5. Otto Lilienthal was known as the ‘Flying Man’, but the plane he invented brought him back down to earth with a deadly bang
Germany’s Otto Lilienthal became known as the ‘Flying Man’. And for good reason. Born in 1848, he grew up to become a true aviation pioneer. He studied the wings of a white stork, making painstakingly accurate blueprints for his very own glider. He even built his own artificial hill on the outskirts of Berlin. From here, he launched himself into the air using his own prototype glider in 1891. His first flight was a huge success. So much so, in fact, that he went on to carry out more than 2,000 successful flights. Unsurprisingly, the ‘flying man’ made headlines across Europe, especially when he flew for a record-breaking distance of 250 metres in 1893.
Given his experience, then, Lilienthal was relaxed when he took to the skies one sunny August day in 1896. He made several successful flights before trying again to break his own distance record. However, he fell from a height of around 15 metres, breaking his neck. Badly injured, he was taken to a hospital but died soon after. Famously, his last words were “sacrifices must be made“. His designs were used by the Wright Brothers and they credited the German with inspiring them to take to the skies themselves.
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