carolina, two brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright went down in history when they managed to soar for 59 seconds at an altitude of 260 meters in a heavier-than-air aircraft propelled by an engine. Thanks to this feat, they are considered worldwide the fathers of aviation.
They were great followers of Otto Lilienthal, at the age of 30 they built a biplane kite with a device that by means of ropes from the ground warped the wings. The result was satisfactory. In 1890 they wrote to the French-American engineer Chanute for advice, and he replied, initiating a relationship that bore considerable fruit.
In September 1900 they flew their first manned glider at Kitty Hawk (North Carolina). At first the prototype was tested with a weight equivalent to that of the pilot, and then one of them was inserted in a prone position. Like the kite, it had lateral control by warping the wings, but also a depth rudder in front of the wings, thus lacking vertical surfaces.
The second glider (Flyer II), tested in 1901, helped him to determine the optimum curvature of the wing profile.
Although Lilienthal’s calculations and experiences had served as experience, they observed that they were not always reliable, so Orville made a small aerodynamic tunnel to test wing profiles. After testing 200 wings they obtained more reliable results. The third glider (Flyer III) made in 1902 managed to exceed 180m of range in one minute.
The next objective the brothers set themselves was to insert a propeller into the plane, so they built their own engine: a 12hp in-line four-cylinder that they tested in 1903. They also succeeded in developing a sufficiently efficient propeller with acceptable performance. The two brothers had a toss-up as to who would be the lucky one to fly first, and Wilbur won the bet. The aircraft got off the ground but stalled and stalled. On December 17, 1903, now Orville Wright in the presence of five witnesses managed to perform an undulating flight of about 36 meters in 12 seconds, taking off in about 12 meters. The first sustained and controlled flight of an airplane in history had just taken place. They perfected their invention and managed to perform a closed circuit in flight. Within a year, they managed to fly 38 km.
The human being in the last years has reached impressive achievements in the field of commercial aviation, not even Da Vinci or the Wright brothers could have imagined flying at 10,000 meters in monsters carrying more than 800 passengers or in a space shuttle reaching space, where a flight to the stars is beginning, where no man has ever reached before.
Nowadays, flying is an everyday and normal thing, finally man has reached that millenary dream, “To fly”.