In 1893, Otto Lilienthal becoame the first man to actually fly in a heavier-than-air aircraft. He was the dominant figure in aeronautics during the late 1800s.

A trained engineer, Lilienthal studied and analyzed bird flight and designed wing sections based on his analysis. Then he built and flew gliders to test his calculations. These tests were well-photographed public events, and his theories were published worldwide. Lilienthal’s experiments and writings were closely examined by the Wright brothers, who took the same route to success—analyze, then test by flying. As a businessman, he sought worldwide patent protection for his invention. He believed that popularizing gliding would advance aeronautics, stating that experiments and flying exercises should be carried out not only by scientists but by all those who would like to find an exciting pastime in the air. So he offered gliders for sale through catalogs, and Percy Pilcher, the English experimenter, and William Randolph Hearst, the U.S. newspaper magnate, were among the buyers.

Many of Lilienthal’s more than 2,000 flights were made on his own property, which had been modified to better suit his purposes. A glider must take off into the wind, and where a typical hill would allow flight only when the wind blew toward the hill, Lilienthal could position himself to face into the wind, no matter the direction, from his custom built conical hill. His gliders were made of bamboo and cane and covered with cotton‚ weighing in at 45 pounds. The experimenter would hold on to the machine with his elbows and forearms. Running down hill against the wind, he rapidly left the ground and glided, bending his knees and his body in order to restore the balance. Lilienthal’s final flight was, unfortunately, a fatal one. While testing his bi-wing glider, the top wing broke off, throwing him to the ground. Amazingly, he wrote his final notes on his deathbed. His last words were ” ... sacrifices must be made.” The airplane in our collection is a 1:2 scale replica.

Specifications of original full-size glider: Span 23 ft., weight approx. 40 lbs.

Accession no. 1993S01

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