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The Flying Ship

A print of a flying ship designed to look like an eagle, different parts of the design are labelled with letters A to I

The Flying Ship, © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

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  • Intro
    Museum's Description
    Teacher notes
    • Have you ever wished that you could fly? Humans have been fascinated with air travel for thousands of years, the earliest flying machines date as far back as Ancient China.

      This particular engraving is from 1785, it looks a bit like a cross between an eagle and a sailing ship. There are wings and a head like an eagle as well as a sail and hull like a boat.

      The eagle wings on this ship remind us of the story of Daedalus and Icarus who made wings out of wax and feathers to escape their prison on the Greek island of Crete. The story goes that Icarus, the son of Daedalus, flew too close to the sun and the heat of the sun’s rays caused his wings to melt and break. He fell to his death while his father flew safely to land. This ancient story is just one of many examples of humans attempting to conquer the air.

      In reality, humans didn’t properly master air travel until after the discovery of Hydrogen gas in 1766. Hydrogen is lighter than air so if enough of it could be captured it could be used to lift objects and people into flight. This discovery led to the development of hot air balloons, which are still used for air travel today.

      You can learn more about extraordinary inventions with this article on Show Me.

      Things to think about:
      • Why do you think the artist took inspiration from birds and boats?
      • Can you design your own flying machine using some of the ideas you’ve read about here?
      • This engraving is quite similar to the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci, have you seen any of his drawings or inventions?

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