The Greek mathematician and philosopher Archytas (428-347BC) born in Tatrantas (Tarentum in latin / modern day Tarento in southern Italy) invented a steam powered self-propelled flying machine in 405 BC. Due to its shape and characteristics the device was known as the flying pigeon. Archytas’ steam-powered Flying Pigeon was a highly advanced invention for his time. From an aerodynamics perspective the Flying Pigeon closely resembled modern aeroplanes.
The Flying Pigeon was small with a hollow cylindrical-shaped lightweight body made from wood. It had wings projected out to either side, and a pair of smaller wings to its rear. The front of the object was pointed, like a bird’s beak. The shape of the structure was very aerodynamic, for maximum flying distance and speed. The rear of the Flying Pigeon had an opening that led to an internal balloon probably made from the bladder of a large animal. This opening was connected to a heated, airtight boiler. As the boiler created more and more steam, the pressure of the steam eventually exceeded the mechanical resistance of the connection, and the Flying Pigeon took flight.
The Flying Pigeon demonstrates that Archytas possessed advance knowledge in aerodynamics and propulsion. It is said that the flight lasted for a distance of approximately 200 meters. It is quite an accomplishment if we consider that the first flight of the Wright brothers over 2000 years later (1903) covered a distance of only 37 meters.