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Flight: Exceeding the Grasp

Jeffrey Syken

Ah, but a manís reach should exceed his grasp or whatís a heaven for?

So wrote the poet Robert Browning of manís eternal longing to fly with the same ease as did the birds. Greek mythology immortalized the first person to seek winged flight, but Icarus flew too close to the sun (on wings made of wax) and alas, he became the first victim of the quest for flight. Ancient civilizations honored their deities by imposing wings on them suggesting their superior status to earth-bound mortals. By the time of the renaissance, it became apparent to the brilliant minds of the day that if man were to fly, it would not be by his own power but with the assistance of machines and a deeper understanding of aerodynamics.

Lighter-than-air balloons would be the first means by which humans would actually fly (in the 18th Century). But powered flight could not occur until the invention of a suitable power source was realized and the air foil concept fully understood. One day in December 1903, it all came together when two bicycle mechanics Ė Orville and Wilbur Wright, flipped a coin to see who would have the honor of testing their Wright Flyer. Orville won the toss and became the first man to achieve sustained powered flight, brief though it was.

On the heels of that simple act on the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a new page was written in the history of mankind. Out of necessity, WWI accelerated the development of the airplane and in 1927, a 25yo airmail pilot named Charles Lindburgh proved that fortune favors the bold by flying his monoplane across the Atlantic. By the 1930s, aeronautical engineering was an established science and aviation a major industry. During WWII, aircraft production soared and in the post-war era, the jet-engine would make long-distance air travel a practical reality. We have much to thank Icarus for.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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