Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Otto Lilienthal (23 May 1848 – 10 August 1896), the German "Glider King", was a pioneer of human aviation. He is often credited with building the first successful human-carrying glider, the Derwitzer Glider in 1891, but this distinction in fact belongs to Sir George Cayley who accomplished this feat nearly forty years previously.
Nevertheless, Lilienthal's contributions to the development of heavier-than-air flight remain significant. Often working in conjunction with his brother, Gustav, he made over 2000 flights in gliders of his design between 1891 and his death five years later. Lilienthal did basic research in precisely describing birds flight, especially of storks and used polar-diagrams for describing the aerodynamics of their wings. Lilienthal helped to prove that heavier-than-air flight was practical without flapping wings, laying the groundwork for the Wright brothers a few years later to build the first successful powered airplane.
Lilienthal suffered a number of crashes in his experiments, but his aircraft could only reach low speeds and altitudes. On 9 August 1896, a gust of wind fractured his wing and he fell from a height of 17 m, breaking his spine. He died the next day, saying, "Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" ("Sacrifices must be made!")
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