Little Bits of History

We’ve Got the Power

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2012


March 18, 1937: A new aircraft stays aloft for one kilometer or 0.62 miles. The plane was designed by Enea Bossi and built by Vittorio Bonomi. It was flown by Emilio Casco. It has been debatably credited with being the first to achieve human-powered flight. In 1932 Bossi heard of a plane able to fly with a one horsepower engine. He began to calculate the minimum power required for a manned flight. He came up with 0.94 hp and was convinced human-powered flight was possible. He did further research in Philadelphia and Paris. He then began to design an aircraft.

In 1933 Germany offered a prize to anyone who invented human-powered flight. By 1936 Italy also sponsored a contest for this achievement. The prize was 100,000 lire for any Italian who could manage a one kilometer flight. Bossi, who was born in Italy, had emigrated and was an American citizen, so ineligible. He still wanted to try. He created the Pedaliante (Italian for Pedal Glider). The monoplane had a 58 foot wingspan with an area of 252 square feet. The weight as designed was 160 pounds but the rules specified construction requirements. The end result was a craft weighing 220 pounds.

Casco was a powerful bicyclist and a major in the Italian Army. He was chosen to pilot the Pedaliante. His first test flight saw him powering the plane for nearly 300 feet. This was said to be the first human powered flight. Casco’s strength and endurance were credited with the successful outcome with critics saying the flight was not possible for normal people. It was felt the increased weight had hindered the pilot and so the propeller size was increased to give more thrust. After more practice runs, the next modification was adding a catapult launch.

The contest was held at Cinisello airport near Milan. Casco reached a height of 30 feet and made the required distance. The catapult launch disqualified the craft from winning the prize. The plane made 80 flights (43 without using the catapult) before it was retired in 1938. Many have tried to create a better human powered plane. The current record holder is an MIT Daedalus 88 piloted by Kanellos Kanellopoulos. On April 23, 1988 he flew from Crete, Greece heading for Santorini. He flew 74 miles in 3 hours and 54 minutes and crashed into the water just 23 feet short of his goal. Headwinds destroyed his craft and he swam safely to shore.

When all think alike, then no one is thinking. – Walter Lippman

Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted. – George Kneller

It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date. – Roger von Oech

Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found. – James Russell Lowell

Also on this day:

New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Jacques Trumped – In 1314, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.
Tri-State Tornado – In 1925, a destructive tornado traveled across three state.