The world knows the Wright Brothers as the inventors of the aeroplane, but there is a man in India named Shivkar Bapuji Talpade who had already invented the aeroplane before the Wright brother's first flight. What kind of evidence does this have?
The question of who invented the aeroplane is a contentious one.
The first manned flight occurred at some point before 1849 in an aeroplane designed and built by Sir George Cayley. The plane was based on principles from his landmark three-part treatise "On Aerial Navigation" (1809–1810), which was published in Nicholson's Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts (generally known as "Nicholson's Journal" some 4 decades earlier [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3].
Cayley's aeroplane was a glider (or "convertiplane" as he termed it). The pilot was a 10 year-old child (whose name has been lost to history).
The Wright brothers carried out the first "sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight" in 1903, and they were happy to acknowledge that they had built on Cayley's work. In fact, in a speech to the Royal Aero Club in London in 1909, Wilbur Wright is reported to have said:
“About 100 years ago an Englishman, Sir George Cayley, carried the science of flying to a point which it had never reached before and which it scarcely reached again during the last century.”
- [Gibbs-Smith, 1962, page ix]
The question of whether Shivkar Bapuji Talpade invented an aeroplane is contentious, to say the least. Many sources that are quoted in support of the idea, for example International Journal of Yoga and Allied Sciences, make fairly wild claims without much in the way of supporting evidence (the article cited here even claims that the aeroplane was powered by an ion engine!). Perhaps Lhendup G Bhutia, writing in Open Magazine, put it best:
Much of Shivkar Bapuji Talpade's life and how he went about inventing his flying machine is cloaked in mystery. He is a much-discussed subject on some websites, much of the conversation soaked in faux nationalism and less in research.
Sadly, unlike George Cayley's flying machine, we have no published research by Shivkar Bapuji Talpade to support these claims. He may have invented an unmanned flying machine in the late 19th century. It may even have successfully flown. But without evidence the claims cannot stand.
- Gibbs-Smith, Charles Harvard: Sir George Cayley’s Aeronautics 1796-1855. HMSO, London, 1962.