IT WAS POSSIBLE TO FLY POWERED model airplanes, even if they didn't go very far. Researchers were at work in their labs; the beginnings of a good technical literature were in libraries. True powered airplanes, with men aboard, still lay beyond the state of the art. Even so, the 1890s saw several inventors build man-carrying gliders, which gave an immediate prelude to the work of the Wright brothers.
In Germany, Otto Lilienthal emerged as another engineer who used his background to address problems of flight. Born in 1848, he developed an early fascination with birds, which he shared with his brother Gustav. He continued to hold this interest as he studied mechanical engineering and then fought in the Franco-Prussian War. His fellow soldiers in the infantry later recalled that he talked often of flying machines. Demobilized in 1871, he went to Berlin and set up a small factory. This gave him his livelihood, while permitting him to pursue studies of aviation on the side.