Teacher's Guide

SCIENCE: History of Science
SOCIAL STUDIES: United States History

History of Flight

We look up in the sky as a plane slices through the clouds. Most of the time, we don't think twice about it. But sometimes we're struck with wonder: How did we learn to fly with the birds? Although we often think of the Wright brothers' famous "first flight" in 1903 as the beginning of aviation history, man's attempt to soar through the sky goes back many centuries. As far back as the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci was studying birds' flight and building gliders.

For a closer look at landmark events in aviation history, visit the Milestones of Flight gallery in the National Air and Space Museum. Highlights range from Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis to the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, the first aircraft to travel at twice the speed of sound. No study of aviation is complete without learning the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright. For a look back at this first flight, be sure to read The Tale of the Airplane, from the To Fly Is Everything site. Remember, brave heroes in flight haven't all been men! To learn about some of the great female flyers of the past and present, visit Women in Aviation and Space History.

You may still be wondering: "But how do these aircraft fly?" Believe it or not, all airplanes — from the first aircraft to modern-day jet fighters — fly using the same four forces: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. For a simple explanation of the dynamics of flight, check out Winging It, from the National Air and Space Museum's How Things Fly site. If you're looking for more in-depth information on the physics of flight, read Theory of Flight, developed by the Aviation History Online Museum. Then experience these science basics first hand with a few Science Activities from How Things Fly.

Tour Itinerary

National Air and Space Museum

To Fly Is Everything

Aviation History Online Museum