Aviation history : The scientific visionaries or those men before the Wrights



(People’s Republic of Kampuchea)

   7 August 1987

1843 Cayley’s design combining helicopter and conventional aircraft

The scientific spirit and technological resources derived from the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century were giving experimenters a new sense of purpose. In England, Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) is recognized both as the inventor of the aeroplane and one of the aviation’s most significant pioneers; his work earned him the title of Father of Aerial Navigation. At the age of 23, he made his first practical experiment in heavier-than-air flight when he built a small helicopter model; its rotor was made of eight feathers pushed into corks. In 1843, he published a drawing of a convertiplane. It featured four helicopter screws, each with eight blades to provide lift and acting also for forward motion; it had a tail to control stability. In 1949, he recorded a glider flight that carried a boy, becoming thus the first to make a flight in a heavier-than-air craft.


Still in England, William Samuel Henson (1812-1888) continued along the path Cayley had outlined; working with a talented engineer, he conceived an aircraft, whose design was a brilliant preview of the modern airplane. But the lack of a powered and light-weight source of propulsion rendered plagued designers before the 20th century.


However, two breakthroughs came in the 1880s. The first was the invention of the internal combustion engine and the second was the work of the German Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896), who was the first aviation pioneer to develop theory and then put it into successful practice. Between 1891 and 1896, he recorded over 2,000 flights with the beautifully constructed hang-gliders which were partially controlled by movements of his suspended body, much like modern hang-gliders; he discovered that cambered wings were necessary for maximum lift. In 1889, he produced a book entitled Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegkunst.


Full-scale replica of the Storm Wing Glider built in 1894 by Otto Lilienthal, hanging between floors in the atrium at ICAO Headquarters, Montreal, donated by Germany in 1998

At the same time, Frenchman Clément Ader started the construction of his first flying machine in 1882, the Éole or God of the wings; it was a bat-like design run by a lightweight steam-powered engine of his own invention. On 9 October 1890, Ader attempted a flight of the Éole, which succeeded in taking off and flying a distance of approximately 50m; this was the first piloted powered aeroplane in history to raise itself from the ground, 13 years before the Wright Brothers. Ader is also known as the Father of Aviation.


Besides designing and building a most successful biplane hang-glider in the USA, Octave Chanute (1832-1910) collected and collated a vast amount of information on aviation developments, which he produced as a book in 1894 entitled Progress in Flying Machines, regarded at that time as the very bible of aeronautics. Another prominent pioneer was Samuel Pierpont Langley who started experimenting aviation in the last decades of the 19th century. He scored his first significant success on 6 May 1896, when his steam-powered free-flying Aerodrome No. 5 flew for ninety seconds covering three quarters of a mile, before running out of fuel. Langley chose a floating houseboat as his launching platform, fitted with a spring-powered catapult and anchored on the Potomac River, Washington, D.C.



Paraguay – 24 April 1979 - History of aviation

75th Anniversary of civil aviation – 35th Anniversary of ICAO

First day cover - Clément Ader – Éole – 1890


Sierra Leone - 28 February 1985 - 40th Anniversary of ICAO

Samuel Langley's "Aerodrome A" – 1903 (Wrongly inscribed "Aerodrome No. 5")