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the Wright brothers may have been the first to make a sustained,
controlled flight, they were just two among hundreds of brave men and
women who helped to give the world its wings during the earliest days of
aviation. Below are brief biographies and photos of some of the most important
figures and, where available, resources and links where you can find more
information. In some cases, contributors have supplied expanded
biographies. Those are listed at the right and linked below.
Ader of France was a distinguished electrical engineer who helped
pioneer the telephone. He also studied birds and bats, and in 1873 built a bird-shaped glider with feathered wings.
He made a few
tethered accents, then began thinking about powered flight. In 1882, he
began work on an airplane and a lightweight steam engine to power it. He
called his craft the Eole. It had a 20-horsepower engine,
bat-like wings, no rudder, and no elevator. When tested in
1890, the 653-pound (296-kilogram) craft flew about 165 feet (50
meters) at a height of 8
inches (20 centimeters) off the ground. It was the first aircraft to take off from level
ground under its own power. In 1892, Ader convinced the French
Ministry of War to fund further research. He built a twin-engine craft
called the Avion III, and attempted to fly it before official observers in
1897. It failed to impress those observers, and they cut off
funding. Later, after Alberto Santos-Dumont had made a short flight in
France, Ader began to claim that his craft had flown almost 1000 feet (304
1897. The official report, released many years after the test, says
nothing of the kind. It records that the Avion III never completely left the
ground, although one or two of its three wheels may have come off.
An artist's conception of the Eole
in flight. The actual "flight" was just inches above the ground.
Plans for the Eole.
The Avion III, on display in
An uncovered model of the Eole,
showing the bat-like frame of the aircraft.
of France was wealthy lawyer, sportsman, and aviation enthusiast. He built
several experimental gliders, mostly based on Wright designs. More
important, he offered several lucrative prizes to encourage the
development of aviation, especially in France. In May 1903, he and
Ferdinand Ferber created the Aviation Committee in the Aero Club
du France to kindle French interest in heavier-than-air
flight. His hope was to encourage young French aviators to more daring
deeds and beat the Americans -- in particular, the Wright brothers -- into
The 1905 Archdeacon floatplane-glider was designed by Archdeacon,
but built and flown by Gabriel Voison.
of Chicago, Illinois was a carpenter in Octave Chanute's neighborhood. He
built a multi-wing glider, the Katydid for Chanute in 1896 and
joined Chanute's band of aviation enthusiasts at the Indiana Dunes to test
the craft. Later, he flew the Chanute-Herring glider in exhibition flight
at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.
Avery's Katydid at the
Indiana Dunes in the summer of 1896.
Avery about to launch a Chanute-Herring glider in St. Louis in 1904.