9 August 1896

Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal. (NASM)

9 August 1896: Pioneering aviator Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal was fatally injured when his glider stalled on his fourth flight of the day.

Flying at the Rhinow Hills, near Stölln in what is now northern Germany, he had been gliding as far as 820 feet (250 meters). The weather was windy. As he sailed off the slope, his glider suddenly pitched up. Lilienthal tried to correct the attitude by swinging back and fourth, but he had lost lift and the glider fell about 50 feet (15 meters) to the ground.

Seriously injured, he was taken to a doctor who determined that he had fractured the third cervical vertebra. He was then transported by train to Berlin where a very successful surgeon, Professor Ernst von Bergman, had a clinic.

Lilienthal died about 36 hours after his injury, 10 August 1896. Among his last words were, “Sacrifices must be made.”

His discoveries in controlled flight inspired the Wright Brothers to pursue aviation.  He is considered to be one of the most influential of the early pioneers of flight, and is known as The Father of Flight.

Otto Lilienthal flying one of his gliders.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

3 thoughts on “9 August 1896

  1. Love your site! One type from 20 Dec 1934 (link below), the M-130 NC-14714 is identified in the caption as the NC-14716. Look carefully under the right wing in the photo and you’ll see the correct NC number. Keep up the great effort!

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