Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Brief History of Flight

I love writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Occasionally, however, they alter my work, either for space or content considerations. I don't mind--usually, it's for the better. One recent example was a story I did on airplanes in popular culture. The editors at the paper changed my lead and took out the entire A Brief History of Flight section. You can read the entire published version on the Star-Telegram's website.

Below is my original lead and short history lesson:

People are just plain passionate about airplanes. We see this reflected in the movies we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to and the games we play.

While some are afraid to fly (a condition called aerophobia), and airport security can be a pain, most travelers love that you can get from Dallas/Fort Worth to Paris, France in around nine hours (for example), a trip that would have taken weeks (or months, depending on the time period) prior to the advent of the airplane.

A Brief History of Flight

Flights of fancy date back at least to ancient Greece, where Bronze Age tales of such characters as Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, and Pegasus, the flying horse, were a big part of that culture’s oral tradition.

Beginning around 400 BC, the kite, which is believed to be invented in China during the 5th century BC, was studied as a possible means of propelling humans through the air. For centuries, humans have tried (and failed, of course) to fly like birds, fashioning wings made of feathers or light wood.

Real progress involving human flight occurred in 1782 with Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier’s hot air balloon, which Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes piloted in Annonay, France in 1783. This was the first manned, non-tethered flight.

Further progress was made with George Cayley’s gliders (beginning in 1799), Leonardo da Vinci’s Ornithopter design (1845), Samuel P. Langley’s steam-powered aerodrome (1891), the publication of Octave Chanute’s Progress in Flying Machines (1894) and, of course, the groundbreaking work of Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 1903, the Wright Brothers’ “Flyer,” piloted by Orville, traveled 120 feet in twelve seconds at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. This was the first heavier-than-air flight.

Aviation took off from this point at sonic boom speeds, leading to warplanes, work planes and the modern day jet airliner, the latter first developed during the middle part of the 20th century.

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