The image on the cover of Linux System Programming is a man in a flying machine. Well before the Wright brothers achieved their first controlled heavier-than-air flight in 1903, people around the world attempted to fly by simple and elaborate machines. In the second or third century, Zhuge Liang of China reportedly flew in a Kongming lantern, the first hot air balloon. Around the fifth or sixth centuries, many Chinese people purportedly attached themselves to large kites to fly through the air.
It is also said that the Chinese created spinning toys that were early versions of helicopters, the designs of which may have inspired Leonardo da Vinci in his initial attempts at a solution to human flight. da Vinci also studied birds and designed parachutes, and in 1845, he designed an ornithopter, a wing-flapping machine meant to carry humans through the air. Though he never built it, the ornithopter’s birdlike structure influenced the design of flying machines throughout the centuries.
The flying machine depicted on the cover is more elaborate than James Means’s model soaring machine of 1893, which had no propellers. Means later printed an instruction manual for his soaring machine, which in part states that “the summit of Mt. Willard, near the Crawford House, N.H., will be found an excellent place” to experiment with the machines.
But such experimentation was often dangerous. In the late nineteenth century, Otto Lilienthal built monoplanes, biplanes, and gliders. He was the first ...