Man's fascination with flying was sparked long before the Wright brothers. People have been trying to fly ever since the dawn of time. Some people even tried to affix fallen fallen bird feathers or leaves to their arms and jump off of cliffs. As you might guess, those attempts did not turn out well. Like any animal, the early human learned from its mistakes, tweaked its tactics, and got right back on the horse, or plane, as it were. This ensured a very interesting future for the aviation industry.
Merriam Webster's dictionary( defines an airplane as "a powered heavier-than-air aircraft with fixed wings from which it derives most of its lift". By this definition, some of the first successful aircraft do not technically count as airplanes. However, this does not mean that they will not be included in this informative paper. This text will be covering the most significant advances in flight throughout history. It will be like a guided tour through the history of aeronautics, from the first manned glider, to the early helicopter and parachute designs from Leonardo Da vinci, to the very first powered planes from the Wright brothers, and finally touching down with the jet propelled, "power planes" of today.


While the first officially documented flight did not occur until the wright brothers tested their biplane in 1903, There were many advancements in the field of aeronautics, the first of which (only listing the most important innovations and most notable) was reportedly made by a man named Abbas Ibn Firnas, then Leonardo Da Vinci, the Wright brothers, and finally, our current airplanes.

Abbas Ibn Firnas

The story of Abbas Ibn Firnas can not be told without first prefacing it with the fact that a man named Armen Firman was his probable inspiration for the revolutionary glider. Firman created a wing-like cloak (Batman style) in 852 A.D. "Jumping from a tower in Cordoba, Firman survived with only minor injuries because his wing-like garments caught enough air to break his fall."
Abbas Ibn Firnas testing his flying machine in 1875

Abbas Ibn Firnas grew up in Cordoba, Spain much like Firman, also their discoveries/ inventions were separated by 23 years. Ibn Firnas studied Chemistry, physics, and astronomy before his aircraft was tested and reportedly, had its successful maiden voyage. "All accounts seem to indicate that Ibn Firna's glide was successful, but the landing was hard." the reason for his tough landing was that he forgot to include a tail like the ones on the birds that he observed. "...not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one." As a result of his failed landing, he suffered from chronic back problems until his tragic death in 888. This injury prevented him from attempting flight again, and it is rumored that it also caused his premature expiration 13 years later.

Leonardo Da Vinci

"If this instrument made with a screw be well made - that is to say, made of linen of which the pores are stopped up with starch and be turned swiftly, the said screw will make its spiral in the air and it will rise high."

The Wright Brothers

Overview (Content)



To listen to Amelia Earheart speak
on women in flight, click here.

Wings: a History of aviation from Kites to the Space Age, book