Runway of History Click on each part of the "Runway of History" to learn about the elements of flight. This will teach you what you need to know to keep a plane at a steady speed and altitude in the air. Once you have learned about each element you can then test your knowledge of flight and see if you can keep your own plane in the air. To do this, click on "Formula 1 Flying" in the lower right frame of any page. Or, if your browser is not capable of displaying frames, scroll to the bottom of any page and click on "Formula 1 Flying." Good luck, pilot!

Leonardo da Vinci

Born on April 15, 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was the first person known to attempt to build a flying machine. Since he didn't have the materials and technology we have today, none of his flying machines worked very well. But he was on the right track.

He started playing with air when he built a parachute. It was a pyramid shaped canvas "tent" with the bottom open. This is how he described it:

If a man has a tent made of clogged cloth each side of which is 12 armlengths wide and which is 12 tall, then he can jump from any great altitude without hurting himself.

Leonardo's idea was right, with the materials he had. Today we have nylon and can make parachutes much larger than 12 arm lengths x 12 arm lengths.

Next he made a flying machine with bird-like wings that "flapped" when you rotated a bar with pedals with your feet, like riding a bike. The person powering it lay underneath the middle of the flyer where the wings met. He or she was supported by ropes and wooden cross pieces. The flyer itself had a wooden frame with covered with tight canvas for the wings.

This is what Leonardo thought about it:

A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law. It lies within the power of man to make this instrument with all its motions, but without the full scope of its powers; but this limitation only applies in respect to balancing itself. Accordingly we may say that such an instrument fabricated by man lacks nothing but the soul of man.

Leonardo spent a lot of time studying birds, but he must not have counted on a bird's hollow bones, for his flyer was much too heavy to fly. The closest thing to Leonardo's flyer we have today would be a hang glider or an ultralight, though ultralights are powered by a motor and hand gliders are not powered at all.

Leonardo's last flying invention, and one of his most famous, was a flying machine somewhat like today's helicopter. There was a circular block of wood large enough for 3-5 people to stand on for a base with a wooden pole up through the middle and a few small poles sticking up from the edges. A piece of canvas was spiraled around between the poles, and when spun rapidly it was supposed to lift of the ground.This is what he said about his corkscrew flyer:

I think if this screw instrument is well made from linen starched (to block its pores) and is turned rapidly, then said screw will climb upwards.

But there were many problems with this design. For one, like Leonardo's other flyer, it was too heavy to ever get off the ground. And even if it had been lighter, Leonardo had no means to get it spinning fast enough to ever lift off the ground. Secondly, even if he could get it off the ground, it would go straight up, and come straight down, with no way to slow its fall. He would have had to angle whatever he was using to spin it so that it also went sideways while it went up. The heavy piece of wood on the bottom would see that it landed upright, but the landing would still be jarring, for there was no way to speed up or slow down the . Still, even if he angled the launcher to get some horizontal movement as well as vertical, he would only manage to go 100 yards or so at most.

But let's pretend that Leonardo made his corkscrew flyer out of modern day materials so it was light enough to take off. And say he had some mechanical spinner that would allow his flyer to take off. Who would ride it? Leonardo probably would want to test his own invention, but after the first ride I think he would have to (and want to) find someone else. Why? Standing on a contrapion spinning in circles fifty feet or so above the ground would make anyone dizzy, but watching the world spin around beneath you would have people falling off before it even reached its peak altitude! They would have to be wearing Leonardo's parachute to make the landing safely. That's a good way to test both to see if they work!

But Leonardo was not only famous for his inventions, he was what is called a "Renaissance man." He was an amazing painter, sculptor and scientist in other areas than technology.

Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 at the age of 67.

Fomula 1 Flying Tip:

The main problems with all of Leonardo's inventions were that the weight was too great (because of the matertials he was using and the design of the machines) and the lift was not enough (for the same reasons as the weight problem).

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