The first recorded Spanish attempt to fly a heavier-than-air machine occurred on 16 May 1793, when Dieto Martín Aguilera, a shepherd from Coruña del Conde, Burgos, apparently made a flight of about 360 meters with his flapping-wing creation. It is impossible to determine how much truth there is to the story of Marin, but it seems that he did achieve some gliding flight, surviving after structural failure and a crash landing. Marín, who had no formal scientific education, was endowed with a special technical ingenuity and is a good example of the ageless human aspiration toward flight.
The first balloons were seen over Spain soon after 1783. At first they were usually unmanned, but in the last decade of the 18th century, experimenters or showmen occupied the balloon car. In 1792, a Spanish-built balloon, intended to serve as a military observation post, was demonstrated before King Carlos IV at El Escorial. The balloon had been designed by the French chemist Joseph Louis Proust, who was professor of the Royal Artillery College of Segovia and held the rank of captain. Officers and cadets of the college had helped in the construction.
Leonardo Torres Quevedo, a Spanish engineer and inventor, devised the funicular suspension, a fully flexible system that permitted the use of short cars in rigid Zeppelin airships. The Torres airship has a trilobed envelope when inflated. The prototype was built in the Spanish military's Aerostatic Service facility and tested in 1908. The French Astra company acquired the rights of the Torres Quevedo system and built the airships under the name Astra-Torres. During the First World War, the Allied navies successfully used a large quantity of Torres airships (about 20 of the French and more than fifth of the British were used mainly for anti-submarine patrol.)
When Wilbur Wright came to Europe with his Flyer biplane, the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, was one of his visitors at Pau in February 1909. That same year, Antonio Fernández, who lived in France, built the first aeroplane of Spanish design to be exhibited in the Paris Salon de l'Aéronautique, where he sold the manufacturing license to Pierre Levasseur. Fernández flew his machine successfully on 5 November, but he was killed due to an elevator control failure.
Several pioneer constructors built their airplanes with varied success in Spain in the years prior to World War I. The first two Spanish civil pilots obtained their brevets in France in 1910, and in 1911 a military flying school was established in Cuatro Vientos near Madrid. In Febuary 1913, the Servicio de Aeronautica Militar was created, and before the end of the year a squadron was reconnoitering and bombing in Morocco.
Although the construction of wood and fabric airframes was relatively easy, the engines had to be imported. When the war began, Aeronautica Militar asked two Barcelona automobile manufacturers, La Hispano-Suiza and Elizalde, to build engines to cover the needs of the service, which was no longer fulfilled by foreign manufacturers.
After a timid start during World War I, from which only La Hispano of Guadalajara survived, the Spanish aircraft industry had a second birth in 1923, when military contracts permitted the foundation of Construcciones Aeronáuticas (CASA) and Loring (later named AISA).
On 17 January 1923, the first successful flight of a rotary wing aircraft took place at Getafe. The Autogiro C.4, a creation of Juan de la Cierva, was piloted by Lt. Alejandro Gómez Spencer. The Autogiro concept was a revolutionary one. The idea of the helicopter, although not practically developed until much later, was well understood. However, the phenomenon of autorotation of a rotor with positive blade pitch was a discovery of la Cierva that exceeded the foresight of the aeronautical experts of the time. The inventor continued to improve his designs until his death. The experience gained with the Autogiro was invaluable for the development of the helicopter.
Provided to the AIAA for the sole purpose of its Evolution of Flight Campaign.