Flying balloons became enormously popular in Europe and the United States. But several Europeans turned their attention to building a heavier-than-air aircraft.
In 1889, a German named Otto Lilienthal published a book on designing flying machines based on the wings of birds. To test his theories, Lilienthal constructed an artificial hill. From the top, he could leap into the direction of any oncoming wind.
His flights were thrilling but brief. Lilienthal’s gliders were fatally flawed. He tried to steer his craft by shifting his weight, which tended to compound his errors. If the glider jerked upward, Lilienthal swung back, causing the glider to flip over.
But Lilienthal was persistent, and he made more than 2,000 flights in gliders of his own construction. He was killed after a crash in 1896, having failed to produce a stable glider. But his ideas would influence two bicycle makers in Ohio named Orville and Wilbur Wright.