Since the beginning of time, people have only dreamed about the idea of flying, thinking to themselves, will we ever know that feeling? Impossible. But it always goes down to one human being with a vision, with the idea that, yes, we can fly, let’s just start with a pair of wings, and he did.
It all started with one of history’s greatest minds, Leonardo da Vinci; an artist, scientist and a visionary. At first he was generally known as a painter, it wasn’t till the 1800 that records of his intellectual and technical accomplishments have surfaced. Leonardo da Vinci started thinking of the probability of flying to the point that he became obsessed with the idea. Hence he started focusing on the possibility of human mechanical flight. His interest seems to have started from his extensive work on military technology. Leonardo da Vinci’s focus on military technology gave him the idea of aerial reconnaissance. And once he thought he could build a machine to give us the ability to fly, he was consumed.
Starting with close and precise observation and use of nature as a starting point for many of his ideas, imitating natural flight was the obvious place to begin the journey. Most of Leonardo’s aeronautical designs were ornithopters, machines that employed flapping wings to generate both lift and propulsion. He drew sketches of such flying machines with the pilot prone, standing vertically, using arms, using legs. As inspiriting as these designs were, the fundamental barrier to an ornithopter is the demonstrably limited muscle power and endurance of humans compared to birds. In other words, the idea of it is encouraging but to act on it would be impossible due to our body’s limitations.
According to Leonardo da Vinci and Flight by Peter Jakab, Leonardo showed basic understanding of the relationship between a curved wing section and lift. He understands the idea of air as a fluid, a foundation of the science of aerodynamics. Leonardo makes insightful observations of gliding flight by birds and the way in which they balance themselves with their wings and tail, just as the Wright brothers would do as they evolved their first aeronautical designs. He comments on the pilot’s position in a potential flying machine and how control could be achieved by shifting the body weight, precisely as the early glider pioneers of the late nineteenth century would do. He explains the importance of lightweight structures that aircraft would need. He even hints at the force Newton would later define as gravity. To say the least, the man was way ahead of his time.
Unfortunately, Leonardo’s sketches, designs, and notebooks were all lost and weren’t discovered until 300 years after his death. His ideas might have advanced the course of aviation history and flight might’ve been accomplished centuries sooner. Nonetheless, with all the mishaps and missed opportunities, nothing good comes easy. History only shows us that we’ve achieved something beyond extraordinary, so when you learn to fly, you might not become the greatest pilot to ever walk the planet or you might not break a world record, but you’ll always be part of something bigger than all of that, as a pilot, you’re one of the unique, brave hearts that defied to achieve something so beautiful and difficult that others only dreamed of.