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Aviation history

The factual accuracy of this article is disputed. Please see the article's talk page for more information.

The first published paper on aviation was "Sketch of a Machine for Flying in the Air" by Emanuel Swedenborg published in 1714.

The first known human flight ever took place in Paris in 1783: Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois d'Arlandes went 5 miles in a hot air ballon called the Montgolfiere.

The first powered (and controlled and sustained) flight took place in 1852 (15 miles, Henri Giffard, France, with a steam engine mounted on a dirigible).

The first recorded flight by a manned heavier-than-air glider took place in 1853 at Brompton, near Scarborough in Yorkshire. The craft was designed and built by Sir George Cayley, and flown by his coachman.

The first powered heavier-than-air flight took place in 1890 (Clement Ader, France, steam engine on bat-winged monoplane, 60 yards). All flights ended in crashes.

The first controlled heavier-than-air flights took place in the 1890s (Otto Lilienthal, 400 yards). Lilienthal is sometimes called the first pilot although his craft were unpowered gliders.

The first long-distance rigid-body flights took place in 1901 (Zeppelin, many miles, then also the first passenger flights).

Englishman Percy Pilcher built a working glider called The Hawk which he flew succesfully in the late 1890s. In 1899 he constructed a prototype powered aircraft, which recent research has shown, would have been capable of flight. However he died in a glider accident before he was able to test it, and his plans were for many years forgotten. Some observers believe that Pilcher could have beaten the Wright brothers to achieve powered flight had he lived.

In New Zealand, South Canterbury farmer and inventor Richard Pearse constructed a monoplane aircraft that he reputedly flew on March 31 1903. However, even Pearse himself admitted the flight was uncontrolled and ended in a crash-landing on a hedge. For lack of good contemporary documentary some even temporarily thought that Pearse's flight happened in 1904. More recent research, however, strongly indicates that the March 1903 date is correct. Pearse was unable to repeat his flights in a sustained manner. Nevertheless, he conducted the first motorized airplane flight.

Karl Jatho conducted world's second motorized airplane flight in August 1903. Jatho's wing design and airspeed did not allow his control surfaces to act properly.

Cayley's early work was known to the Wright brothers of the United States, who extended the technology of flight with the principles of control still used today. The Wright brothers had researched and initially relied upon the aeronautical literature of the day, which mainly consisted of Otto Lilienthal's heritage. They found that Lilienthal's tables included errors. So they built a wind tunnel. They were the first to use a wind tunnel in the design of an aeroplane.

The Wrights made the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. The first flight by Orville Wright, of 120 feet in 12 seconds, was recorded in a famous photograph. In the fourth flight of the same day, Wilbur Wright flew 852 feet in 59 seconds. The flights were witnessed by 4 lifesavers and a boy from the village, making them arguably the first public flight.

The Wright Brothers conducted numerous public flights (over 80) in 1904 and 1905 from Huffman Prairie in Dayton, Ohio and invited friends, neighbors and newpaper reporters to them although few came.

Alberto Santos-Dumont made the first public flight in Europe on September 13, 1906 in Paris. His design, like the Wright brothers', used a canard elevator and wing-warping, and covered a distance of 221 metres. Unlike the Wright brothers, he did not need headwinds or catapults to start his plane - his flights qualify as the first truly self-powered ones. Since the earlier attempts of Pearse, Jatho, and the Wright brothers went largely unnoticed by the popular press, many contemporaries considered Santos-Dumont's breakthrough as the essential one.

Around the same time, two English inventors Henry Farman and John William Dunne were also working separately on powered flying machines. In January 1908, Farman won the Grand Prix d'Aviation with a machine which flew for 1km. (However the Wright Brothers had made flights over 39km long in 1905.)

On May 14, 1908 the Wright Brothers made the first two-person aircraft flight with Charlie Furnas as a passenger.

Thomas Selfridge became the first person killed in a powered airplane on September 17, 1908 when Wilbur crashed his two-passenger plane during military tests at Fort Myer in Viginia.

In late 1908, Madame Hart O. Berg became the first woman to fly when she flew with Wilbur Wright in Le Mans, France.

Dunne's early work was sponsored by the British military, and tested in great secrecy in Glen Tilt in the Scottish Highlands. His best early design, the D4, flew in December 1908 near Blair Atholl in Perthshire. Dunne's main contribution to early aviation was stability, which was a key problem with the planes designed by the Wright brothers and Samuel Cody.

Controversy in the credit for invention of the airplane has been fuelled by Pearse's and Jatho's essentially non-existant efforts to inform the popular press, by the Wrights' secrecy while their patent was prepared, by the pride of nations, and by the number of firsts made possible by the basic invention. For example, the Romanian engineer Traian Vuia (1872 - 1950) also has been credited with the first self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft, able to take off autonomously without a headwind and entirely driven by its on-board installations throughout its evolution (Ader has priority over Vuia though).

The last phrase disqualifies certain other pioneers such as the Wright brothers because during the development of their aircraft they used a catapult takeoff system to compensate for the lack of wind at Huffman Prairie, Ohio. Their earlier flights did not use a catapult but utilized a headwind. Vuia piloted the airplane he designed and built on March 18, 1906, at Montesson, near Paris. None of his flights were even 100 feet in length. In comparison, by the end of 1904, the Wright brothers had sustained flights of 5 minutes and over 39 minutes and 24 1/2 miles in 1905, circling over Huffman Prairie.

The first helicopter flight took place in 1907 (Cornu, France); the first satisfactory helicopter was the Focke FA-61 (Germany, 1936).

The first jetplane was the Heinkel He 178 (Germany), flown by Erich Warsitz in 1939. Or possibly the Coanda-1910 that did a short flight in December 16, 1910.

Commercial Aviation really took hold after World War I using mostly ex-military aircraft in the business of transporting people and goods. Within a few years, many companies existed with routes that criss-crossed North America, Europe and other parts of the world.

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At the time of the Wright brothers' flight, other people had built heavier-than-air machines capable of flying under their own power, though it has not been established that any of them actually flew. The first was Clement Ader's use of a steam engine on a monoplane. After the advent of relatively light internal combustion engines (Karl Benz, Nikolaus Otto, Rudolf Diesel), other pioneers followed: Englishman Percy Pilcher built a machine which was later shown to be capable of flight in 1899, although he died before he could test it. Gustave Whitehead claimed to have flown a powered aircraft on August 14, 1901. He failed to document the flight, but a later replica of his Number 21 was flown successfully. Lyman Gilmore also claimed to have achieved success on May 15, 1902.

Samuel Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, attempted to fly his Aerodrome weeks before the Wrights flew. Although his attempts failed, the Smithsonian Institution continued to boast that the Aerodrome was the first machine "capable of flight", due to Glenn Curtiss making several modifications to the Aerodrome and successfully flying it in 1914.

The issue is further complicated by that many early flights was done at such low altitude that they didn't clear the ground effect and it thus is an open question if they were really able to fly.