Otto Lilienthal
1848 - 1896

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Otto Lilienthal

      The work with gliders in Germany by the Lilienthal brothers, Otto and Gustav (1849-1933), was, arguably, the most important aerial effort prior to that of the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville. Otto Lilienthal's numerous flights, over 2,000 in number, demonstrated beyond question that unpowered human flight was possible, and that total control of an aerial device while aloft was within reach.

Lilienthal before takeoff with first glider, near the small village of
Derwitz, outside of Potsdam, Germany - 1891

Lilienthal after takeoff with first glider - 1891

Lilienthal's second glider - 1892

Lilienthal before takeoff with small wing-flapping glider - ca. 1894

Lilienthal at takeoff with small wing-flapping glider - ca. 1894

      Lilienthal had a conical hill (about 45 feet high and about 200 feet in diameter) constructed in 1894 near Berlin, Germany, at Gross-Lichterfelde, from which he could glide in any direction. Lilienthal's interest in flight was evident as early as 1861. His work with gliders began in 1891 and continued with various gliders of his own design until 1896.

Lilienthal in flight - 1895

Magic Lantern glass slide (ca. 1909) depicting Lilienthal's 1895 flights

Lilienthal in flight - 1895

      His abilities as an engineer, mathematician placed him at the forefront of aerial experimentation during the mid-1890's. Otto and his brother Gustav made numerous measurements of lift and drag of various aerofoils during 1874, which they published in 1889. Otto Lilienthal's aerial influence was widespread, and his work was well-known within the U.S. Photographs and engravings depicting Lilienthal in flight were printed in many magazines and journals, and the effect then of seeing a human aloft with great arching wings can hardly be imagined. Even though his total time aloft was rather limited, his 2,000 flights were seen as heralding the coming age of what was then called "Manflight."

      Otto Lilienthal's glider collapsed during a flight on August 9, 1896, and he suffered severe injuries. His death, the following day at a hospital in Berlin, was considered a distinct blow to progress in the aerial arts.

Patent Drawing of Lilienthal's Flying Machine - 1895

Lilienthal taking off from the building atop his artificial hill - ca. 1895

Lilienthal landing - ca. 1895

Lilienthal In Flight - August 3, 1896

German stamp commemorating Otto Lilienthal - 1930's

Link to the outstanding Otto Lilienthal Museum, Anklam, Germany.
The Otto Lilienthal Museum's web site is available in German and English.

A Fine Reprint Of The English Edition of Otto Lilienthal's Classic Work
"Birdflight As The Basis Of Aviation" Is Available Through