May 23, 1848
Aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal was born in the town of Anklam in what was then the Kingdom of Prussia (now part of the Federal Republic of Germany). Lilienthal would be called everything from the “Glider King” to “The Father of Flight” for his efforts to make human aviation much more of a reality than it had been before. He did so by making numerous sustained gliding flights that were not only successful but well-documented.
Lilienthal’s fascination with the possibility of human flight started early on in life. Along with his younger brother Gustav, he studied the flight of birds. His interest in airborne pursuits only grew stronger in young adulthood, and in 1889 he published his famous book Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation. Starting two years later, Lilienthal pursued heavier-than-air flight by making what would amount to more than 2,000 excursions off the ground in gliders that he designed.
Lilienthal continued to painstakingly research the flight of birds, especially storks, and focus on the aerodynamics of their wings. He also found time to create models of various aircraft, including a dozen monoplanes and two biplanes. Lilienthal achieved international acclaim as reports of his flights spread well beyond his native country and throughout the world, with photographs of him using a glider showing up in various publications. (The above photo of Lilienthal getting ready to fly was taken in 1894.)
Tragically, however, Lilienthal died in 1896 after falling to the ground from a glider that he was flying. His last words to his brother Gustav were “sacrifices must be made.” Lilienthal’s legacy has lived on, and no less a force in human aviation than the Wright Brothers credited him with inspiring their own efforts to pursue heavier-than-air flight. “Of all the men who attacked the flying problem in the 19th century, Otto Lilienthal was easily the most important,” noted Wilbur Wright.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
For more information on Otto Lilienthal, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Lilienthal
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