History Behind The Card: Lilienthal Gliding Machine
Name: Otto Lilienthal, 1848 – 1896, Anklam, Prussia (now part of Germany)
Name: Gustav Lilienthal, 1849 – 1933, Anklam, Prussia
Despite the two names mentioned above, this is about the palindromic Otto.
Otto Lilienthal was an engineer, and through his experiments, he became constructed and successfully flew and controlled the first hang gliders.
Along with his brother Gustav, Otto Lilienthal built many different types of gliders and flew over 5,000 flights between 1891-1896 reaching a maximum height of 300-meters (984-feet) and sometimes staying aloft for hours.
Many of his gliders featured cambered wings that curved slightly on top enabling greater lift, while other gliders used two wings fitted above each other like a bi-plane—in fact the Wright Brothers were inspired by this design and successfully implemented it for their own aeroplane creation.
Lilienthal’s gliders were designed in a manner that distributed the rider’s weight as evenly as possible for stability—and by simply swinging their body to the right or left, the weight shift could change the glider’s direction.
In a letter supplied to the Patent’s office, Lilienthal gave a superb description of one of his gliders: This invention relates to flying-machines which resemble in their construction the structure of birds’ wings. The object of these flying-machines is to imitate the soaring of birds as well as their ordinary flight, which is effected by the flapping of the wings. The improved machine comprises two wings, which, after the manner of birds’ wings, are slightly valued upward. These wings are fixed by two rods laid crosswise one upon the other and firmly connected together, which rods form a carrying-frame or part of a carrying-frame to which the person intending to fly may hold, so as to be suspended between the two wings… In carrying this invention into practice, two wooden rods a, forming an acute-angled cross, are arranged to carry at their upper ends pockets, produced by two small wooden plates. In these pockets are pivoted the wooden ribs of the wings. A string connecting the points of the ribs, and a wire fastened to the first rib of the wing and hooked to the hoop, stretch these ribs in the horizontal direction. The tension downward is given to the ribs by wires which extend from the points of the lower ends of the crossed rods. The said hoop is nailed, glued, or otherwise secured in the pockets. With this hoop are firmly connected the rods to which are attached in front the wooden bar with the rods, and at the rear two diverging rods. On the latter is pivoted the tail such a manner that it can freely turn upward, but finds downward a point of support on the fixed rudder. This mode of attaching the tail has the advantage that the tail will have no carrying action when the machine is employed like an ordinary parachute, thereby preventing the machine from turning over forward. The rudder, which serves for automatically keeping the machine in the wind’s eye, is likewise detachably fastened to the rods and the hoop.
For using this flying-machine the person inserts his fore-arms between the cushions, fixed to the crossed wooden rods and takes hold of the bar with the hands, so that, without changing the upright position of his body, he can carry and properly adjust the machine in a very convenient manner during his run before the flight, while during the flight he can balance and steer the machine, in which he is suspended, by a suitable movement of his body, so as to displace its center of gravity. In this manner he can imitate the so called “soaring” of birds, in which the movement takes place merely by a change in the position of the wings with regard to the direction of the wind, there being no rudder movement proper of the wings. As under these circumstances the legs are always freely suspended downward the landing can safely be effected by putting the feet on the ground. The folding up of the machine is effected by disengaging the front tension-wires from the hoop, turning the rips about their center in the pockets to the rear and hooking the tension-wires into the eyes on the rods. The apparatus then constitutes a compact whole.
While the size of Lilienthal’s many gliders vary, they are within this range—just to give the reader an idea of size and scope:
- Wingspan: 6.7-meters (22-feet);
- Length: 5-meters (16-feet);
- Weight: 24-kilograms (52-pounds).
On August 9, 1896, while testing a glider, a gust of wind caught and collapsed it causing Otto Lilienthal to crash to the ground, dying the next day.