Takeoff: when humans learnt to fly

Otto Lilienthal, the Wright Brothers, and Hugo Junkers: The major pioneers in the history of aviation.

By Deutsches Museum

Deutsches Museum

Wright FliegerDeutsches Museum

Flying: Airborne inventions

Flying is perhaps mankind's oldest dream—a dream that goes so far back it even occupied the poets of ancient mythology, when Icarus came too close to the sun and paid for his arrogance with his life. From the end of the 19th century, however, pioneers in aviation made a decisive breakthrough—although they only flew a few feet through the air at first, their inventions were the forerunners of the large aircraft on which we now jet around the world.

Otto LilienthalDeutsches Museum

Otto Lilienthal
Otto Lilienthal, born in 1848, is considered one of the trailblazers of aviation history. For many years he observed the flight of birds with his brother Gustav—until he realized that it was not enough just to imitate nature. Through experiments with flat and curved surfaces in the wind, Otto Lilienthal discovered how curvature affects lift.

Lilienthal glider (1895) by Otto LilienthalDeutsches Museum

With the help of detailed drawings and complex mathematical formulas on length and weight, Otto Lilienthal calculated how best to design a glider that was capable of flying.

The initial experiments were preceded by many theoretical considerations and calculations.

Lilienthal continued working on his development as the pencil notes all over the drawing are showing.

"Birdflight as basis of aviation", Otto Lilienthal, 1889, From the collection of: Deutsches Museum
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In 1889 Otto Lilienthal published his book "Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation." For him, this was the foundation needed to finally move from theory to practical experiments.

NormalsegelapparatDeutsches Museum

The Normalsegelapparat
From 1894 onward, Lilienthal flew his monoplane gliding device which he named the "Normalsegelapparat" (normal soaring apparatus). This is seen as his most advanced construction. The Normalsegelapparat has a wingspan of 22 feet and a wing area of 140 square feet. During takeoffs on the slopes of the Rhinow mountains, Lilienthal achieved flights where he managed to glide for up to 820 feet. In 1884, not far from his apartment, he had a 50-foot-high flying hill built so he was able to conduct flight experiments there as well. Lilienthal inspired flight researchers both in his homeland and abroad to experiment, and motivated them to build their own constructions.

Video zum LilienthalgleiterDeutsches Museum

Otto LilienthalDeutsches Museum

His invention caused a great sensation. Lilienthal produced a small number of additional models of his Normalsegelapparat and sold them at home and abroad. But he was unable to enjoy his fame for long. On August 9, 1896 he crashed during a test flight near Stölln am Gollenberg from a height of 50 feet. He died of his injuries at the University Hospital Berlin the next day. He was only 48 years old.

Gebrüder WrightDeutsches Museum

The Wright Brothers
Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright developed, built, and flew the first engine-powered aircraft. They initiated the development and production of the first powered aircraft and shaped the beginnings of aviation. Orville Wright (1871–1948) owned a bicycle repair shop in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers' interest in the development of aircraft started when they were young. After the death of Otto Lilienthal, their interest grew further. "It was when the sad news of Lilienthal's death made it to America in 1896 that our interest in the question of flight became more than fleeting."

Wright erster MotorflugDeutsches Museum

Their first successful motorized aircraft was the "Flyer." The maiden flight took place on December 17, 1903 and proved a success. They carried out a total of 4 flights that day. The first flight traveled 120 feet and lasted 12 seconds. The 4th and final flight of the day saw Orville Wright remain in the air for 59 seconds and a distance of 850 feet. These test flights took place at Kitty Hawk on the Atlantic Coast in North Carolina.

Wright erster MotorflugDeutsches Museum

Inspired by their success, the brothers developed their powered aircraft further. The next models were called "Flyer II" and "Flyer III," which they managed to keep in the air for up to 30 minutes. To start with, the Wrights carried out their flights in secret, and started presenting their spectacular innovation to the public in 1908. In 1909 they also came to Germany and showed their refined "Model A" to an astonished Berlin audience above the Tempelhof field.

Wilbur Wright, From the collection of: Deutsches Museum
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The Tempelhof air show is still considered the starting point of powered flight in Germany. In 1909 "Flugmaschine Wright GmbH" was founded in Johannisthal near Berlin, where the brothers put licensed aircraft into series production. They made 22 machines in the first year. Like his role model, Otto Lilienthal, Wilbur Wright died very young, aged only 45, in 1912—though it was typhus and not a plane crash that caused his death. His saying "The only dangerous thing about flying is the ground" became well known.

Orville Wright, From the collection of: Deutsches Museum
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His brother Orville Wright remained involved in aviation for a long time. However, he did not make any further groundbreaking discoveries. He was no longer able to keep up with the subsequent advancement of motorized airplanes in Germany and France. Orville died from a heart attack more than 35 years after his brother, on January 30, 1948.

7 Hawthorne Street, Dayton, Ohio: The address of the Wright family's home—demolished long ago—from 1871 to 1914, where brothers Wilbur and Orville puzzled over the theory and technology of their aircraft. After Wilbur's death in 1912, Orville and his family moved away to Hawthorne Hill. Today a plaque commemorates the ingenious brothers and inventors.

Wright FliegerDeutsches Museum

Model A in the Deutsches Museum
The publicist and publisher August Scherl purchased the aircraft that was flown over the Tempelhof field and displayed it in 1912 at the General Aircraft Exhibition (ALA) in Berlin. In April 1912 Scherl donated the aircraft to the Deutsches Museum. It was one of the first motorized aircraft in the museum's collection. It was partly damaged when the museum was hit by bombs in 1944, and after restoration, was put on display to the public again in 1958 with the reopening of the aviation department. It is now the world's only example of an original "Model A."

Junkers F-13 mit Familie Junkers (1921)Deutsches Museum

The Junkers F-13
While the aircraft of Otto Lilienthal and the Wright brothers were produced in small numbers and with a short range, the Junkers F-13 became the first modern commercial aircraft. Engineer Hugo Junkers (1859–1935, shown here 5th from right) developed the groundbreaking passenger aircraft immediately after the First World War, which made its maiden flight on June 25, 1919. Around 320 of these were built by 1932.

Junkers F-13 Kabine innenDeutsches Museum

The empty cabin of a Junkers F-13: Soon after its premiere flight, record flights such as an altitude flight at 22,145 feet and a non-stop long-haul flight over 1,180 miles in 12 hours and 10 minutes would cause a sensation. In the 1920s, the F-13 made a major contribution to the breakthrough of air transportation. Junkers F-13 models were used as passenger and cargo aircraft until well into the 1930s…

Junkers F-13 mit Passagieren (1919)Deutsches Museum

…even if not all passengers seemed completely enthusiastic: 2 skeptical passengers in an F-13, which incidentally offers more legroom than a seat in today's economy class. Heating and lighting in the 4-passenger cabin provided great comfort and gave the aircraft the nickname "air limousine."

Junkers F-13 im MuseumDeutsches Museum

The F-13 fe model on display in the Deutsches Museum was built in Dessau in 1927/28—and had an adventurous history after its sale to the Afghan king Amanullah.

Junkers F-13 in Kabul (1968)Deutsches Museum

When the king was overthrown following domestic political unrest in 1929 and fled abroad to Italy, the Junkers was left at Kabul airport for years and gradually became weathered.

Junkers F-13 in Kabul (1968)Deutsches Museum

The machine sat rusting in Afghanistan until 1968, when Kurt H. Weil, a senior engineer at Junkers during the 1930s, discovered the fuselage of the F-13 at a scrap yard in Kabul. One year later, the Afghan government donated the F-13 to the Deutsches Museum. The Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm company took over the restoration and rebuilding of the missing wings and tail unit.

The F-13 has been on display in the Aeronautics Hall of the Deutsches Museum since 1984, after the museum's first Junkers F-13 was destroyed during an air raid in 1944. Today there are a total of 4 F-13s still on display in museums around the world.

Other aircraft that have shaped the history of aviation can be found in the Deutsches Museum's aircraft hangar in Oberschleißheim.

Video zum Rundflug der Antonow (2017)Deutsches Museum

One example is the Antonov An-2, which was a multi-purpose aircraft used in the Warsaw Pact states. Built in 1965, this aircraft was in use until 1993 and has been in Oberschleißheim ever since. It took off from here for a scenic flight over Munich in 2017.

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