Otto Lilienthal was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the ‘Glider King’. He is regarded as the first successful aviator in the history of mankind. He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding flights. In his lifetime he amassed over 2,000 in number, demonstrating that unpowered human flight was possible, and that total control of an aerial device while aloft was within reach.
His abilities as an engineer, mathematician placed him at the forefront of aerial experimentation during the mid-1890’s, with his fundamental research on birds and airfoils, he founded the science of wing aerodynamics and lay the foundations for concepts that we still employ today. Otto Lilienthal and his brother, Gustav, made numerous measurements of the lift and drag of various aerofoils during 1874, which they published in 1889.
Otto Lilienthal’s aerial influence was incredibly widespread, his work was well-known within the U.S. Both his research and his successful flights between 1891 and 1896 inspired the Wright brothers, influencing their research which resulted in the invention of the powered, controllable, heavier than air aircraft beginning in 1896 until their ultimate success in 1903.
Tragically, Otto Lilienthal’s glider collapsed during a flight on August 9, 1896, and he suffered severe injuries, which lead to his death the following day at a hospital in Berlin. Despite this great tragedy, and significant loss to progress in the aerial arts, his legacy remains as strong today.