Otto Lilienthal

From Metapedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Otto Lilienthal

Otto Lilienthal, father of aviation
Born Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal
23 May 1848(1848-05-23)
Anklam, Province of Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation
Died 10 August 1896 (aged 48)
Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Cause of death Cervical fracture sustained in a hang glider crash
Resting place Lankwitz Cemetery, Berlin
Nationality Prussian, German
Education College Mechanical Engineer Major
Occupation Engineer
Known for First successful gliding flights
Height 1.88 m
Spouse ∞ 1878 Agnes Fischer
Children 4
Relatives Gustav Lilienthal (brother), a pioneer in building and construction technology

Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal (23 May 1848 – 10 August 1896) was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the "flying man" and historically referred to as the "father of aviation" or "father of flight". The German inventor was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful flights with gliders, therefore making the idea of "heavier than air" a reality. Newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, favourably influencing public and scientific opinion about the possibility of flying machines becoming practical. Lilienthal's work led to his developing the concept of the modern wing. His flight attempts in 1891 were the beginning of human flight and the "Lilienthal Normalsegelapparat" is considered to be the first airplane in series production, making the Maschinenfabrik Otto Lilienthal in Berlin the first air plane production company in the world.

Lilienthal's research was well known to the Wright brothers, and they credited him as a major inspiration for their decision to pursue manned flight. It is said, Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger (1770-1829), known as the "Flying Tailor of Ulm", started with flight experiments in Ulm, Germany, in the early 19th century. He gained experience in downhill gliding with a maneuverable airworthy semi-rigid hang-glider and then attempted to cross the Danube River at Ulm's Eagle's Bastion on the 31st of May 1811. The tricky local winds caused him to crash and he was rescued by fishermen, making him the first survivor of a water immersion accident of a heavier-than-air manned "flight machine". Though he failed in his attempt to be the first man to fly, Berblinger can be regarded as one of the significant aviation pioneers who applied the "heavier than air" principle and paved the way for the more effective glide-flights of Otto Lilienthal (1891) and the Wright Brothers (1902).


Otto Lilienthal, 1894.jpg
Otto Lilienthal 1895 bei einem Flug in Lichterfelde bei Berlin.jpg
Otto Lilienthal.jpg
Otto-Lilienthal-Denkmal von Peter Breuer (1914), Bäkestraße 14a in Berlin (Steglitz).jpg

Lilienthal, born on 23 May 1848 in Anklam in northern Germany as the son of a merchant, watched the storks in the sky as a child. He wants to imitate them, but his first attempts to fly with sheets fail. So he studies mechanical engineering and starts making calculations with his brother Gustav. Unlike most experts of his time, he does not believe in the "lighter than air" principle: he considers the popular balloons to be an aberration. The brothers are looking for other ways to lift objects into the air that are actually too heavy – for example flying machines. They find that it can work if the wings are curved and thicker at the front. Groundbreaking findings that Otto published in 1889 after thousands upon thousands of series of measurements:

“Ornithology as the basis of the art of flying” (Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst. Ein Beitrag zur Systematik der Flugtechnik, R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin 1889)

The brothers cannot carry out the practical test with their own flying machines: there is simply not enough money. They have many ideas beyond aviation, for example inventing the famous anchor construction kit, but they don't earn anything from it. Only two patents on designs for steam engines brought financial success. Lilienthal, now married and a factory owner in Berlin, also approaches flying systematically: "From step to jump, from jump to flight." He starts cautiously in his home garden and makes his first attempts on hills. In June 1891 he jumped with his hang glider from Mühlenberg near Potsdam and glided 15 meters – the official birth of aviation.

The gliding flights are getting longer and longer, marveled at by the Berliners who flock to Lilienthal's "Fliegeberg" (flight mountain) on Sundays. The devices are also becoming more and more sophisticated. One of these is the foldable “Normal Sailing Apparatus”, which is going into series production – the US publisher William Randolph Hearst is a customer. Lilienthal is already world famous, not least thanks to the photographs that document his flight attempts.

Lilienthal was regularly joined by photographers at his request. Most of them are well known, like Ottomar Anschütz. Lilienthal also took his own photographs of his flying machines after 1891. There are at least 145 known photographs documenting his test flights, some of excellent quality. All of them are available online at the Otto Lilienthal Museum website.[1] The only negatives, preserved in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, were destroyed by allied bombs during World War II.

Lilienthal was a realist and idealist at the same time, shares the profits with the workers in his factory and hopes that aviation will contribute to "eternal peace" across all borders. That remains a dream – unlike aviation. “Of all those who addressed the problem of flight in the 19th century, Otto Lilienthal was undoubtedly the most important,” motor flight pioneer Wilbur Wright later wrote. "The world is deeply indebted to him."


Lilienthal has 25 known patents; Only four of them involved flying machines, such as the “Flying Machine” patent from 1893. The majority concerned safe steam boilers and small steam engines. On June 28, 1883, he received a patent in Austria-Hungary for a “safe steam engine,” which was also called a “new snake-tube boiler.” However, the patents also include inventions by his brother Gustav Lilienthal, which were patented to Otto Lilienthal. On the other hand, the patents on his mining inventions were registered in his brother's name.


Otto Lilienthal is an experienced pilot. He floated through the air over 2,000 times and only sprained one foot when he landed. But in the summer of 1896 he was caught in an abrupt updraft with his glider. “The apparatus overturned and he then fell vertically into the valley,” said an eyewitness. Later that day he was transported in a cargo train to Lehrter train station in Berlin, and the next morning to the clinic of Ernst von Bergmann, one of the most famous and successful surgeons in Europe at the time.

Lilienthal broke a cervical vertebra and died on 10 August 1896, one day after the accident. “I have to get some rest, then we’ll continue,” are said to have been some of his last words. Typical of a man who doesn't want to let anything stop him from achieving his dream: to fly like a bird.[2] A popular account of Lilienthal's very last words, inscribed on his tombstone, is:

"Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" ("Sacrifices must be made!")

The grave of Otto Lilienthal and his wife Agnes, who died on 18 December 1920, is in the Lankwitz cemetery in Berlin. It is an honorary grave of the city-state of Berlin.


Otto Lilienthal was born as the first of eight children of the merchant Gustav Lilienthal (1817–1861) and his wife Caroline, née Pohle. Lilienthal's paternal great-grandmother was Charlotte von Tigerström (1773–1857), née von Balthasar, a granddaughter of the Greifswald General Superintendent Jakob Heinrich von Balthasar. Five siblings died when they were just a few months or years old. The father was a mathematically and technically gifted man, the mother had studied music in Dresden and Berlin. When the family ran into economic difficulties, they decided to emigrate to America. The father's sudden death thwarted the move plan. This happened about six weeks before Otto Lilienthal's 13th birthday.

With great effort, the mother managed to give her children a good education. Her sons Otto and Gustav Lilienthal initially attended Gymnasiums in Anklam from 1856. One of their teachers was the astronomer Gustav Spörer. Flight tests and experiments as well as the study of bird flight already took place during this time. The brothers remained close throughout their lives through numerous projects and inventions.


On 11 June 1878, Lilienthal married his fiancée Agnes Fischer (1857–1920) in Döhlen (today Freital), the daughter of a miner, with whom he had four children. The first son, Otto, was born in 1879; This was followed by the daughter Anna in 1884, the son Fritz in 1885 and the daughter Helene in 1887.


There are numerous Lilienthal monuments in Germany. Portraits and flying machines of Lilienthal served as a tribute to the technical pioneering achievements on stamps, medals and in other forms in many countries. The depiction is often associated with the Icarus motif. In many places, streets and squares are named after Lilienthal. Several schools as well as the high schools in Anklam, Berlin-Lichterfelde and the Freital vocational school center bear his name. The same applies to the Lilienthal Glacier in Antarctica.

Aviation clubs and corporations also bear his name, including the traditional German Aerospace Society – Lilienthal-Oberth e. V., as well as the Otto Lilienthal barracks of the Bundeswehr (air force and army aviation) in Roth, Central Franconia. On 7 June 1988, Berlin Tegel Airport was given the additional name “Otto Lilienthal”. The German Air Force named an Airbus A310 MRT medical support aircraft after him. At the Airbus site in Hamburg-Finkenwerder, one of the final assembly halls for A320 family aircraft is called “Otto-Lilienthal-Halle”. On 14 April 2010, the German Aerospace Center named the research aircraft ATRA (Advanced Technology Research Aircraft) after him. In 2000, an asteroid was named (13610) Lilienthal.

Various honors are now associated with Lilienthal's name, including the Lilienthal Medal from the international air sports association FAI, the Lilienthal Medal from the German Aerospace Society, the annual Otto Lilienthal Research Semester prize from the Society of Friends of the DLR e. V., the annual design prize of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Otto Lilienthal diploma from the German Aeroclub for special services to air sports and the innovation prize from the Lilienthal Prize Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg.

  • In September 1909, Orville Wright was in Germany making demonstration flights at Tempelhof aerodrome. He paid a call to Lilienthal's widow and, on behalf of himself and Wilbur, paid tribute to Lilienthal, the father of flight, for his influence on aviation and on their own initial experiments in 1899.
  • In 1972, Lilienthal was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
  • In 2013, American aviation magazine Flying ranked Lilienthal No. 19 on their list of the "51 Heroes of Aviation".
  • A German Air Force tanker, Airbus A310 MRTT registration 10–24, has been named "Otto Lilienthal" in his honour.
  • The Lilium Jet, a prototype German electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) electrically powered airplane and the company which designed it, Lilium GmbH, were named after him.
  • An authentic replica of the Normalsegelapparat made by the Otto Lilienthal Museum have been investigated by the German Aerospace Center in wind tunnel and flight tests. The results prove that the glider was stable in pitch and roll and can be flown safely at moderate altitudes.
  • In 1989, a Soviet-era Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet was flown to Gollenberg, and landed in a nearby field. It now serves as a museum of early flight, and has been named 'Lady Agnes', after Lilienthal's wife. The back of the aircraft operates as a registry office, decorated for marriages. The jet previously served with East Germany's state airline Interflug.
  • Lilienthal was featured on a commemorative postmark in Berlin in 1953.
  • Lilienthal plays a major part (in absentia) in Theodora Goss's short story "The Wings of Meister Wilhelm," nominated for a World Fantasy Award and published in her anthology In the Forest of Forgetting.
  • A Lilienthal glider serves as a major plot element in Paul Gazis's Webserial "The Airship Flying Cloud, R-505".
  • "Lilienthals Traum" ("Lilienthal's Dream") is a song by Reinhard Mey that charts Lilienthal's flights and death.
  • "Lilienthal Berlin" is a German watch brand named after Otto Lilienthal.