Who Flew Ten Years Before the Wright Brothers?

Otto von Lilienthal and his brother Gustav and were fascinated by the huge storks that came to rest on the roof of their house in Germany.

They watched as the great birds took off, circled, and landed. The two brothers decided to become “storks” themselves. They wanted to fly. This was during the 1890’s, when men were flying with the help of hot-air balloons, but that was not what Otto Lilienthal wanted.

He wanted to fly like a bird. He and of his brother made six-foot wings and strapped one to each arm. With these, they beat the air and tried gliding from low roofs and cliffs.

It did not work well, but they watched the storks and kept trying. They made new sets of wings that fit over their backs and were fixed so they could not flap like a bird’s.

These wings had a cross-bar that Otto could twist and turn to control direction. Otto became the brother who flew the most. He made over 2,000 flights, some of them as long as 1,000 feet.

The fame of the brothers spread, and another pair of brothers, the Wrights, heard of their experiments. The Wright brothers benefited from what the Lilienthal brothers had learned.

Otto von Lilienthal was the first person in the world to make repeated successful gliding flights.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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