Early flying machines
Flight automaton in Greece
Around 400 BC, Archytas, the Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, statesman and strategist, designed and built a bird-shaped, apparently steam powered model named "The Pigeon" (Greek: Περιστέρα "Peristera"), which is said to have flown some 200 meters. According to Aulus Gellius, the mechanical bird was suspended on a string or pivot and was powered by a "concealed aura or spirit".
Hot air balloons, glider and kites in China
The Kongming lantern (proto hot air balloon) was known in China from ancient times. Its invention is usually attributed to the general Zhuge Liang (180–234 AD, honorific title Kongming), who is said to have used them to scare the enemy troops:
An oil lamp was installed under a large paper bag, and the bag floated in the air due to the lamp heating the air. ... The enemy was frightened by the light in the air, thinking that some divine force was helping him.
However, the device based on a lamp in a paper shell is documented earlier, and according to Joseph Needham, hot-air balloons in China were known from the 3rd century BC.
In the 5th century BCE Lu Ban invented a 'wooden bird' which may have been a large kite, or which may have been an early glider.
In 1st century AD, when Wang Mang tried to recruit specialist as scout to Xiong Nu, a man binding himself with bird feather glided about 100 meters, but finally landed.
Yuan Huangtou, Ye, first manned kite glide to take off from a tower — 559
During the Yuan dynasty (13th c.) under rulers like Kublai Khan, the rectangular lamps became popular in festivals, when they would attract huge crowds. During the Mongol Empire, the design may have spread along the Silk Route into Central Asia and the Middle East. Almost identical floating lights with a rectangular lamp in thin paper scaffolding are common in Tibetan celebrations and in the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. However, there is no evidence that these were used for human flight. Read more...part 3