Otto Lilienthal is one of the key figures in the history of flight. He has been described as the worlds' first true aviator and his results and methods were an inspiration to many other pioneers, particularly the Wright Brothers. He was the first to realise that the only way to gain essential experience in design and control was to first learn how to glide, and used to launch himself from an artificial hill near Berlin or from the Rhinower Hills.
Lilienthal focussed on the canopied form of bird wing, rather than attempting to develop the cambered aerofoil, and just before his death had even completed a glider with motor driven wing-tips. However his scientific work with whirling-arm experiments formed the basis of all subsequent aerodynamic investigations.
Lilienthal's death was untimely and had a profound effect on the history of flight. Whilst flying one of his older gliders in 1896, he was struck by a gust of wind. The nose of the machine was forced up, he was not able to control the resulting stall, and fell from 15m breaking his spine. He died with the words,