Otto Lilienthal - to fly like a bird
Today, Otto Lilienthal is called the first successful aviator in the history of mankind. With his fundamental research on birds and airfoils, he founded the science of wing aerodynamics and lay the foundations for concepts we still employ today. Both his research and his successful flights between 1891 and 1896 inspired the Wright brothers. He influenced their research that resulted in the invention of the powered, controllable, heavier than air aircraft beginning in 1896 until their ultimate success in 1903. "From gliding to powered flight", history is described in general. We would say more appropriately: "From hang glider to airplane".
The biography of Otto Lilienthal was strongly influenced by and connected to that of his brother Gustav Lilienthal (1849-1933). The brothers worked together all their lives, especially on technical, social and cultural projects, which are of great importance even to this day.
Our knowledge about Lilienthal's flight research and flight techniques is mainly based on:
- Numerous publications (lectures and essays), correspondence (those covering the topic of flight are published in German), drawings and other documents collected and analyzed during the last 100 years. Some are part of our online archives.
- The reconstruction of a great number of gliders and aircraft was made possible by studying all sources, especially photographs, drawings, correspondence and the few original gliders that have survived until the present day.
- One of the most important research sources is the large number of photographs. They are noteworthy because they mark the starting point of so called "action photography." That is why they are both documents of the history of aviation and of photography.