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A 1786 depiction of the Montgolfier brothers' historic balloon with engineering data. Details are available in translation on the image hosting page.|
There are conflicting views as to what was the first flying machine. This kind of controversy of invention is not limited to flight. For example, debates over the tallest building tend to break into debates around what constitutes a building and what is the most important measure of such structures' height. In the same way some records of flying machines can come down to the exact definition of what, for example, constitutes a "flying machine", or "flight", or even "first".
Claims to first piloted flight by date
- According to Aulus Gellius, Archytas, the Ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, statesman, and strategist, was reputed to have designed and built the first artificial, self-propelled flying device, a bird-shaped model propelled by a jet of what was probably steam, said to have actually flown some 200 meters. This machine, which its inventor called The Pigeon (Greek: Περιστέρα "Peristera"), may have been suspended on a wire or pivot for its flight.
- Anonymous, Chang'an, China, according to 1st century records the first human in the air, using feathery wings — 19 CE
- Zhuge Liang, China, traditionally credited with invention of the Kongming lantern, which was the first hot air balloon, though not suitable for human transportation — 2–3rd century CE.
- Yuan Huangtou, Ye, China, first manned kite glide to take off from a tower — 559 CE
- Abbas Ibn Firnas (aka Armen Firman), al-Andalus, first parachute flight — 852.
- Abbas Ibn Firnas (aka Armen Firman), al-Andalus, first manned ornithopter flight, ended in crash — 875
- Eilmer of Malmesbury, England, a monk who flew a glider from an Abbey in the early 11th century
- Pyung Goo Jung, Jinju, South Korea. During the Siege of Jinju (1593) in the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598), Jung invented a "flying car", which was a wagon made out of oak trees, human hair, and ropes to bring fresh supplies of food and ammunition, according to a book written by Gyung Joon Shin. Jung was later killed in battle.
- Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi, Ottoman Empire, who flew from the very top of the Galata Tower and landed in the Doğancılar square in Üsküdar, with the help of the south-west wind in the early 1630s.
- Bartolomeu de Gusmão, Brazil and Portugal, an experimenter with early airship designs. In 1709 demonstrated a small airship model before the Portuguese court, but never succeeded with a full-scale model.
- Pilâtre de Rozier, Paris, France, first trip by a human in a free-flying balloon (the Montgolfière). 9 km covered in 25 minutes. October 15, 1783
- Hans Andreas Navrestad, Norway — 1825
- Allegedly flew manned glider.
- John Stringfellow, England — 1848
- First heavier than air powered flight, accomplished by an unmanned steam powered monoplane of 10-foot (3.0 m) wingspan. In 1868, he flew a powered monoplane model a few dozen feet at an exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London.
- George Cayley, England — 1853
- First well-documented Western human glide. Cayley also made the first scientific studies into the aerodynamic forces on a winged flying machine and produced designs incorporating a fuselage, wings, stabilizing tail and control surfaces. He is considered the "Father" of aeronautical engineering, and modern airplanes use principles he discovered, such as separate systems for lift and thrust and the cambered wing.
- Jean-Marie Le Bris, France, flight in 1856
- Jean-Marie Le Bris was the first to fly higher than his point of departure, by having his glider pulled by a horse on a beach, against the wind.
- Jan Wnek, Poland — controlled flights 1866 - 1869.
- Jan Wnek controlled his glider by twisting the wing's trailing edge via strings attached to stirrups at his feet. Church records only -- Krakow Museum unwilling to allow verification.
- Goodman Household, South Africa, 1871
- Goodman built and flew his own glider over one hundred meters. The story is that he crashed breaking both glider and a leg. The event took place in the Kwazulu Natal Midlands near Curry's Post in 1871 and is recorded variously in legend and local literature.
- Félix du Temple de la Croix, France, 1874.
- First take-off of a manned and powered aircraft, from a downsloped ramp, resulting in a brief hop a few feet above the ground.
- John Joseph Montgomery, United States of America 1883
- First controlled glider flight in the United States, from a hillside near Otay, California.
- Alexander Feodorovich Mozhaiski, Russian Empire — 1884
- First powered hop by a manned multi-engine (steam) fixed-wing aircraft, 60-100 feet (20-30 meters), from a downsloped ramp.
- Clement Ader, France — October 9, 1890
- He reportedly made the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air flight of a significant distance (50 m) but insignificant altitude from level ground in his bat-winged monoplane, the Eole. Seven years later, the Avion III (a different machine) was said to be flown upon 300 metres (in fact just lifted off the ground, and lost control). The event was not publicized until many years later, as it had been a military secret. The events were poorly documented, the aeroplane not suited to have been controlled; there was no further development. Later in life Ader claimed to have flown the Avion II in 1891 for over 200 meters.
- Otto Lilienthal, Germany — 1891
- The German "Glider King" was a pioneer of human aviation—the first person to make controlled untethered glides repeatedly and the first to be photographed flying a heavier-than-air machine. He made about 2,000 glides until his death August 10, 1896 from injuries in a glider crash the day before.
- Lawrence Hargrave, Australia -- November 12, 1894,
- The Australian inventor of the box kite, linked four of his kites together, added a sling seat, and flew 16 feet. By demonstrating to a sceptical public that it was possible to build a safe and stable flying machine, Hargrave opened the door to other inventors and pioneers. Hargrave devoted most of his life to constructing a machine that would fly. He believed passionately in open communication within the scientific community and would not patent his inventions. Instead, he scrupulously published the results of his experiments in order that a mutual interchange of ideas may take place with other inventors working in the same field, so as to expedite joint progress. 
- Hiram Stevens Maxim, United Kingdom — 1894
- The American inventor of the machine gun built a very large 3.5 ton flying machine that ran on a track and was propelled by powerful twin naphtha fueled steam engines. He made several tests in the huge biplane that were well recorded and reported. On July 31, 1894 he made a record breaking speed run at 42 miles per hour (68 km/h). The machine lifted from the 1,800-foot (550 m) track and broke a restraining mechanism, crashing after a short uncontrolled flight just above the ground.
- Samuel Pierpont Langley, United States — May 6, 1896
- First sustained flight by a heavier-than-air powered, unmanned aircraft: the Number 5 model, driven by a miniature steam engine, flew half a mile in 90 seconds over the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. In November the Number 6 flew more than five thousand feet. Langley's full-size manned powered Aerodrome failed twice in October and December 1903.
- Octave Chanute, United States — Summer 1896
- Designer of first rectangular wing strut-braced biplane (originally tri-plane) hang glider, a configuration that strongly influenced the Wright brothers. Flown successfully at the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan, U.S. by his proteges, including Augustus Herring, for distances exceeding 100 feet (30 m).
- Carl Rickard Nyberg, Sweden — 1897
- Managed a few short jumps in his Flugan, a steam powered, manned aircraft
- Gustave Whitehead, United States — 1899
- Reportedly flew a steam-powered monoplane about half a mile and crashed into a three-story building in Pittsburgh in April or May 1899, according to a witness who gave a statement in 1934 and said he was the passenger.
- Percy Pilcher, England — 1899
- Pioneer British glider/plane builder and pilot; protege of Lilienthal; killed in 1899 when his fourth glider crashed shortly before the intended public test of his powered triplane. Cranfield University built a replica of the triplane in 2003 from drawings in Philip Jarrett's book "Another Icarus". Test pilot Bill Brooks successfully flew it several times, staying airborne up to 1 minute and 25 seconds.
- Augustus Moore Herring, United States — 1899
- Claimed a flight of 70 feet (21 m) by attaching a compressed air motor to a biplane hang glider. However, he was unable to repeat said flight with anyone present.
- Gustave Whitehead, United States — August 14, 1901
- First publicized account of a flight by an aeroplane heavier than air propelled by its own motor — Whitehead No. 21. Reports were published in the New York Herald, and the Bridgeport (CT) Herald. The event was reportedly witnessed by several people, one of them a reporter for the Bridgeport Herald. Children and youngsters who were present signed affidavits about 30 years later about what they saw. Reports said he started on the wheels from a flat surface, flew 800 meters at 15 meter height, and landed softly on the wheels.
- Lyman Gilmore, United States — May 15, 1902
- Gilmore claimed to be the first person to fly a powered aircraft (a steam-powered glider). No witnesses. But he was an able inventor, rotary snow plow, 8-cylinder rotary motor, etc.
- Gustave Whitehead, United States — January 17, 1902
- Whitehead claimed two spectacular flights on January 17, 1902 in his improved Number 22, with a 40 Horsepower (30 kilowatt) motor instead of the 20 hp (15 kW) in the Number 21 aircraft and aluminium instead of bamboo. In two published letters that he wrote to American Inventor magazine, he said the flights took place over Long Island Sound and covered distances of about two miles (3 kilometers) and seven mi (11 km) at heights up to 200 ft (61 m), ending with safe landings in the water by the boat-like fuselage. A. Pruckner affidavit: "I saw him make the flight across the Sound to which he refers."
- Orville & Wilbur Wright, United States — October 1902
- Completed development of the three-axis control system with the incorporation of a movable rudder connected to the wing warping control on their 1902 Glider. They subsequently made several fully controlled heavier than air gliding flights, including one of 622.5 ft (189.7 m) in 26 seconds. The 1902 glider was the basis for their patented control system still used on modern fixed-wing aircraft.
- Richard Pearse, New Zealand — March 31, 1903
- Several people reportedly witnessed Pearse make powered flights including one on this date of over 100 feet (30 m) in a high-wing, tricycle undercarriage monoplane powered by a 15 hp (11 kW) air-cooled horizontally opposed engine. Flight ended with a crash into a hedgerow. Although the machine had pendulum stability and a three axis control system, incoporating ailerons, Pearse's pitch and yaw controls were ineffectual. (In the mockumentary Forgotten Silver, director Peter Jackson recreated this flight, supposedly filmed by New Zealand filmmaker Colin McKenzie. The film was so convincing, Paul Harvey reported it as genuine on his syndicated News and Comment program).
- Karl Jatho, Germany — August 18, 1903
- On August 18, 1903 he flew with his self-made motored gliding aircraft. He had four witnesses for his flight. The plane was equipped with a single-cylinder 10 horsepower (7.5 kW) Buchet engine driving a two-bladed pusher propeller and made hops of up to 200 ft (60 m), flying up to 10 ft (3 m) high.
- Orville & Wilbur Wright, United States — December 17, 1903
- First recorded controlled, powered, sustained heavier than air flight, in Wright Flyer. In the day's fourth flight, Wilbur Wright flew 279 meters (852 ft) in 59 seconds. First three flights were approximately 120, 175, and 200 ft (61 m), respectively. The Wrights laid particular stress on fully and accurately describing all the requirements for controlled, powered flight and put them into use in an aircraft which took off from a level launching rail, with the aid of a headwind to achieve sufficient airspeed before reaching the end of the rail. This flight is recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight".
- John Joseph Montgomery and Daniel Maloney, United States 1905
- First high altitude flights with Maloney as pilot of a Montgomery tandem-wing glider design. The glider was launched by balloon to heights up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) with Maloney controlling the aircraft through a series of prescribed maneuvers to a predetermined landing location in front of a large public gathering at Santa Clara, California.
- Wilbur Wright, United States — October 5, 1905
- Wilbur Wright pilots Wright Flyer III in a flight of 24 miles (39 km) in 39 minutes, a world record that stood until 1908.
- Traian Vuia, Romania — March 18, 1906
- First European flight by a fully self-propelled, fixed-wing aircraft using an internal combustion engine and a single tractor propeller. He flew for 12 meters in Paris without the aid of external takeoff mechanisms, such as a catapult, a point emphasized in newspaper reports in France, the U.S., and the UK. The possibility of such unaided heavier-than-air flight was heavily contested by the French Academy of Sciences, which had declined to assist Vuia with funding
- Jacob Ellehammer, Denmark — September 12, 1906
- Built monoplane, which he tested with a tether on the Danish Lindholm island.
- Alberto Santos-Dumont, Brazil — October 23, 1906
- The "14 Bis" at Bagatelle field, Paris. The Aero Club of France certified the distance of 60 meters (197 ft); height was about 2–3 meters (6-10 ft). Winner of the Archdeacon Prize for first official flight of more than 25 meters. Described by some scholars as the first "sportsman of the air". As reported in previous years and months by Ader, Whitehead, Pearse, Jatho and Vuia, the 14-Bis flew and landed without a rail, catapult, or the presence of high winds, propelled by an internal combustion engine.
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Published - July 2009