Leonardo da Vinci
Born in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was by no means placed in the middle of the aerodynamics revolution; rather, he pioneered it.
Although better known for his paintings, especially that of the Mona Lisa, da Vinci was one of the most well educated and
scientific-minded people of all time. Da Vinci was trained as a painter, but had strong interests in many fields, including
geology, astronomy, and anatomy. Additionally, da Vinci explored the field of aerodynamics and aviation.
Prior to da Vinci
Before Leonardo da Vinci had begun his explorations into flight, there was hardly any experimentation in the field. In the 4th
century B.C., China used kites to lift people to heights for easier navigation, and communications over distances during
battles. In the 13th century, an English monk by the name of Roger Bacon envisioned the idea of air having substance, leading
him to the belief that people could be raised in balloons filled with gas which was lighter than air, a notion to be realized
some four hundred years later.
Da Vinci's Contributions
Prior to da Vinci's work, no scientist had conducted a detailed examination into the mechanics of flight, nor had anyone
approached the notion of powered flight. Da Vinci was the first man to do both. He studied birds' wings, their shape and form,
and the flight of birds in the air. He drew out his ideas of flight, including designs for multiple manned ornithopters,
planes with flapping wings for a human to operate. He also designed a helicopter which used a corkscrew design for lift, which
was designed to be spun by a human.
Unfortunately, like most of da Vinci's work, his aerodynamics ideas were purely that: ideas. His concepts were never realized
during his time, and his notions of what humans were able to do was more than slightly unrealistic. He believed that humans
had the strength to lift a plane into controlled flight, which humans do not have, without mechanical assistance. Despite the
reliance on human-powered flapping, da Vinci's designs for planes are very similar to those for modern lightweight aircraft.