Ever since man first saw a bird fly, man has wanted to fly. The first attempts were efforts to fly like a bird by attaching feathers to their arms and flapping. Those attempts were unsuccessful.
Hot Air Balloons
The first successful air flight was in a hot air balloon. In 1783 a few men invented the first flying machine by making the hot air balloon. A hot air balloon is a balloon filled with heated air. Since heated air is lighter than cool air, the balloon would rise into the sky. The pilot would ride in a basket attached to the balloon and control the height by adding and subtracting more heat.
The problem with hot air balloons is that you can not go the way you want. If the wind is blowing west, that means you would have to go west, too. During the Civil War hot air balloons were used by the armies to look at enemy troops.
The first airplane that was flown was a glider. A glider is a non-motorized flying machine (and very hard to control.) Early gliders were launched from high places like cliffs and floated on the wind to the ground.
A man named Sir George Cayel made the first glider that actually flew. His first glider didn't have passengers or a pilot. It was too small and could not fit anyone in it. He made another that flew his coachman across a small valley. This glider was not launched from a cliff.
During 1890 while Orville and Wilbur Wright were working in a bicycle shop, the Wright Brothers got interested in flying. They learned that bicycles that were closer to the ground were faster. They read all the books they could find about airplanes to learn more. They then began building gliders near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers improved the glider. In 1899 they made a large, two wing kite. After experimenting for a while on unmanned gliders, they made a glider where the pilot would control the airplane in the air. After working on glider experiments they found out how to steer a plane while in flight by developing a rudder (the tail of the plane) and flaps on the wings. With the rudder and the flaps, the pilot could control the direction of the airplane and the height.
In December of 1903, the Wright Brothers became the first people to successfully fly a plane with a person in it. The plane flew one hundred twenty feet and flew only about twelve seconds. They had three successful flights that day, but Wilbur made the longest flight of 892 feet and stayed up for about 59 seconds. In 1903 the Wright Brothers made their first powered airplane that they named the "flyer." It was a biplane (two winged plane) that had a 12 horse power engine that they had built themselves. The wings were 40 feet wide, wooden, and covered with cotton cloth. The pilot would lay on the lower wing on his stomach and steer the plane. In 1908 the Wright Brothers finally made a plane that could fly for more that one and a half hours.
Improvements to Airplanes
In 1843 William S. Henson, an inventor, patented plans for an airplane after trying to build a model airplane. When those plans failed he gave up on airplanes. His friend, John Stingfellow, tried making a model off of Henson's model and succeeded. The plane launched, but could only stay in the air for a short time.
In 1890 Cl`ement Ader took off on the first steam powered plane (a plane with an engine, unlike the glider) that he had built himself. What was very unlucky about that was he could not fly it because he could not control it. Around the same time another inventor, Hiram Maxiam, built a steam powered flying machine. He tested his airplanes, but never really got them off the ground because they were too heavy and he could not control the flight.
During 1894 Samuel Langley flew a steam powered plane and went 0.8 kilometers in one and a half minutes. Once Langley made another airplane, he got a pilot to steer once on October, 7 and once on December, 8, but sadly the plane crashed in a lake.
U.S Army Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge was the first person killed in a plane crash. The military wanted to see how good the Wright Brothers` airplane was for flying. On September 17, 1908, Selfridge went up in a plane with Orville Wright. When they were 75 feet in the air a propeller broke. The plane crashed, which killed Thomas and left Orville injured, but the Wright Brothers still did not give up. In 1909, they got a contract from the military to build the first military plane.
In 1911, Calbriath Rodgers made the first flight across the United States. He flew from Sheepshead Bay, New York to Long Beach, California. During the 84 days of flying, Rodgers crashed at least 70 times. He had to replace almost every part of the plane before he reached Long Beach. All together this journey took 3 days, 10 hours, and 24 minutes of time spent in the air.
Airplane travel has improved a great deal since the first efforts of the Wright Brothers. Airplanes now travel thousands of miles at altitudes of more than 7 miles, carrying over three hundred passengers. Those passengers rest in comfortable seats instead of on their stomachs like Orville did. Jet engines have replaced propellers and speeds are greater than 600 miles per hour. Not even the Wright brothers could have imagined what air travel would be like today.