An Idea Takes Flight

Flight and Aerial Navigation

Henry Sutton was the first person in Australia to experiment with flight, at age 10 he began experiments using birds to study how they flew, in the process he built an ornithopter which mimics the flight of birds.

By age 14 Henry had developed his own theory on flight and aerial navigation and in 1878 he was invited by Mr W. F. Brearey of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain to write 2 papers on his findings, which were published in special pamphlet form.

The papers were called “On the Flight of Birds and Aerial Navigation” and “Second Paper on the Flight of Birds” at the time Mr Brearey was to state that Henry had discovered the true theory of flight.

It was experiments like Henry’s that the Wright brothers used to study flight and then eventually flew.


The history of flight has been very well recorded and at Kittyhawk the Wright brothers took to the air.

Since Henry’s first experiments in flight aviation has developed a long and successful history here in Australia.

Lawrence Hargrave was the first Australian to fly he flew his box kite at Stanwell Park NSW in November 1894.

George Augustine Taylor constructed and flew his glider at Narrabeen NSW in January 1909, this was the first heavier than air flight in Australia.

In 1910 Harry Houdini came to Australia and took to the air at Diggers Rest Vic, he is credited with the first controlled flight in Australia.

Out of these humble beginnings Australian aviation flourished, it gave birth to the Royal Flying Doctors Service and the commercial beginnings of Australia’s airline industry.

Henry’s Ornithopter

Henry’s ornithopter was driven by clockwork and was fixed on a lever which had a universal joint which allowed it to move in any direction.

The arrangement was wound up where it would give one or two flaps and immediately dart off in a circular direction.

It flew in a circumference of about 12 feet and could be adjusted to fly from left to right or visa versa, it could also fly upward at any desired angle.