Historical data shows that Mankind has been fascinated with flight for thousands of years. Of course, the ability to actually fly might be only a few hundred years old, but humans have been trying to make Academy of Aeronautics aircraft that mimics the agility of birds and insects for a very long time.
Indeed, while the earliest forms of aircraft—kites and balloons, for example—might have let us explore the idea of flight a little more intimately, it was not until, perhaps, the 19th century until we really began to personally explore the sky.
LIGHTER THAN AIR
The earliest forms of aircraft were considered to be “lighter-than-air.” This includes kites, of course, which can ride wind gusts and breezes, as well as balloons that would use heated air to rise above the same air at cooler temperatures. Balloons gave way to airships that actually were used to transport people above the ground, though at quite the slow pace.
It was the 18th century during which that Leonardo da Vinci started to develop concepts about manned-flight. Of course, many of his concepts were impractical but it was his ideas (along with those from a handful of other thinkers) that led to our understanding of modern aviation. Unfortunately, many of these ideas were simply things like gliders that let would allow person to ride the breeze and not actual travel through the air.
HEAVIER THAN AIR
The later part of the 19th century saw lots of intense study in terms of flight. Several inventors and scientists developed human flight concepts that tested successfully but with great limitations. The invention of the steam engine helped to propel these vehicles, but the technology and the concepts were still very green.
THE FIRST WORKING AIRCRAFT
The Wright Brothers began working on gliders and kites around the turn of the 20th century but with less success than they had hoped. Obviously this did not deter them from their dream of human flight as they remain credited, to this day, as the first inventor of a manned aircraft. This, of course, paved the way for more inventors and engineers to continue developing ideas which would eventually bring us the aircraft—and the aircraft industries—that we appreciate today.