Lilienthal, Otto

Lilienthal, Otto
SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 23 May 1848 Anklam, Prussia (now Germany)
d. 10 August 1896 Berlin, Germany
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German glider pioneer, the first to make a controlled flight using wings.
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Otto Lilienthal and his brother Gustav developed an interest in flying as boys, when they studied birds in flight, built models and even tried to fit wings to their arms. Gustav went on to become a successful architect while Otto, after a brilliant scholastic career, became a mechanical engineer. Otto was able to devote his spare time to the problems of flight, and Gustav helped when his work allowed. They considered manpowered and mechanically powered projects, but neither looked hopeful so they turned to gliding. Otto published his research work in a book, Bird Flight as a Basis for Aviation. By 1889 Otto Lilienthal was ready to test his first full-size gliders. No. 1 and No. 2 were not successful, but No. 3, built in 1891, showed promise. He gradually improved his designs and his launching sites as he gained experience. To take off he ran downhill carrying his hang-glider until it became airborne, then he controlled it by swinging his body weight in the appropriate direction. He even built an artificial mound near Berlin so that he could take off into the wind whichever way it was blowing.
In all, Lilienthal built some eighteen gliders with various wing shapes, including biplanes. By 1895 he was planning movable control surfaces (operated by head movement) and a powered version using a carbonic acid gas motor. Unfortunately, Lilienthal crashed and died of his injuries before these ideas could be tested. In all, he made over two thousand flights covering distances up to 300 m (300 yds. Many of these flights were recorded on photographs and so generated an interest in flying. Lilienthal's achievements also encouraged other pioneers, such as Percy Pilcher in Britain, and Octave Chanute and the Wright brothers in the United States.
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Bibliography
1899, Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst, Berlin, reprinted c. 1977; repub. in English, 1911, as Bird Flight as a Basis for Aviation.
Further Reading
Charles H.Gibbs-Smith, 1985, Aviation, London (provides a detailed account of Lilienthal's gliders).
P.H.Lilienthal, 1978, "Die Lilienthal Gebrüder", Aerospace (Royal Aeronautical Society) (January) (for more personal information).
"The Lilienthal and Pilcher gliders compared", Flight (1 January 1910 and 8 January 1910) (for details about and plans of a typical Lilienthal glider).
JDS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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