An engineer with a sensitive soul or a master who made art with physics and mathematics? The Italian Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was the owner of a creative, prototypes, eclectic and multitasking mind, a fact that immortalized him in the history books.
Sculptor, engineer, scientist, anatomist and, of course, painter, da Vinci went far beyond the Mona Lisa. A visionary, he designed prototypes that challenged the technological possibilities of his time.
The difference between the Leonardian dream of flying from the other dreamers that preceded him is in his sentence: “A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical laws”. He was the first to understand drag, lift, and other laws of aerodynamics. Da Vinci was betting that the first flying machine would have wings. He designed the ornithopter, which resembled a boat with wings. He would be great-grandfather of the first hang glider, the Derwitzer, of 1890, of the German Otto Lilienthal. Surprisingly similar to today’s hang gliders, Derwitzer soared up to 25 meters in altitude, a height from which Lilienthal would fall, in 1896, to his death.
It will always remain a mystery how Leonardo was able to reconcile the pious inspiration that resulted in sacred works, such as The Last Supper, with the insight to transform the design of a turtle shell into a killing and destroying machine, as is his main battle tank. . The invention would become a reality 400 years later, when the 49 Mark 1 machine guns debuted on the French front in 1916, in World War I. But only 25 would work. Difficult to manoeuvre, their effect was more psychological than physical on the terrified German soldiers.
Leonardo’s notes on the parachutes are brief. The scribble of a triangular structure, a hanging human figure, and the text: “If a man has a cloth-covered structure 12 fathoms wide and 12 fathoms high, he can shoot from any height without hurting himself.”
In the 18th century, the first experiments appeared. The German Hermann Lattemann designs a parachute that was folded inside a backpack and released at the time of the jump, like the current ones. With his wife, Käthe, Lattemann was jumping from balloons. In June 1894, his parachute failed. After mourning, Kathe perfected the model and became a millionaire selling it in World War I.
Called an “air screw”, these prototypes designed by Da Vinci proposed the same concept as current helicopters: compressing the air downwards, pushing the device upwards. Leonardo’s “screw” would have serious challenges to actually fly. Four meters in diameter, it was heavy and required four people handling levers to turn the rotor. These difficulties would only be overcome in the 1940s, when the Russian-born American Igor Sikorsky began to market the VS-300A. The device imposed the configuration that persists to this day: a main rotor and a smaller one in the tail.