Otto Lilienthal’s glider

Otto Lilienthal’s glider

The German engineer Otto Lilienthal was the first person to make successful flights with a glider designed by himself.



Otto Lilienthal, hang glider, aviation, gliding, aerodynamics, transportation, technology

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Lilienthal’s invention

The Lilienthal brothers realized quite early that the three basic factors of flying were lift, thrust, steering, and they built their first aircraft taking these into account.
Initially they made flapping-wing models, powered by small steam engines, but after several unsuccessful attempts they decided to build gliders. They designed several models before 1874.

Otto Lilienthal (working without his brother after 1890) built his monoplane glider from canvas and wicker rods. He was able to steer the structure by shifting his body weight. He continuously improved his gliders as he gained more and more experience in flying.
He took off by running downwind from an elevated point. Initially his flights covered only 50-100 meters (164-328 feet), later up to 350 meters (1,148 feet).

He constructed at least 18 models, of which 15 were monoplanes and three were biplanes. His most advanced construction was the No. 11 monoplane model, built in 1895. Eight replicas of this model were built, 2 of which were sold in England.

The greatest disadvantage of his models was the fact that steering was only possible by moving the pilot´s legs to shift weight, which made it difficult to maneuver and unprotected against sideward wind.

A pioneer of aviation

Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896), the German engineer and his brother Gustave were fascinated by flying since his childhood. They made meticulous observations about the flight of birds and built their first structures together.
When his brother gave up experiments after many unsuccessful attempts, Otto Lilienthal continued on his own. He kept making plans and improving his models.
From 1891 he made his first attempts in practice, jumping off from an artificial hill near Berlin (in Lichterfelde Süd), and a few years later he continued his aviation experiments in the Rhinower Mountains. He made over 2,000 flights in his gliders.
On August 9, 1896 his experimental biplane glider stalled and crashed, falling from a height of 15 meters (49.21 feet). His spine broke and he died the following day. His legendary last words (but probably quoted incorrectly) prove his passionate vocation: ‘Sacrifices must be made’.

Otto Lilienthal


Otto Lilienthal was a German engineer who lived and worked in the second half of the 19th century. Lilienthal and his brother Gustave studied the flight of birds and thereby recognized the three basic factors of flying (lift, thrust, and steering).
Initially they made flapping-wing models, but after several unsuccessful attempts they decided to build gliders. They designed several models before 1874.

Even after his brother abandoned the project, Otto Lilienthal continued making plans, building gliders and flying by himself.
He developed at least 18 gliders from canvas and wicker rods. He started his flights by running against the wind from an elevated point; after several improvements made on his gliders, he managed to fly up to 300 meters (984.3 feet).

The monoplane glider shown in the animation was steered by shifting body weight. But as this was only possible by moving the pilot’s legs, the structure was difficult to maneuver.
Built in 1891, Lilienthal’s glider, became the precursor to modern hang gliders. Lilienthal himself said: ‘To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. But to fly is everything.’

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