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Tuesday March 4, 2008

Who Was the First Person to Fly?

March 4, 2008

Orville and Wilbur might jump to mind. But the Wright Brothers were half a century late.

Lots of pioneers risked their necks over many decades (and even centuries) to get humans off the ground by various means, from flapping their pseudo-wings to gliding off cliffs. But few are remembered so well or mentioned so often as the Wright Brothers, whose "Flying Machine" was the first powered airplane to execute controlled and sustained flight.

The did it on Dec. 17, 1903. The pilot was Orville, since Wilbur had taken his turn in a failed previous attempt. The Wright Flyer was in the air for 12 seconds and went 120 feet.

But this was not the first human flight.

Gliders were being used successfully for decades before powered flight.

The Wright Brothers' achievement is sometimes erroneously called "the first powered flight." Even that's disputed.

The first powered flight was Henri Giffard's steam-powered airship (image below) in 1852. On Sept. 24, 1852, Giffard traveled almost 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Paris to Trappes moving at about 6 miles per hour (10 kilometers/hour). His airship could be steered only in calm weather, though. In wind, it could fly only in slow circles.

Clément Ader went half the length of a football field in a bat-winged setup that many view as the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air flight in 1890.

The Wright Brothers achievement is properly called "the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air and (to some degree) controlled" flight.

 Image Credit: NASA

Robert Roy Britt