History of Plans


 Before the Wright Brothers created the first flying Airplane able to carry a human, there were those who inspired the idea. If not for their ideas and experiments perhaps aeroplanes, as we know it today, might not have been. The first ideas of the perfect aeroplane were the flapping-wing machines, called ornithopters. The Ornithopter is where the wings are providing both the lift and thrust. Apart from ornithopters three devices important to aviation had been invented in Europe in the Middle Ages and had reached a high stage. 
In the year 1799-1809 Between 1799 and 1809 Sir George Cayley who was an English Baronet came up with the concept of the modern aeroplane. At this time Cayley had abandoned the ornithopters tradition. He designed aeroplanes with rigid wings to provide lift and separate propelling devices to provide trust. Cayley laid the foundations of aerodynamics through his published works. He showed both with models and full-size flight control by means of a single rudder-elevator unit mounted on an universal joint. In 1853 Cayley sent his coachmen on the first gliding flight in History on his third full-size machine. 
In 1843 an English inventor by the name of William Samuel Henson published his patented design for an Aerial Steam Carriage. His design was a big step towards establishing the modern aeroplane. The design was a fixed-wing monoplane with propellers, and fuselage, and wheeled landing gear, and flight control by means of rear elevator and rudder. The steam-powered models by Henson in 1847 were promising however unsuccessful 1843 In 1843 an English inventor by the name of William Samuel Henson published his patented design for an Aerial Steam Carriage. His design was a big step towards establishing the modern aeroplane. The design was a fixed-wing monoplane with propellers, and fuselage, and wheeled landing gear, and flight control by means of rear elevator and rudder. The steam-powered models by Henson in 1847 were promising however unsuccessful in 1891 - 1896 Between 1891 and 1896, a German aeronautical engineer Otto Lilienthal who Samuel Pierpont had been working with for several years, made thousands of successful flights in hang gliders he designed. Those successful gliders Lilienthal had designed lacked a control system and a reliable method of powering the aircraft. He was killed in an accident in 1896. 1892 In 1892 Langley began experimenting with steam power unmanned aircraft, and in 1896 made the first successful flight any mechanically propelled heavier-than-air-craft, the Aerodrome. However, his aircraft was launched by catapult from a houseboat on the Potomac River. The Aerodrome never successfully carried a person, thus prevented Langley from earning the place in history 1903 - 1908 

On December 17, 1903, two American aviators Oroville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio made the first successful flight of a manned heavier than air, self-propelled craft called a flyer. The first flight flew a distance of about 37m. It was the beginning of a new age in technology achievement. The two brothers put together the combinations of critical characteristics that other designs of the day lacked which was a relatively lightweight (337kg) powerful engine; reliable propellers; and a system for controlling the aircraft; a wing structure that was both strong and lightweight. 

The third flyer constructed in 1905, was the world’s first fully practical aeroplane. The aeroplane remained in the air for as long as the fuel lasted. However, like many milestone inventions throughout history, it was not immediately recognized for its potentials. 

In 1908 the two brothers demonstrated their aeroplane to the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps at Fort Myer. The Army had been long using balloons to observe the battlefield, recognized the possibilities presented by the aeroplane. During World War I, the development of aeroplanes accelerated. European designers such as Dutch-American engineer Anthony Herman Fokker and the French engineer Louis Bleriot developed even faster, more capable, and deadlier combat aeroplanes. 1909 The French engineer Louis Bleriot developed even faster, more capable, and deadlier combat aeroplanes. In 1909 Bleriot who had crossed the English Channel on July 25, 1909, invented the monoplane 

In 1911, the American inventor and aviator Glenn Curtis introduced the first practical seaplane. This aeroplane was basically a bi-plane with a large float beneath the centre of the lower wing, and two smaller floats beneath the tips of the lower wing. 1913 The year 1913 became known as the "Glorious year of flying" and acrobatic flying was introduced. 

In 1915 Fokker mounted a machine gun with timing gear so that the gun could fire between the rotating propellers. This plane: the Fokker Eindecker monoplane fighter was for a time the most successful fighter in the skies.

Ader, Clement (1841-1925)
Clement Ader designed three powered aeroplanes, the Eole, the Avion II, and the Avion III. The Eole made a brief flight of 50 meters on October 9, 1890. The Avion II was never completed. The Avion III never flew. In 1906, following publicity about the Wright brothers' success, Ader made the rather pathetic claim that the Avion III had flown 300 meters in 1897. A small group of Europeans, who sought to minimize the Wrights role in the invention of the aeroplane, promoted this claim for selfish reasons. Gibbs-Smith finally wrote a monograph disproving the claim for once and for all.
The above is my opinion as of May 1, 1996. However, there is usually more than one side to any story, and the same is true for Ader. You may wish to visit a new site that provides a different perspective: The Clemént Ader Home Page. This page presents a different view to the events of 1890, according to the site developer, based on newly-discovered evidence. Given my respect for Gibbs-Smith, I want to look over the material carefully before changing my mind.
Aerial Experiment Association The A.E.A. was an American group formed in 1907 by Alexander Graham Bell. Members included F. W. (Casey) Baldwin, J. A. D. McCurdy, Lt. T. E. Selfridge, and Glenn H. Curtiss. Bell explored the development of aeroplanes based on tetrahedral cells in a large kite framework as a way of circumventing the Wright patents. The other members favoured more traditional designs. Curtiss was quite successful in developing effective aeroplanes but became one of the chief Wright adversaries when he deliberately violated their patent rights. He and Albert Zahm carried out a long campaign to discredit the Wrights which has been remarkably effective, even to this day. for more info about him click here

Archdeacon, Ernest (1863-1950)
Rich lawyer and sportsman, the French Archdeacon created the Aéro-Club de France in response to Chanute's "dinner-conférence" in March 1903. Archdeacon built a copy of the Wright No. 3 glider but had only limited success. The archdeacon was soon joined by Gabriel Voisin, who developed and sold many early aircraft.                                                    

Blériot, Louis (1872-1936)
Blériot started off on the wrong foot with an ornithopter model in 1901-02. He then developed an extended sequence of unsuccessful craft, including the Blériot models II-VII. The Blériot VIII, a tractor monoplane, pointed the way to eventual success. The Blériot XI was a classic monoplane, with numerous copies made and sold. Tom Crouch has written a brief monograph on Blériot and his early machines. French inventor, aircraft designer, and self-trained pilot who, on July 25, 1909, make the first flight across the English Channel. The flight from Les Barraques, France, to Dover, England, undertaken an aircraft he designed himself – the Blériot XI – and in bad weather, earned Blériot the £1000 prize that the London Daily Mail had offered to the first aviator to cross the Channel in either direction. His accomplishment delighted the public and shocked many in the British military and political establishment for more info click here Breguet, Louis (1880-1955) Bustov, William Paul William Bustov was an associate of Octave Chanute, and under Chanute's sponsorship developed the Albatross, which made a short unmanned flight during the Chanute experiments in the dunes of Indiana in 1897.

Cayley, Sir George (1773-1857)
Sir George Cayley has been called the inventor of the aeroplane, although I prefer to think of him as its 'Grandfather.' Cayley made extensive anatomical and functional studies of birds and bird flight. From measurements of bird and human muscle masses, Cayley determined that it was impossible for humans to strap on a pair of wings and take to the air. This led him to propose a fixed-wing aeroplane with a separate system for thrust. He developed three gliders that embodied these principles. The gliders were successful in carrying people over a short distance -- the first successful modern aeroplane configuration. His work was highly influential in the eventual development of the aeroplane.

  Chanute, Octave (1832-1910)
Octave Chanute was a successful engineer who took up the invention of the aeroplane as a hobby following his early retirement. His book Progress in Flying Machines was a useful compendium of information about the heavier-than-air flight that was widely read and respected. Chanute sponsored the construction of several craft -- the most successful was the Herring/Chanute biplane glider that formed the basis of the Wright biplane design. Chanute was also a tireless international promoter of aeroplane development, sharing news from around the globe with interested inventors. His correspondence and association with the Wright brothers played an important role in their ultimate success, perhaps more for his encouragement than for technical matters. He visited the Wright camp at Kitty Hawk in 1902 and 1903 and saw the powered flyer take to the air in 1904.

  Cody, Samuel Franklin (1861-1913)
Samuel Franklin, an American- born British aviator, was born in Texas. He came to England in 1890 and acquired British nationality. He experimented with man-lifting kites & participated in the planning and construction of the first British dirigible. He was the first person to fly in Britain and built an early aeroplane & flew for 27 mins in Oct.1908. He was killed in a flying accident at Aldershot. Cody's courage and enthusiasm led him on to experiment with powered flight, and in October 1908 he became the first man to build and fly an aeroplane in Britain. The slang term ' kite' for the aeroplane is said to have been derived from this period when aeroplanes were virtually power-driven kites. On 7 August 1913 Cody and his passenger were killed when his last creation, the Waterplane, broke up in the air over Laffan's Plain, Aldershot. For more info click here Curtiss, Glenn 

Hammond (1878-1930) It is hard to say good things about a man whose actions, deliberate and motivated by greed, contributed significantly to the death of a fine and honourable man, Wilbur Wright. Curtiss did not, of course, deliberately try to harm Wilbur, but his actions had that unintended consequence. Having said that, it is important to recognize that Curtiss made several important contributions to the world of aviation that helped transform the aeroplane from an interesting novelty to a craft capable of doing useful work. Two of his direct contributions to the world of aviation include advanced engines and the hydro aeroplane. Curtiss developed great aeroplane engines -- lightweight, reliable, and powerful. Curtiss also solved the problem of finding a way to make takeoffs from water. Although hydroaeroplanes are unusual at this time, they were a significant contribution at a time when paved runways were almost nonexistent. The companies that Curtiss headed made several other important contributions to aviation, including the development of the first aeroplanes that crossed the Atlantic ocean. Curtiss certainly played a role in the development of these planes, but cannot be given sole credit for their development. Indeed, my reading of the matter is that he played a relatively minor role in many of the inventions and developments produced by his company. To his credit, Curtiss was an effective manager, knew how to get the best out of his men, and was not afraid to adopt advances made elsewhere. Having said all that, I find his behaviour toward the Wrights quite reprehensible, as were the actions of the rest of the A.E.A. It will take me a while to set the story out in full, but I believe there is good evidence to support my harsh judgment of him: "Thief, liar, speed demon." There are always two sides of any story. Jack Carpenter has developed an extensive website on Glenn Curtiss that presents the matter from a different perspective. Jack has made a fine site that is well worth checking out. Another perspective on the story appears in C. R. Roseberry's book: "Glenn Curtiss: Pioneer of Flight." Roseberry goes to considerable lengths to transform Curtiss from sinner to Saint, and exploits every opportunity to vilify the Wright brothers, so between the two of us, you can at least get both sides of the story. I am also putting online Curtiss' own book, The Curtiss Aviation Story as time permits.


da Vinci, Leonardo (1452-1519) de Caters, Baron De Pischoff, Alfred Dunne, John William Du Temple, Felix (1823-1890) 

Ellehammer, Jacob Christian H. (1871-1946) Esnault-Pelterie, Robert (1881-1957)

Farman, Henri (1874-1958) Farman, Maurice (1877-1964) Ferber, Captain Ferdinand (1862-1909)                                                    

Gasnier, Rene (1874-1913) Gastambide Givaudan Goupy, Ambroise Grade, Hans (1879-1946)

Herring, Augustus Moore (1867-1926) Hargrave, Lawrence (1850-1915) 
 Lawrence Hargrave invented the box kite and made important contributions to our understanding of lift and drag of aeroplane wings. His writings and experiments clearly had a large influence on the invention and development of the aeroplane. Dr Russell Naughton has created a wonderful site that reviews the contributions of this important pioneer. Naughton's site also features an extensive timeline of aviation history. Check out Lawrence Hargrave: Australian Aviation Pioneer.

J Jatho, Karl (1873 - ??)

Kapferer, Henry Koechlin, M. M. Kress, Wilhelm (1846-1913) 
 To my knowledge, Kress never got his triple-winged ice-boat off the water, but those woodcuts are sure pretty. Check out a brief report that appeared in Scientific American back in 1901.

Langley, Samuel Pierpont (1834-1906)
Langley was an aristocrat at heart. He could be charming in social settings but ugly to underlings. He began by developing a completely useless whirling arm to explore lift and drag, then turned to a rather boring exploration of small gliders. His pet theory, The internal work of the wind, argued that planes could fly forever after having been launched, using the energy of the wind to drive them forward. With that sort of clear thinking on his side, it is no wonder the military handsomely funded his research. Although he made two successful flights with steam-powered models, his Aerodrome was a complete failure. To minimize the embarrassment, the Smithsonian Institution allowed Curtiss and Zahm to secretly alter the Aerodrome, then fly it to 'prove' the Wrights were not the first to fly. Curtiss lost his case anyway, but it led to a long feud between Orville and the Smithsonian.

La Vaulx, Comte Henre de Le Bris, Jean-Marie (1808-1872) Letur, Louis Charles (?? - 1854) Lilienthal, Otto (1848-1896)
Lilienthal was a successful German engineer who developed hang gliders from 1889 until his death from a gliding accident in 1896. His stature as an engineer and his success with fixed-wing gliders paved the way for others who were interested in aviation, and his advocacy of developing gliders before powered machines led the Wrights to pursue the same strategy. He developed nineteen different gliders which were usually flown from an artificial conical hill he constructed at Lichterfelde near Berlin or from Gollenberg near Stolln.

An American who developed a large biplane around 1905. I don't believe the plane was successful on its own power but was flown once as a powered kite, towed by a boat and driven by its own engine. Pictures of the hapless 'aeronaut' trying to control this monster are incredible. Luckily, he survived the only trial I've read about so far. Further information about Ludlow would be appreciated.

Maxim, Sir Hiram Stevens (1840-1916) 
Sir Hiram Maxim was an expatriot American living in England. He made a fortune with his invention of the machine gun. Maxim spent $100,000 (real money in those days) to develop his Biplane Test Rig, a gargantuan craft powered by two 180 h.p. steam engines that drove twin 17.8 ft. propellers. A two-tier track was constructed to test the ungainly craft. The lower tier was a standard iron rail, while the upper tier was a wooden guardrail designed to prevent the craft from gaining a dangerous altitude. During the principal test on July 31, 1894, the craft lifted off the lower rail, broke the upper rail, and crashed back down. A complete waste of money by almost any account. To further publicize his stupidity, Maxim made fun of Lilienthal, calling him a 'flying squirrel.' Montgomery, John J. (1858-1911) Yet another claim-jumper. Montgomery made a brief hop in his first (1883) model, followed by two entirely unsuccessful gliders in 1885 and 1886. In 1905, Montgomery developed a tandem-wing model that was launched by being dropped from a balloon. It made a few partially controlled descents, but the chief pilot, Maloney, was killed when the craft went out of control. Montgomery died in 1911 under almost identical circumstances. Only in California would they honour such a liar and fool by naming schools after him. Mouillard, Louis Pierre (1834-1897) Louis Mouillard was a French citizen who lived in Egypt. He was a careful observer of bird flight, apparently spending hours watching vultures soar. Mouillard wrote a well-known book L'Empire de l'Air which Octave Chanute translated into English. Mouillard also built a fixed-wing glider that can be seen on his home page. Thanks to Simine Short, we also have a copy of the (heretofore quite rare) Chanute-Mouillard Correspondence online. Moy, Thomas Mozhaiski, Alexander Feodorovitch (1825-1890).


Paulhan, Louis Phillips, Horatio (1845-1924) Pilcher, Percy Sinclair (1866-1899) A British follower of Lilienthal who developed a series of hang gliders. Pilcher usually tested his craft by towing them by rope. Jarrett has written a nice history of him and feels he was close to developing a lightweight powered hang glider before his death in a gliding accident. Even if true, serious air travel requires large controllable craft, not aeroplanes where weight is used to alter the trajectory of the craft.

Robart, Henri Roe, Alliott Verdon (1877-1958)

Santos-Dumont, Alberto (1873-1932) Seux, Edmond Societe Antoinette
Tatin, Victor                                                    

Vendome, Raoul Voisin, Gabriel (1880-??) Voisin, Charles (1882-1912) Vuia, Trajan (1872-1950)                                                   
Watson, Preston A. (1881-1915) Wenham, Francis Herbert (1824-1908) Whitehead, Gustave (1874-1927) Recently, people have started to wonder whether Whitehead may have made a "controlled, sustained" flight that predated the Wright brothers. I have my doubts. Even if Whitehead made an extended trip through the friendly skies, it does not seem to me that his craft really had effective solutions to the problems of control. Check out for yourself the control system described in a short Scientific American report in 1901. Wright, Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948) The story of the Wright brothers is long and complex, having more twists of fate than a daytime soap opera. At the heart of the story, we find pure magic -- two plainspoken men solving a mystery as old as humankind itself: How to fashion a chariot of sticks and fabric that could mount the air, carrying us, like the ancient Greek Gods, into the skies. Wrapped around this magical core is the tale of how society at large greeted this singular invention and the Wrights: first with disbelief, then with wild enthusiasm, and finally, realizing that two men held the legal rights to one of the most important inventions of all time, with second thoughts and rejection. This led, perhaps inevitably, to a dark and unhappy ending. In my view, the tale has never been told in full in any one single place, and this website is no exception. Nevertheless, my online bibliography contains many fine books that collectively do a good job of telling this complex tale. Here on this website, I have collected much of the magical heart of the story, both in the Tale of the Airplane and in the Biography of the Wright brothers. Don't forget to check out an online simulation of their 1903 flyer, or look over the VRML 3D model. As always, stay tuned for further developments.

Zens, Ernest and Paul Zerbe,
Jerome Jerome Zerbe built an early "Multiplane" aeroplane, including five wings stacked in an odd tandem pattern, that I always make fun of. Now Zerbe has his own developing website, created by Pete Jordan, that asks the question "eccentric, or beyond the cutting edge?" You be the judge. Zipfel, Armand