As far as we know, no one else had developed the capability of sustained air flight, at least on this planet. But early accounts of our first settlers included an occasional report of something flying in the sky. These happen chance sightings were normally made when one would check the sky for weather conditions, or see birds fly over.
The Sonora Aero Club was a secret society of designers that met in California in the late 1800s. An incredible library of art was put tohether by Stephano Romano. Its on FB www.facebook.com/pg/Stephen-Romano-Gallery-138859142872578/photos/?tab=album&album_id=479218115503344 The artis was Charles A A Dellaschau . Thanks to SPF33, an artist in his own right brung it to our attention many many years ago for some of their drone like retro qualities..but certainly dreams of flight have captured man for a millennia. And who knows how many private tinkerers succeed before the dirigibles became all the rage.
At the time the airships were seen, we had airships. However, the airships supposedly had searchlights. We had searchlights back then too--since the 1870s in fact. What I don't know is if the two were combinable back then.