Segments in this Video

Early Fluid Dynamics (05:39)


Ibn Firnas attached feathers to his body and arms, launching himself from a mountaintop in 860 AD; modern Wingsuits allow for safer flight experiences. The Chinese invented the kite 2,500 years ago, applying the study of airflow to give structures lift.

Duplicating Nature (04:22)

Leonardo Da Vinci studied bird anatomy, hoping to attain human flight. He designed machines with beating wings, but none became airborne. High speed photography revealed the complexity of aviary mechanics.

First Working Glider (05:29)

Inspired by a soaring gull, Sir George Cayley devised the Whirling Arm. In 1849, he crafted a flying machine capable of transporting a small boy.

Commercial Aviation Aspirations (05:34)

Balloons were used for mail delivery and transportation throughout the 19th century. In 1870, Alphonse Penaud created a rubber band propelled toy helicopter, inspiring the Wright brothers. Otto Lilienthal innovated a weight steered glider.

Wilbur and Orville Wright (07:46)

The Wright Brothers studied fluid dynamics, finding shape for better lift and wing warping for control. In 1902, they tested a prototype glider. In 1903, they invented the first powered aircraft, selling their first production model in 1908.

Artificial Horizon (05:47)

Engineer Elmer Sperry invented the gyrocompass, allowing iron ships to navigate; his son applied the innovation to aviation. Visual limitations made flying dangerous. James Doolittle test piloted the device, successfully flying blind.

Altitude Pioneer (09:22)

The first commercial airliners flew at 5,000 feet and were vulnerable to bad weather. Captain Hawthorne Gray was found dead after navigating to over 40,000 feet in a helium balloon. Wiley Post built a suit inspired by deep sea divers; by 1938, plane cabins were pressurized.

Gas Turbine (05:21)

At twenty, Frank Whittle wrote an essay outlining his vision for aviation, later inventing the jet engine. Early tests ended badly, but after nine years of development, his design was successfully flown; it worked at high altitudes.

Future of Aviation (02:42)

Kitty Hawk aspires to manufacture personal commute aircraft. Aeronautics companies are developing the electric airliner. Hypersonic flights promise to revolutionize commercial flight.

Credits: The Airplane (00:29)

Credits: The Airplane

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The Airplane

Part of the Series : Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Take to the sky with the dreamers whose work gave humans the ability to fly. From Leonardo da Vinci’s “flying machines” to the modern commercial plane, without these inventions, we may have never left the ground.

Length: 55 minutes

Item#: FMK188586

Copyright date: ©2019

Closed Captioned

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