The first person to build and fly gliders was the German engineer Otto Lilienthal. He was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the Glider King. With his fundamental research on birds and airfoils, he founded the science of wing aerodynamics and lay the foundations for concepts we still employ today. Both his research and his successful flights between 1891 and 1896 inspired the Wright brothers.

Born in Anklam, Pomerania Province, Prussia on 23 May 1848, Lilienthal developed eighteen different models of his gliders over a span of 5 years. Fifteen of Lilienthal's gliders were monoplanes, three were biplanes. Each model was a hang glider, controlled by the pilot shifting his weight rather than through the use of any active control surfaces. These eighteen crafts will be described separately at some point in the hopefully-not-too-distant future. Along with his pursuit of flight, Lilienthal was also an inventor. He invented a small engine based on a tubular boilers. When compared with other engines, his engine was much safer. Invention of this engine gave financial freedom to him for pursuing his passion for flight. Lilienthal did not engage in aviation experiments until his brother, who's living in australia at that time, returned in 1885. Lilienthal held 25 known patents.

Glider invention

Lilienthal's research and Lilienthal himself was a major inspiration for Wright brothers decision to pursue manned flight. However, they began using their own wind tunnel data after they abandoned his aeronautical data after two seasons of glidin. Wilbur Wright said, "Of all the men who attacked the flying problem in the 19th century, Otto Lilienthal was easily the most important. ... It is true that attempts at gliding had been made hundreds of years before him, and that in the nineteenth century, Cayley, Spencer, Wenham, Mouillard, and many others were reported to have made feeble attempts to glide, but their failures were so complete that nothing of value resulted."

After more than 2500 flights, on August 9, 1896, Otto Lilienthal's glider collapsed when he lost control because of a sudden strong wind. He suffered severe injuries and fractured his neck because of this. His death, the following day at a hospital in Berlin, was considered a distinct blow to progress in the aerial arts. Otto Lilienthal was buried at Lankwitz public cemetery in Berlin.