Aleksandr F. Mozhaiski was an Imperial Russian Naval officer who spent a total of 24 years in the service of The Czar. As a young man Mozhaiski studied bird flight and the wings of birds, and contemplated the requirements for a heavier-than-air flying machine. He applied for and received funds from the Ministry of the Military in the 1870's to pursue his aerial research. When, in 1878, he sought additional funding to study designs for aerial propellers, he was denied. Within two years he was using his own resources, building large kites, and about 1880 he was lifted off the ground by an array of such kites.
In mid-1880, he applied for a patent on his design for a large steam powered monoplane, which was granted in November of 1881. Apparently his design was seen as having merit for he was given a grant of 2,500 Imperial Russian rubles (a considerable sum of money) with which he was to build his steam powered monoplane. The construction of the machine took approximately a year. He purchased three steam engines, two of 20 h.p. and one of 10 h.p. His flying machine had three four-bladed propellers, one mounted as a tractor driven by the 10 h.p. steam engine, and two inset in slots in the surfaces of the wings as pusher propellers driven by a single 20 h.p. steam engine through chains and gears. A large horizontal tail surface and a large vertical rudder comprised the flight controls. It appears that Mozhaiski had also planned to use a differential in power to the two inset propellers as a method of turning. The Mozhaiski monoplane was a very large machine, having an overall length of 75 feet 6 inches and a wing span of 74 feet 9 inches. The extreme chord (width) of the wing, 46 feet 6 inches, in relation to the span (the "aspect ratio"), would have limited the lift which the large surface area could generate. Another lift limiting factor would have been the fact that the wings were constructed as literal "aeroplanes" (flat wings), having no camber (curve).
The first powered, assisted take off (not the first flight) of a heavier-than-air craft carrying an operator is generally credited to Felix du Temple in 1874. In 1884, Mozhaiski's machine apparently made the second such hop, covering between 65 and 100 feet after rolling down an incline under power at Krasnoye Selo, then just outside St. Petersburg, Russia. Upon landing, the large machine hit a wing and was seriously damaged. The true and complete story of Mozhaiski's magnificent monoplane was made murky after his exploits were discovered by propaganda officials working under Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Mozhaiski became a Russian proletarian "sailor" rather than an Imperial Russian Naval officer after Soviet "historians" did their work. His modest hop after leaving the ramp was likewise shamelssly dealt with, becoming in the official Soviet Grand Encyclopedia the first true flight of a heavier-than-air machine in history.