History of Flight from Around the World


The embryonic forms of modern aircraft-the kite, rocket, Kongming lamp, and bamboo dragonfly-were invented and created in ancient China and played an important role in the generation and development of aviation.

In the middle of the 19th century, Western aviation knowledge was introduced to China. At first, aviation news and scientific fictions were published. Then foreign flyers came to China to make flight demonstrations. Later, the Chinese government sent students abroad to study aeronautics and procured balloons and aircraft and some Chinese living overseas designed and manufactured airships and airplanes.

In 1855, a book written by an English doctor was the first to introduce hydrogen balloons and parachutes to the Chinese. In 1911, Rene Vallon, a French flyer, made a flight demonstration with his airplane and sparked an interest in the Chinese people.

In 1905, Zhang Zhidong, the Huguang governor, obtained two reconnaissance balloons from Japan and demonstrated them in Wuchang. Balloon teams were established in the armies of the Hubei and Jiangsu provinces and in October of that year, the Hubei Army balloon team performed a demonstration during its autumn exercise at Taihu.

In aircraft development, Feng Ru made outstanding achievements. The earliest aircraft designer and flyer in China, he went to the United States when he was a child and was inspired in 1903 when the Wright Brothers' made their successful flight. He devoted himself to aircraft manufacturing and his interest was sponsored by local overseas Chinese. He began manufacturing airplanes in a factory in Oakland, California, in 1907 and started the Guangdong Air Vehicle Company in 1909, completing an airplane that year. He returned to China in 1911 to begin development of aviation business in his native country, but he died in a flight accident in 1912.

Another aviation forerunner in China was Tan Gen. He was one of the early designers and manufacturers of hydroplanes and made a hydroplane with a ship body in July 1910. The aircraft won a prize in an international aircraft manufacturing competition in Chicago. Tan Gen was appointed as a designer of the Zhonghua Air Vehicle Company in Honolulu and trained pilots there. His hydroplanes made flight demonstrations in Hawaii, Japan, and Southeast Asia, and one of them flew over a 2,416-meter volcano in the Philippines, setting a hydroplane altitude world record.

Between 1901 and 1911, the Qing Dynasty government assigned students to go abroad to study aeronautical engineering and flying skills. One of the students, Wang Zhu, became the first chief engineer at Boeing Aircraft Company and designed a "C" type hydroplane for the company. He returned to China in the 1920s and led the design of many types of hydroplanes at Mawei Hydroplane Institute in Fujian Province.

Originally provided to AIAA for its Evolution of Flight Campaign, 2003.

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