The glider was the forerunner of the airplane as we know it today, since the first airplanes were practically gliders with power. The 1903 machine of the Wrights, with which was made the world's first controlled power flight, was their glider of 1902, redesigned and fitted with a 12-horsepower engine, and with radiator, shaft, chain, and propellers. The glider, launched from hilltop, tower, or balloon, by catapult, or drawn by horse, automobile, or boat, dates to about 1866 to the glider of Wenham, who experimented with a number of gliders, patented the original type of the present-day biplane, and more or less established the effect of aspect ratio1 and other aerodynamic principles.
Gliding, for further experiment and to some extent for sport, was continued by others. Glider clubs, which continued until World War I, were started in several cities and colleges. Orville Wright returned to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1911, and made additional experiments, in the course of which he made a free glide of 9 3/4 minutes, a record which was not beaten until 10 years later. The application of power to the glider naturally dampened interest in gliding, and the technique was not generally resumed until after World War I.
About 1920, gliding received a great stimulus in Germany and gliders were towed into the air from Wasserkuppe Mountain. From the simple glider, soaring planes, very lightly loaded, of great aspect ratio, were developed, and gliding and soaring were taken up in various countries. International contests were held on Wasserkuppe, in which American pilots participated, and later, up to the present, important contests have been held in this country at Elmira, New York.
Sport flying in Germany became extraordinarily popular, the German glider flying association having over 60,000 active members by 1932. Under the Paris air agreement of 1926, withdrawing limitation on the building of German aircraft, the country built a well-developed industry by 1933. Full-time flying training began on a large-scale with Goering as Air Minister, and, in 1935, as head of the Air Force. A Government proclamation had in the meantime put the German school system at the service of aviation. The German General Staff gave its blessing to the movement to make gliding a national sport; and by the opening of World War II, Goering had 300,000 glider enthusiasts from whom he could pick potential military pilots.