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History for Kids: Learn About Pioneers of Flight

Updated on September 2, 2015

Throughout history, people dreamed about flying. There's even a famous story in Greek mythology about a man named Daedalos and his son Icarus who figured out how to fly. Daedalos made wings out of bird feathers and wax. They tied the wings onto their backs. Daedalos told his son he shouldn't fly too close to the sea because he might fall in. He warned him not to fly too high in the sky because the heat of the sun would melt the wax and he would fall.

After flying for a while, Icarus got bored flying in a straight line. He started flying higher and higher. He flew too close to the sun, so his wings melted and fell apart. He fell down into the sea and drowned.

It would actually be impossible to fly just by strapping wings like those of birds onto your back. These are some people in history who actually did figure out how to fly. They are pioneers of flight.

Montgolfier Balloon
Montgolfier Balloon

Montgolfier Brothers

The Montgolfier Brothers, Jacques and Joseph, built the first successful hot air balloon. Hot air is lighter than cold air. So, balloons filled with hot air will rise and float. The brothers first demonstrated a hot air balloon flight on June 4, 1783, in their hometown of Annonay, France. The balloon went more than 6000 feet into the air.

On September 19, 1783, they tested a balloon in front of the king and queen of France. This time they used a sheep, a rooster, and a duck as passengers. The flight lasted for eight minutes. The first flight with human passengers went a total of 5 miles in 25 minutes.

Later, a lighter than air gas called hydrogen was used instead of hot air. Ballooning became very popular.

Hindenburg Disaster News Footage

Giffards dirigible
Giffards dirigible
Airship gondola
Airship gondola


Balloons were difficult to control. They were often blown off course by the wind or they would climb too high. So, propellers and engines were added to make airships.

Henri Giffards from France invented an airship called the Giffard dirigible. Airships were known as dirigibles at the time. The Giffard dirigible was powered by a steam engine. The hydrogen filled airship was easier to steer than a hot air balloon. Giffard made the first flight on 24 September 1852 travelling about 17 miles from Paris to Trappes.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany built an airship that could be used for passenger travel. An airship, called the Graf Zeppelin, made 144 transatlantic flights between 1928 and 1937. The control and passenger area on airships is known as a gondola. The gondola is underneath the balloon part of the airship.

Airship passenger services ended shortly after a tragedy called the Hindenburg disaster that killed 35 people in 1937. On May 6, the Hindenburg arrived at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey during bad weather. It couldn't land for about an hour because of a storm. The airship came in for a landing when the weather started clearing up. Suddenly the aircraft burst into flames and an explosion was heard. Some passengers and crew jumped to their deaths. A reporter announced the tragedy over the radio saying, "It's burst into flames...oh my, this is terrible...Oh, the humanity and all the passengers."

Penaud helicopter
Penaud helicopter

The First Airplane

Orville and Wilbur Wright were born in Dayton, Ohio in the United States. They made the first working airplane. The brothers became interested in flying when their father returned from a business trip with a toy Penaud helicopter. Later they became interested in building kites.

In 1892, they opened a bicycle shop called the Wright Cycle Company where they made and repaired bicycles. During this time, they carried out a lot of experiments with flight. In October 1900, they tested a glider that could hold one person. They made about a dozen flights that lasted under 2 minutes in an area called Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. The following year, they tested an even larger glider in Kitty Hawk.

In 1903, they tested a flyer that had an engine. On December 17, they had their first successful trial when Orville flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. Later Wilbur made a longer flight of 59 seconds in the air travelling 852 feet.

This was the beginning of flights by heavier than air machines. These discoveries in flight made it possible for millions of people to safely fly around the world every day.


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    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 5 years ago

      Thanks anndango.

    • profile image

      anndango 5 years ago

      Hi, I really enjoyed reading this!