Otto Lilienthal: The Greatest of the Precursors

Otto Lilienthal aspired to build flying machines at an early age. Born near Ankhlam, Germany in 1848, he along with his brother studied bird flight. At age fourteen, they built a pair of flapping wings and attempted to fly by attaching them to their hands and running downhill by flapping them. By the time of his death in a glider accident in 1896, he was the world’s premier Aeronautical Engineer, having developed and published advanced conceptual understanding of flight data and of flight. The 18th century saw great strides in lighter than air flying and the first successful flight of the Montgolfier brothers. At the close of the eighteenth century, there was technical progress in heavier than air flight. While Sir George Cayley conceived the modern airplane in its basic form as machine with fixed wings, a fuselage and a tail, with separate systems to provide lift, propulsion and control, Otto Lilienthal provided the next quantum leap. Together their combined work provided the basis for the success if the next generation of pioneers.

As teenagers, Otto and his brother Gustav, built fixed wing gliders and tested them at a nearby military field. One of his serious investigations was a full sized Ornithopter, which was suspended by rope and pulleys, counterbalanced by a 40kg weight. The degree to which the pull on the counterweight reduced was measured, when the operator pumped the flapping wings with his legs. Lilienthal attended the Royal Trade Academy where he studied Mechanical Engineering. This prepared him for his future research in aeronautics and provided credibility for his work. He served one year in the Franco-Prussian war and upon return, began his experiments on air pressure with a Whirly arm device.

He measured aerodynamic forces of lift and drag and collected data and is known to have published normal and axial coefficients of aerodynamic force in his air pressure data that was used by future experimenters including the Wright Brothers. After a brief hiatus between 1881 and 1888, Lilienthal returned to the second phase of his career, this time focusing on glider design. He is known to have designed 16 different gliders based on his aerodynamic calculations and made as many as 2000 short flights. Lilienthal is credited with being the first pilot to recognize, attempt and achieve soaring flight. Lilienthal practiced gliding flight from a hill in his many designs. He published his experiments, encouraging and urging his readers to be unafraid to try gliding and to improve on his designs. Lilienthal flew with his arms inserted into the sleeve of the glider, elbows flexed and supporting his upper body, while his lower body hung below.

Otto Lilienthal flying from a hill

On the fatal day in August 1896, while trying to steer in a heat eddy, he encountered trouble and fell nose first to the ground unable to re-establish flight. Although he was pulled alive from the wreckage, he suffered concussions and is assumed to have perished from the growing intracranial hematoma. Otto Lilienthal knew that to build a successful aircraft, it was essential to learn to fly. He became the first to fly a glider and the first fatality of flight in 1896. He is also known for his extensive tests of airfoils. He is also known for his contribution to Kutta’s first paper on airfoil theory. He inspired other followers such as Percy Pilcer, Octave Chanute, Ferdinand Ferber and the Wrights. In Germany, where it almost began, Otto Lilienthal is considered one of the strongest pioneers of the German aerospace. He was the immediate predecessor of the Wrights and is undoubtedly one of the greatest precursors for his daring and tenacious pursuit of flying.

See Also:

To Fly Like a Bird

Lilienthal Glider

The Ancients: Jules Verne

Jules Verne was born in 1828 in Nantes, France. Although he went to law school, he was attracted to literature and embarked on a fictional career publishing many science fiction novels. He is known as the father of science fiction. Some of his famous novels include Five Weeks in a Balloon, Around the World in Eighty Days, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the Moon, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Discovery of the Earth.

Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Verne was not a scientist, but his novels explored scientific theories that were more plausible and grounded in reality. His publisher, Pierre Jules Hetzel, mandated that he teach science through fiction. His scientific explorations were derived from extensive reading of contemporary publications, discussions with experts among his friends and relatives and his own travels; Verne was an amateur sailor and traveled extensively with his wife. His fictional works include many dream machines, many of them futuristic that leave his readers in awe, transporting them to into extraordinary worlds.

In Around the World in Eighty Days, the protagonist Phileas Fogg and his companions use different modes of transportation available in the 1880s to travel around the world in 80 days. The novel explores the diversity of the Earth’s surface, both physical and cultural and continues to be used as an educational tool. In an analysis conducted it was found that students who “discuss tenets of National Geographical Standards in the context of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days” increased their knowledge as well as their interest in the discipline. In today’s terms 80 days to circumnavigate the Earth is a long time, and this feat can be accomplished in a matter of days using multimodal transportation or in hours such as the record set by Air France Concorde in 1992 or numerous other examples of circumnavigating the Earth using aircraft, balloons, sailplanes, Seacraft, spacecraft, and other transportation modes.

In his novel, From the Earth to the Moon, Verne’s theories of a moon trip including a potential launch site in Southern Florida, eerily match with uncanny precision NASA’s Apollo program almost a hundred years later. The size, shape, weight, material, crew size and the return method all consistent in their accuracy, very evident, in the comparison of an artist rendering of Verne’s lunar craft with the Apollo command and service module.

Spurred by President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation in 1961 that the US would send a man to the moon before the end of the decade, the Apollo program pursued several ambitious goals of developing the capability to transport humans to space, land on the moon, work in the lunar environment, and safely return to the earth. At the time of this announcement, the first American, Alan Sheppard had spent 15 minutes in space and returned safely. On July 21, 1969, NASA achieved this goal when Apollo 11 astronauts step foot on the moon becoming the first and only humans to ever step foot on the moon.

Not only this particular vehicle, National Geographic captures eight Jules Verne inventions that came true, including electrical submarines, newscasts, Solar Sails that resemble an artist rendition of NASA’s NanoSail-D, lunar modules, skywriting, videoconferencing, taser, and spaceship splash down in the ocean similar to the Mercury capsule. Verne did not anticipate that governments would drive moon race, but would be sponsored by private enterprises. However, this too can change with the commercialization of space and private sector companies becoming active participants in the space race.

Jules Verne died in 1905, almost at the advent of the golden age of powered flight and almost fifty years prior to the first spaceflight. He authored more than 60 books and his scientific fiction continues to spark the imagination of his readers be they students, writers, scientists or inventors for more than a century.

See Also:

Jules Verne Biography

Repost: Charlotesville to the rescue!


Don’t remember when last I did this (file and fly an IFR flight plan), maybe way back in 2005 (see Partial Panel). By the way this almost would have become a Partial Panel flight if we hadn’t switched aircraft!

Arriving early at the airport, we discovered that the aircraft had a steady “Low Vac” annunciator display on. Running the engine for a while did nothing for it.  The plan was to file and fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). Thunderstorms were in the forecast for the afternoon. When are they never? That in itself was challenging, so definitely didn’t want to work with fewer avionics.

Continue to read here.

Repost: Suffolk Executive Airport (SFQ)

Finding airports with Cafes on the field is extremely challenging in the Mid Atlantic. Even websites like AOPA airports, Airport Facility Directory, Airnav or even ForeFlight don’t contain accurate information sometimes. I unearthed SFQ a few months back through reading some user comments and scouring the web for information on Virginia airports with restaurants on the field.


Attitudes Cafe officially opened last April (2013), but they have unpredictable schedules, are open only Friday through Sunday, don’t answer the phone mostly, and possibly closed during holidays (Dec-Jan). They do have a Facebook page, where the most current information might be posted.

Continue to read here.

Repost: Cape May

Five years ago…

The airwaves were quieter on Easter Sunday and the air smooth as we made our way south. There was not a cloud in sight but sadly haze still clung around the area preventing crisp, crystal clear photographs and videos. We flew southbound reporting all the check points along the way: Alpine Tower, GWB, Intrepid, Clock and Statue of Liberty. We descended lower to 800 ft as we practiced our turns about the point over the Statue of Liberty.

Continue to read here.

Repost: Falling Water – A Flyout that wasn’t

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function.
This is the law.

— Louis H. Sullivan

If I were asked to name my second passion, I would have to say it is Architecture. With  a sister studying Architecture, I grew up surrounded with designs, drafting, discussions on famous architects such as Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright and The Fountainhead. In my spare time I pored over my sister’s books with flashy images of buildings from around the world; mesmerized by the intricate designs, lofty skyscrapers and flowing structures that could only be imagined and executed by the intellect of man.

Falling Water is a masterpiece by architect Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). Nestled in a valley in rural Pennsylvania, away from civilization,  it is one of the most enduring buildings designed by FLW that propelled him to fame and success. It was built for the Kaufman family in the 1930s as a weekend home and is now preserved by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and open to the public as a museum.


Continue to read here.

Repost: Gettysburg History and Lunch

“Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty,
and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”
— from the Gettysburg Address
by US President Abraham Lincoln (Nov 19, 1863)

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the American Civil War. Confederate army led by General Robert E. Lee was defeated by the Union army led by Maj. General George Mead ending Lee’s invasion of the North. The battle fought over 3 days between July 1-3, 1863 had the most casualties of the American Civil War.  The famous Gettysburg Address was given by the then US President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA. History abounds here.

Continue to read here.

Repost: Yikes I almost stalled over Lakeland

“Aircraft arriving over Lake Parker, expect holding until 7:15 pm over Lake Parker,” was what we heard on the radio a few minutes after our planned group departure from Leesburg International Airport (KLEE) in Leesburg, Florida.


Four aircraft from the Mid-Atlantic had made it easily, albeit, at different times to our chosen airport of rendezvous. Considering the aircraft in play: a Columbia 400, a twin Baron, a Cessna 182 and a Cessna 172, we definitely needed a rally point to meet, prepare, and plan a departure to Sun ‘n Fun (SNF).


According to our original plan, we had all congregated at KLEE, briefed the arrival procedures and departed on cue around 6:00pm. The plan was to arrive at Lakeland Airport around 6:30pm for a group arrival.

Continue to read here.

Woman in Aviation: Tiny Broadwich


Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick was the first woman to parachute from an airplane and the first person to manually deploy a parachute after a malfunction!

Born on April 8, 1893 in North Carolina, Georgia Ann Thompson, was nicknamed Tiny due to her small size and weight. At the young age of 15 years, she jumped from a hot air balloon at the North Carolina State Fair. An encounter with famed stunt flyer and airplane manufacturer Glenn Martin led her to the world of airplane jumping and on June 21st, 1913, she became the first woman to parachute from an airplane.

Source – Wikipedia: Ready to jump from Martin T airplane piloted by Glenn Martin.

Continue to read the amazing story of her life here.

March is Women in History month and Woman of Aviation month.

See Also:

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Tiny Broadwich

Repost: First Solo

Lights. Camera. Action!

That’s how I always remembered it.

Strobes. Transponder. Throttle.

No pounding heart, sweaty palms or shaky legs as I raced down the runway, applying a little right rudder to maintain center line, eyes glued to the airspeed indicator.

At least not yet.

Airspeed indicator needle gradually turned, as the airplane gained speed. 40, 50, and finally 60 Knots. Gently ease back the yoke and lift-off.

I was airborne.

Oh my God!

It finally sank in. I was all alone in the cockpit having just performed a take-off, for my very first solo flight. I still had to land this aircraft all by myself.

Continue to read here.