History Who Really Invented the Airplane Part 1

About the controversy in history over who invented the airplane. A look at the various claims including Clement Ader.




For ages people had been fascinated by the thought of aerial flight. Leonardo da Vinci designed a flying machine in the 15th century, and by the 19th century men were airborne in hot-air balloons, gliders, and huge kites. But they still had not built a craft that could fly independent of the forces of nature; flight still depended on the whimsy of the wind. Steam and gasoline engines, however, made it theoretically possible to construct a heavier-than-air craft that could be lifted off the ground and sustained in flight by its own power source. And so, at the end of the 19th century, enthusiasts around the world joined in the race to invent the first flying machine.


CLEMENT ADER (1841-1925)

Clement Ader was intrigued by aerial navigation even as a boy growing up in the south of France. His interest led him to build and design countless kites, and while he was still young he succeeded in producing a kite capable of carrying a man aloft. Ader worked in the Dept. of Public Works for 15 years but quit his job to tinker with his inventions. He designed the first telephone system in Paris, a public-address device, and a microphone, but he never lost his interest in aeronautics. In the early 1870s he created an ornithopter, an engine to which was attached flapping wings, but it failed to fly. Then Ader went to Algeria to study the flight of vultures and discovered that once airborne they rarely flapped their wings. He promptly scrapped the design of the ornithopter as impractical. In order to fly, he decided, a machine must have fixed wings and an engine capable of lifting it off the ground. Back in France, he built his first airplane, the Eole (named for Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds).

The Eole had bat-shaped wings and was driven by a steam engine attached to a four-blade propeller. Ader tested his airplane near Gretz-Armainvilliers on Oct. 9, 1890, and claimed that he accomplished a takeoff and a powered flight of approximately 165 ft. There were a few witnesses to his feat but they were not familiar with aeronautics, and consequently none of them reported what he saw. Ader asserted that he had tested the Eole a second time at the army base at Satory near Versailles in September of 1891 and flew roughly 330 ft. at an altitude of 8 in. above the ground before crashing. There supposedly was only one witness; he did not make a statement to authorities about what he saw. Ader himself did not publicly report this flight until 1906.

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