By Heidi Trautmann
The dream to stretch our body, spread our arms and fly like birds and insects do, is many hundreds of years old. Often recurring dreams of flying have happened to most of us in our younger years, getting less as one gets older.
However, there were men that wanted more than dream and they actually copied the structure of wings to attach them to their body and do as the birds, imitate the beating of wings to lift off the ground. We all know the legend of Daedalus and Ikarus who had constructed wings to escape imprisonment; Leonardo da Vinci researched and had already made designs and models of mechanical wings; over the centuries the one or other pioneer who often came from different professions, secretly or openly worked on some flying mechanisms. It all originated from observing nature, its laws and occurrences; for example when entertaining a fire, light hollow objects were carried into the air, the idea for the first hot-air balloon was born, also here Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first to demonstrate it. There were others researching the ‘hot air’ and the ‘lighter than air’ principle.
The development of balloon travelling was first realized by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 with their huge balloon rising over Paris. Count Zeppelin was very successful until his last one exploded; the scientific world then realized that the future was with airplanes. Just to think how simple the first devices were: mechanical wing devices that were moved by the power of one’s arms…very tiring.
Otto von Lilienthal (May 23, 1848 – August 10, 1896) was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the Glider King. He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding flights. He followed an experimental approach established previously by Sir George Cayley. Newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, favorably influencing public and scientific opinion about the possibility of flying machines becoming practical. For his contributions to the field of aviation at such a crucial time he is often referred to as "The Father of Flight."
I should have to mention so many more of these pioneers of aviation but that would fill a book…..some milestones though: 1903 - Orville and Wilbur Wright fly first successful self-propelled airplane; 1909 - Louis Bleriot crosses English Channel in a monoplane; 1927 - Charles Lindbergh makes first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight, 1932 - Amelia Earhart becomes the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean; 1947 - The sound barrier is broken by Chuck Yeager.....and so on.
Today, the Universe is nothing new to us, ships travel to planets, on Mars we have a mobile research laboratory travelling the red surface to explore its contents for any sign of living matter. I heard we have now discovered a new planet with earth like conditions. What are we going to do with this knowledge. Are our governments planning to settle people there to start a new race? Or are they looking for oil and rare earths?
When we next sit down in an airplane to either visit family or go visiting far away countries and we look out of the window to find ourselves above the clouds at an altitude of 9000 to 13000 m, we should give a short thought to those pioneers who have made it possible for us to travel at ease around the world and perhaps, you never know, we will one day be travelling to new provinces in the Universe.
Published in Cyprus Observer on Nov 17 2012