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History of Model Airplanes

Assembling model airplanes takes patience and skill. Some model sets are easy to put together, but most are complex, and some modelers even prefer to assemble an airplane by hand with self-acquired parts. The ideas behind model airplanes are simple: Start with some parts and glue and create a miniature version of a modern-day form of transport, a military air vehicle, or a spaceship to rival any sci-fi fan's greatest dream. What might seem odd is the history of model airplanes. Putting together model airplanes actually dates back to ancient civilizations, when modeling kits and glue weren't invented yet.


Ancient History

 The first model aircraft found to date was unearthed during an Egyptian excavation in 1898. While excavating the Saqqara burial grounds, archaeologists found a model aircraft that is dated back to around 200 BCE. It's hard to imagine people back then thinking about air travel, but this model airplane measures 6 inches long and has wings and what is considered today to be the fuselage. The Egyptians are already believed to be one of the most advanced ancient civilizations in history, and this model airplane confirms they were engineers beyond the pyramids.

   Archytas Archytas was an ancient Greek philosopher, statesman, strategist, mathematician, and astronomer. It was the last two skills he possessed -- mathematician and astronomer -- that most likely "propelled" his desire for flight.

Archytas Pigeon Archytas built "the pigeon," as he dubbed it, which is recorded to have actually flown approximately 200 meters, or about 219 yards. Archytas' model airplane was appropriately shaped like a bird and fueled by steam.  Somewhere around the year 400 B.C., he mystified and amused the citizens of Tarentum by flying a pigeon made of wood. 


Renaissance History

DaVinchiDa Vinci Ornothopter

Leonardo da Vinci was more than a painter and sculptor. Da Vinci was also an established scientist, mathematician, engineer, and inventor. Da Vinci dreamed of air flight, too, and often scribbled those visions into notebooks. Da Vinci designed one of the earliest blueprints of a helicopter. Called the "Aerial Screw," engineers today marvel at how much this da Vinci incarnation looks like a modern-day helicopter.   Leonardo da Vinci made many drawings and models of such aircraft in the late 15th century.  Although a few short flights have been recorded, ornithopters remain  impractical.

  The Wright Brothers
Flight finally came into fruition with Orville and Wilbur Wright. They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft with the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, 4 mi (6 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, at what is now known as Kill Devil Hills. The brothers were also the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.  This first flight fueled the passion for model airplanes many have today. Once the Wright brothers took flight, many dreamed of doing the same thing -- only on a smaller scale. Children put together model airplanes in droves, flying them and imagining they were either Orville or Wilbur.
The U.S. military used models of the Wright brothers' success to engineer aircraft for battle. Model airplanes were also used in war movies recreating the legend of the Red Baron. 
Model Airplanes and Military Engineering have brought the achievements of aviation to the levels we see today!
Models Used in Military and Engineering

As discussed above, military engineers discovered the benefits of using model airplanes when initially designing aircraft for battle. As the United States fought in both World Wars, the need for reconnaissance and air bombers increased. Engineers used models to design advancements to aircraft that included larger planes with multiple propellers and increased speed. The Stealth was born from a model but you never saw it! Models of the new military airplanes hit toy and hobby stores and were snatched up by airplane enthusiasts looking to "build" the next great military aircraft.

The Wright brothers used a small wind tunnel to develop their propellers and these wind tunnels grew as engineers designed bigger and more powerful engines and airframes. During WWII they developed a supersonic wind tunnel to understand the effect of the sound barrier on militarty aircraft as they approached this barrier in dives during the war.

For more information check out the AMA's "Early Aeromodeling " https://www.modelaircraft.org/early-aeromodeling