Otto Lilienthal (23 May 1848 – 10 August 1896) was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the flying man. He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful flights with gliders. Newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, favorably influencing public and scientific opinion about the possibility of flying machines becoming practical. On 9 August 1896, his glider stalled and he was unable to regain control. Falling from about 15 m (50 ft), he broke his neck and died the next day, 10 August 1896.
Lilienthal's greatest contribution was in the development of heavier-than-air flight. He made his flights from an artificial hill he built near Berlin and from natural hills, especially in the Rhinow region. The filing of a U.S. Patent in 1894 by Lilienthal directed pilots to grip the "bar" for carrying and flying the hang glider. The A-frame of Percy Pilcher and Lilienthal echoes in today's control frame for hang gliders and ultralight aircraft. Working in conjunction with his brother Gustav, Lilienthal made over 2,000 flights in gliders of his design starting in 1891 with his first glider version, the Derwitzer, until his death in a gliding crash in 1896. His total flying time was five hours.
At the beginning, in 1891, Lilienthal succeeded with jumps and flights covering a distance of about 25 metres (82 ft). He could use the updraft of a 10 m/s wind against a hill to remain stationary with respect to the ground, shouting to a photographer on the ground to manoeuvre into the best position for a photo. In 1893, in the Rhinow Hills, he was able to achieve flight distances as long as 250 metres (820 ft). This record remained unbeaten for him or anyone else at the time of his death.
Lilienthal did research in accurately describing the flight of birds, especially storks, and used polar diagrams for describing the aerodynamics of their wings. He made many experiments in an attempt to gather reliable aeronautical data.
- Famous People of Aviation