Leaving solid footing on the earth behind and taking to the sky has long been a goal of man. Early inventors attempted to imitate birds in the air with balloons and gliders. Then, in 1903, two brothers from Ohio successfully launched the first powered flight. The Wright Brothers and their flying machine hold an important place in the history of flight.

Early History of Flight

In the 1700s, paper manufacturers Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier were trying to achieve flight with hot air balloons. On September 19, 1783, they launched a duck, rooster, and sheep as passengers in a hot air balloon that flew over Paris for eight minutes and traveled approximately two miles. The next month, they advanced to launching a person, who stayed aloft in the hot air balloon for about four minutes.

Englishman Sir George Cayley was a leading pioneer in aeronautics, working diligently during the 1800s to design and perfect a flying glider. In 1849, Cayley successfully launched a 10-year-old boy on a glider for a short flight.

Wright Brothers

Wilbur Wright was born April 16, 1867, and Orville Wright was born August 19, 1871. As boys, the Wright brothers shared a fascination with flight and the mechanics behind it. Wilbur and Orville began by working on gliders, testing and recording the results meticulously. In 1902, the Wright brothers launched between 700 and 1,000 successful flights with their glider. In March of 1903, they filed a patent application for their "flying machine." On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright attained four separate flights with their powered aircraft. A flip of a coin determined that Orville would be the first of the two brothers to leave the ground in the airplane.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was born July 24, 1897, in Kansas. As a young adult during World War I, Earhart was eager to do something to help her country. Earhart volunteered with the Red Cross and became fascinated with aviation. Earhart earned her pilot's license in 1922 and became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air in 1928, but as a passenger only. In May of 1932, Amelia Earhart completed her first solo transatlantic flight between Newfoundland, Canada, and Ireland. In 1937, Earhart attempted to fly around the earth at the equator, a distance of 29,000 miles. On July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator had finished about 22,000 miles of the trip and were beginning the most dangerous leg between Lae, New Guinea, and Howland Island in the northern Pacific Ocean. Radio communication between Earhart and the U.S. Coast Guard indicated that Earhart was confused about the location of the island, and she asked for assistance. Earhart never landed, and officials declared her lost at sea without ever finding any wreckage of the aircraft.

Charles Lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh was born February 4, 1902. Lindbergh attempted college but left without attaining a degree. Lindbergh attended flight school in Lincoln, Nebraska. He spent some time performing airplane and parachute stunts and eventually joined the National Guard. In 1927, Lindbergh flew his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, across the Atlantic Ocean between New York City and Paris. This 33-hour flight earned him the title of the first man to fly a solo transatlantic flight. Lindbergh went on to fly combat missions over the Pacific during World War II.