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As naive I can be, I always assumed people started inventing flying machines in order to "be like the birds".

In an earth-like world without any flying/gliding being (animal or plant), what could be the drive for people to glimpse the idea of flying?

Assume this is about a "Leonardo da Vinci" inventor, who is planning to create a machine to "go into the sky". What kind of simple observations and thoughts would be sufficient to at least spark this idea? Provided that gravity teaches that "what flies goes back on earth in no time", is it enough?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean in an birdless Earth-like world ? Either way, an edit making that clear might be appreciated. $\endgroup$ – ksjohn Aug 21 '17 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Do you want to ask about why people would like to fly, where they got the idea of flying in the first place or what reasons one would have to invent a flying machine? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 21 '17 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ This looks very opinion-based. Why characters in your story do what they are doing is up to you as the author. This is basically a brainstorming question and I don't see how this can be objectively answered. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Aug 21 '17 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ Given your recent edit, do you also want your world to be windless? Several organisms that cannot fly on their own get carried by the wind, sometimes quite far. Btw I really think you should include a source/something else for why you think people dreamed about flying because of birds. It needs to be established that they were the reason in the first place before we can discuss what would've happened without them. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 21 '17 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 added reference. No I can have wind, but I'm thinking that whatever you throw in the air, it doesn't stay there for long... So why even try? $\endgroup$ – Noldor130884 Aug 21 '17 at 11:28
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Last time we checked, there weren't any space whales. Yet, we started building rockets to get there. Similarly, you don't need to see birds to look up the sky and want to see what's up there. There are still clouds, stars, maybe a moon or two, a sun even. All these things are flying for an earthbound observer.

Even in the case of a weird atmosphere without clouds and too thick to see anything else than a blurry, infinite atmospheric color, I guess you can still have water bodies with fishes swimming. And then...

"These fishes can go up and down in the water" though the genius, "They take support of the water, use its currents. What is wind, if not an air current ? What is air if not a medium in which we evolve ? Of course we are heavier than air, and buoyancy is out of the question (or maybe this strange funny-voice gas I just discovered...), but it is true that the wind can make a leaf rise high above our heads, and some storms can lift even heavier materials, people even... I'm wondering if, maybe by creating relative wind by rapid displacement we could..."

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    $\begingroup$ Air and water are both fluids, in the technical sense. Flying like swimming is motion through a fluid medium. If Mr Smarty-Pantaloons Inventor realizes that, he's more than halfway there. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 21 '17 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ We also invented the wheel, despite all animals keep using legs... $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 21 '17 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch If certain Worldbuilding questions are any indication, Nature should just have settled on wheels to begin with, skipping the intermediary step of legs entirely. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 21 '17 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Kjörling Also, nature should have settled on nuclear fusion instead of using these vastly unefficient series of chemical breakdowns known as "eating" and "breathing". That would have been sooo easy to copy. Instead we are stuck with fission, learned from... err... some fission... fish, maybe ? $\endgroup$ – Keelhaul Aug 21 '17 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Keelhaul Nature did settle on nuclear fusion. Look at any star you like. That petty life on petty rocks can't copy what the stars are already doing is hardly nature's fault, is it? :-) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 21 '17 at 15:21
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Even without birds, there are plenty of points at which we could have conceived the idea of flight:

  • The invention of the kite, over 1500 years ago. "Hey, what if we tried lifting a person with one of these?"
  • The discovery of the principle that hot air rises (the principle behind hot air balloons). "Hey, we could use this principle to lift stuff!"
  • The discovery of the lighter-than-air gases hydrogen (in 1766) and helium (identified in 1868 but first isolated in 1895). "Hey, with enough of this element, we could lift a person!"
  • The growing popularity of automobiles at the dawn of the 20th century. "Hey, what if we built one of these, but it went through the air instead?"

As for why, there are a few practical reasons why you'd want to invent flight. You can see for much further in the air, so it's handy for reconnaissance. You can use gravity to drop things onto enemies from below without fear of retaliation from the ground, so it's handy for warfare. As noted in the article on man-lifting kites:

In the 17th century, Japanese architect Kawamura Zuiken used kites to lift his workmen during construction.

But most of all, we'd build these flying contraptions just to see if we can. It's just simple human nature. It's the reason we've put men on the moon, and sent probes to Pluto and beyond, and built supersonic cars and hypersonic jets. Because we can.

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    $\begingroup$ Or, because it sounds cool. Scientist/inventors often are geeky, and flying sounds like it could be cool! $\endgroup$ – Martijn Aug 21 '17 at 14:32
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All you need is some thin object with a high surface area, such as a leaf or a sheet of paper. If you have ever opened a window, you know how easily they get carried by the wind.

Imaginative people won't have any problems going one step further and building kites as toys for kids. We do know this as a fact since people invented kites! Now, given a sunny but slightly windy day, your inventor has his inspiration!

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  • $\begingroup$ This is interesting in the sense that it would strike people to create parachutes before anything. Who knows how long after that it would take for actual lift & flight mechanics occurred to them? $\endgroup$ – Ross Aug 21 '17 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the first parachute designs - with no way to prove whether they had actually been tried back then - were sketched in the 1470s... $\endgroup$ – Michael Schumacher Aug 21 '17 at 21:00
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"Man it would be nice if I could kill those things over there."

It's crass, but if there are things who aren't easy to get to without sailing through the air and there are people who feel the need to go kill them then it's all you really need.

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All that needs to happen is to conceive the idea before you develop the power-to-weight ratio in engines. As long as you do that, the idea of "flying" will be sitting on the shelf for decades or centuries whilst engine technology catches up.

Da Vinci had the helicopter. He just couldn't power it.

If someone had sent Da Vinci a stock of Allison T63 engines, he would have had to advance other material technologies, but he would have come up with something that flew.

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As has already been pointed out, there is a great benefit in being able to see further from higher up. The greater the height, the greater the benefit.

Without being airborne, the options for achieving this are, either finding a high promontory, or building one - neither of which is very practical since neither is particularly portable.

However, basic observations, if there is anything like wind (and I would have thought there must be given an atmosphere) would show that it should be possible to achieve sufficient lift to raise a human being to an appreciable height (and it would not initially need to be a great height to be useful) - a kite is an obvious solution. Even without wind , a hot air balloon would be viable. From that point the technology would simply evolve.

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