One of the Earliest Airplanes Flew in Poland in 1648

Polish invention airplane
A drawing of Burattini’s “flying dragon.”

Every school kid knows that the Wright brothers built the first successful airplane in 1903 and invented modern aviation. That doesn’t mean they were the first to try. If you happened to be in Warsaw during February 1648 and looked up, you might have seen a cat flying a mechanical dragon.
Wait. What? Let’s back up a little.
At that time, there happened to be an Italian inventor living in Warsaw named Titus Livius Burattini (Latin names were common then). Burattini had been born in Agordo, Italy in 1617 but had come to Poland in his twenties. He spent some time in Krakow before moving to Warsaw in 1646.
Burattini was a scientist and inventor who always had his eyes on the skies. Upon first arriving to Warsaw, he spent his days constructing telescopes and making astronomical observations. He even crafted lenses that fitted the telescope of renowned Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius.
Among Burattini’s interests was the concept of flight. Man had dreamed of flying since ancient times. As early as 400 BC, the Greek scientist Archytas had constructed a primitive mechanical flying device. Of course, no one had yet demonstrated that it was possible to build a machine that could fly people. The Montgolfier brothers would not invent the hot air balloon until the 1780s, and the Wright brothers were more than 200 years away.

The “Flying Dragon”

In 1647, Burattini wrote a treatise entitled “Flight is Not Impossible as Previously Commonly Believed.” In it he presented various theories on how humans could fly, including one that he put into practice.
Burattini conceptualized an ornithopter, which is an airplane that flies by flapping its wings, much like a bird or insect. However, his ornithopter would be shaped like a dragon with several sets of wings: two main wings on each side, four on top and two toward the front (perhaps his inspiration came from Poland’s famous Wawel Dragon). The device would seat a crew of two people, who would alternate operating the wings through a system of levers and springs. The tail would act as a rudder.
This “flying dragon” would be made of wood and whalebone and covered in fabric. It would include a parachute attached to the hull to soften the landing should the wings fail. The hull was even supposed to double as a boat in case the device landed in water.
To demonstrate to Wladyslaw IV, King of Poland, that the project warranted official funding, Burattini built a simplified, roughly 5-foot-long model powered by a system of levers, wheels and springs. In February 1648, Burattini put a cat inside this miniature “flying dragon,” and set it off with the pull of a string. Sources imply that the first test flight occurred without incident, but the device crashed during the second flight (hopefully the cat had some of its nine lives to spare).
A few months after the crash, Burattini built another model, designed for easy disassembly, which he sent to France for study. After that, Burattini seemingly abandoned his dream of building a successful flying machine, or at least the sources are quiet on the matter.
Burattini’s “flying dragon” is a footnote in the history of flight (I couldn’t even find any English-language sources documenting the device). However, it speaks to the talent and ingenuity coming out of Poland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although he wasn’t Polish, Burattini’s experiments were made possible in Poland thanks to a culture of intellectualism and discovery.
Obviously, the “flying dragon” failed in the long run. But, for a brief moment in 1648, the skies of Warsaw were 300 years ahead of their time.


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Polish-Made Robot Treats Children


Two young Polish scientists are helping place Poland on the forefront of innovation and technological advancement with their recent invention—a robot specially designed to provide therapy for children suffering from cerebral palsy and other gait issues.

Grzegorz Piątek developed the Prodrobot automatized gait trainer in 2010, which is now being used in a few clinics across Poland and will be used in more. I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of the developers, Bartłomiej Wielogórski, who works with Piątek, and oversees their newly-found company Prodromus.

What was the inspiration behind the Prodrobot?

“Grzegorz Piątek (my brother in law) is the inventor of Prodrobot. In 2010, when he was a student, he wanted to finish his studies with something which would not only be theoretical, but also a real and working device.

His colleague was a father of two boys affected by cerebral palsy. When Grzegorz heard his story, he decided to help him by building a medical device that could provide long term treatment for the boys. The resulting invention was the first prototype of the Prodrobot. After graduating, he decided to donate the robot to the boys.”

What sets the Prodrobot apart from the competition?

“The Prodrobot is the only device on the market that allows the user to train all six joints of the lower limbs at the same time, making it equivalent to having six trainers!

A sitting assistant allows the patient to adjust himself or herself while sitting and, unlike other machines, it does not have a treadmill, which makes it possible for patients with ankle joint problems to still train. It’s also extremely adjustable for patients whose limbs are different lengths.

Finally, it’s very easy to use, even for young kids. The accompanying software does not require specialized knowledge and only a few hours’ worth of training should suffice—if you can use a cash machine, you can use the Prodrobot .”

How affordable is the Prodrobot, and where is it being used?

“The Prodrobot is three to six times less expensive than other, larger gait training devices. Currently, there is a Prodrobot being used in a private healthcare center in Warsaw. Soon, Prodrobots will also be used in a private healthcare center in Krakow and a children’s hospital in northern Poland. We often showcase the Prodrobot at conferences, congresses and other events all over the country.”

How do you think that innovations like the Prodrobot will impact how the world sees Poland?

“I hope that our Prodrobot will be a very effective tool to show other nations that we have good inventors and engineers in Poland. We can manufacture, develop and sell our Prodrobot all over the world. Most importantly, we can effectively help children all over the world make their adulthood more comfortable and happy.”

Wielogórski and Piątek plan to make the Prodrobot available throughout Europe and eventually around the world. Wielogórski mentioned that they will continue to improve upon the Prodrobot and develop other rehabilitative devices as well.

For more information about the Prodrobot, visit