Why Is the First Ever Production Aircraft in a Modern Wind Tunnel?

Image: DLR
Image: DLR

Otto Lilienthal was the first human to develop and create a production aircraft, going on to make over 2,000 well-documented gliding flights. But now, 125 years on, a model of his creation is inside a modern wind tunnel.

Image: DLR
Image: DLR

Lilienthal studied how birds fly in fine detail before making the first flight using his patented hang glider in 1891. Now, researchers at the German Aerospace Center, DLR, have put a replica of the world’s first production aircraft inside the Large Low Speed wind tunnel at the DNW facility in Marknesse, the Netherlands, to study his approach. “125 years ago, aviation pioneer Lilienthal flew for the first time with his glider,” they explained when I asked them about the spectacular experiment on Twitter. “We want to find out why and how it worked.”

Sadly Otto Lilienthal died too early, when one of his gliders stalled and crashed. But his heritage lives with us—albeit on a robotic arm in a wind tunnel.

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I guess I don’t understand the concept of a ‘production aircraft’. I thought it meant an aircraft that was produced, i.e. multiple copies were made to be sold. I don’t believe this is the case with Lilienthal.