Aviation history : The early endeavours



Wooden aircraft model

200 B.C.

The earliest-known man-made airborne object was the kite; from about 200 B.C., the ancient China claimed to have made the first practical use of aircraft in the form of kites, apparently militarily for reconnaissance purposes and calculating distances between forces. In Egypt, aviation pioneering was evidenced by the discovery of a small handmade wooden aircraft in the shape of a bird that had been crafted by artisans in 200 B.C. Technology did not evolve that much over many centuries and the fragmented nature of society has left us with few records of aeronautical endeavours; efforts frequently took the form of launch from a tower in a rudimentary glider or kite-like machine. For centuries, humans have studied the flight of birds and have tried to fly just like them. Wings, made of feathers or light-weight wood, have been attached to arms to test their ability to fly. The results were often disastrous, as the muscles of the human arms are not like birds and cannot move with the strength of a bird.


Italy - 28 October 1938  Leonardo da Vinci

The true Renaissance man was the Italian Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). He had left over 100 drawings that illustrated his theories on bird and mechanical flight; the drawings illustrated the wings and tails of birds, ideas for man carrying machines, and devices for the testing of wings. Famous primarily as an artist and sculptor, Leonardo da Vinci was the first to make a serious study of bird flight, leading him to the design of the ornithopter (from Greek ornithos meaning bird and pteron meaning wing) with fixed as well as flapping-wings and a hand-held pyramid-type parachute. Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine had a wingspan that exceeded 33 feet, and the frame was to be made of pine covered in raw silk to create a light but sturdy membrane. Leonardo da Vinci never flew, nor is it recorded that any of his flying machines were ever built. It is even very unlikely that they would have been successful, as proved later in the 17th century that it would be impossible to men to fly craftily by their own strength; as da Vinci himself might have realized, while the flying machine may have flown once it was in the air, a person could never have created enough power to get the device off the ground. His thorough knowledge of anatomy led him to believe that he could recreate the structure and movement of bird’s wings in wood and fabric.


Man constructed wings of feathers and jumped, crashing to the ground and breaking his bone. But eventually success had come; one of the first flights was performed by the Turk Hezârfen Çelebi (1609-1640). The latter, inspired by the studies of Leonardo da Vinci and with some corrections and balancing adjustments derived from studying the eagle in flight, finally gave shape to his wing apparatus, after nine experimental attempts. According to a story recorded by the historian and chronicler Evliyâ Çelebi in the 17th century, Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi glided in 1638 with artificial wings from the top of the 183-foot tall Galata Tower in Istanbul and managed to fly over the Bosphorus with the help of south-west wind, landing successfully on the Doğancılar Square in Üsküdar. As with many others possessing great knowledge, Evliyâ Çelebi gave Ahmed Çelebi the title Hezârfen, meaning a thousand sciences.


Little aeronautical advancement was recorded in subsequent years as man looked at the birds and wondered how to emulate them.


Label issued for the philatelic meeting held in Firenze, Italy, from 19 to 21 April 1947, in commemoration of the 37th anniversary of the first aviation competition held in Firenze (1910).

Reproduction of the above 5-lira stamp, showing Leonardo da Vinci.


Somalia – 31 December 1977

30th Anniversary of ICAO

Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of a helicopter

Turks and Caicos Islands

21 February 1985

40th Anniversary of ICAO   

Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of glider wing


Togo – 15 October 1985

40th Anniversary of ICAO

Ornithopter of Leonardo da Vinci (1485)


Turkey - 17 October 1950

Second Middle East Regional Air Navigation Meeting

17th century bird‑flight of Hezârfen Ahmet Çelebi