A dream of flight
To fly was always more than just a technical challenge. The idea of conquering the skies is a dream that has fascinated would-be pilots since around 2300 BC. Now, facts, data and images let us retell the short story of human flight - the culmination of a long prehistory of fantastic projects, astonishing ideas and adventurous attempts.
Airship project (1709) by Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão and Bartolomeu Lourenço de GusmãoOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
In 1709, the Portuguese priest and naturalist Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão presented a petition to King of Portugal, seeking royal support for his invention of an airship.
Airmail ship "Minerva" (1804) by Robertson, Robertson, and model: Serowski, Harald/Otto-Lilienthal-MuseumOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
A popular early satire on the onset of "balloon mania" which began with the first balloon trips in 1783.
steam driven airship (1852-09-24) by Baptiste Henri Jacques Giffard and Baptiste Henri Jacques GiffardOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
The world's first passenger airship, powered with a steam engine of the French engineer Henry Giffard reached a speed of about 10 km/h (1:50 scale model).
airship with an electric engine (1883-10-08) by Albert und Gaston Tissandier, Tissandier, Gaston & Albert, and model: Grils/Otto-Lilienthal-MuseumOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
This model shows the first airship with an electric engine (1:50 scale model).
Gasoline driven airship (1896) by Friedrich Hermann Wölfert and Wölfert, Friedrich HerrmannOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
First successful airship driven by a gasoline engine. (Model 1:50)
When humans learned to fly
”That day in 1891 when Lilienthal paced the first 15 metres of air, I take as the moment when mankind learned to fly.” A historic quote by French flight pioneer Ferdinand Ferber (1862-1909).
Since 1882, Ottoman Anschütz was busy outsmarting the "moment". His "focal plane shutter" was, in addition to sensitive photographic material, the key to producing so-called "momentary photographs". They were the prerequisite for imaging moving objects. A series of flying storks was one of the first instant photographs in 1884. Anschütz became the most important photographer of the flying Otto Lilienthal.
"first film" of Otto Lilienthal's flights (2016) by Johannes Hogebrink and Hogebrink, JohannesOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
Composed from photographs, this stop-motion animation shows the first human flight by Otto Lilienthal.
Otto Lilienthal: "Derwitz glider" (1891) by Otto LilienthalOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
Das erste erfolgreiche "Flugzeug" der Geschichte (Replik)
"Normal soraing apparatus" - first aeroplane built in series (1894/1896) by Otto LilienthalOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
This is the first flying vehicle in a serial production. We know that at least nine people bought the original glider. Four of these are preserved in museums in London, Moscow, Munich and Washington.
Otto Lilienthal's "large biplane" (1895) by Otto LilienthalOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
Lilienthal described his vision for steering control, stating: "The biplane design has the same lifting capacity of a single wing with twice the span, but the shorter span is more responsive to changes in the center of gravity." The results were convincing. The original lower wing is preserved in Vienna.
Lilienthal also attempted to add a wing-flapping mechanism to his gliders.
Inspired by bird flight
Lilienthal’s successful gliding flights from 1891 earned him international recognition. His tests and experimentation from 1873 onwards formed the fundamental groundwork for today’s aviation. In his book ”Bird Flight As The Basis Of Aviation” published in 1889, he presented the physical laws of the wing that are still valid today.
The bird flight was the main inspiration for Lilienthal's invention.
Decoded - the mystery of the wing
Lilienthal’s first well-documented experiment: Are flapping wings the key to human flight?
Whirling arm device (1989) by Otto LilienthalOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
Polar diagram - quintessence of Lilienthal's measurements (1889) by Otto LilienthalOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
Lilienthal published a paper about the properties of artificial wings featuring work that is still valid today: the so called "polar diagram".
Lilienthal went down in history as the ”first flying man”. But this reveals only a part of his life: he was also a successful manufacturer of small steam engines and steam boilers. As a creative engineer he held numerous mechanical engineering patents and he was a progressive entrepreneur with a focus on how engineering could help improve society. What’s more, almost all construction toys to this day are based on inventions of the Lilienthal brothers.
stone building blocks - drawings for a construction toy (1879) by Lilienthal, Gustav and Lilienthal, GustavOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
Another famous invention
the only kept steam engine produces in the Lilienthal engeneering works (1889) by Lilienthal, OttoOtto-Lilienthal-Museum
For the last century or so, historians engaged in research with the life and accomplishments of Lilienthal had come to the conclusion that, apart from the few preserved gliders, probably no original product of the Lilienthal machine works has been preserved. That's why it was a big surprise when the museum got to know a few years ago that a Lilienthal steam engine existed in Australia.
Otto Lilienthal as an actor in the Berlin "Ostendtheater" which he transformed into a "Volksbühne" (community theatre) as a co-owner. He also became the author of a play with strong autobiographical features for the theater.
Lilienthal medal (1914 - 1935)Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
Award of the "Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Luftfahrt" (Scientific Association of Aviation)
front: "OTTO LILIENTHAL MDCCCXLVIII-XCVI NON OMNIS MORIAR" (1848-96, I will not die), verso:: "für hervorragende Verdienste" (distinguished merits)
Before we finish, we invite you to take a look around the displays of the Otto-Lilienthal-Museum for yourself.