May 23, 2017

Flying

Published Feb 26, 2006
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This past December, America celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ successful manned flight. But stories of humans’ attempts to fly date back thousands of years. It seems that people refused to give up the dream that they may be able to fly like the birds. Among those dreamers were two Muslim inventors.

In 852, a Muslim inventor, Armen Firman, made a huge cloak to be used as a glider. He jumped from a tower in Cordoba, Spain surviving because air caught his cloak enough to break his fall. However, he did come out with some minor injuries. Although the flight was a failure, Firman had invented a simple form of a parachute.

Around the year 875, Abbas Ibn Firnas, one of the earliest Muslim scholars from Cordoba took to the sky for the first glider flight. Ibn Firnas had studied chemistry, physics and astronomy before traveling to Cordoba. He originally went to Cordoba to teach music. While there, he conducted experiments, one of which produced glass from sand and stone. He also invented a time measuring device.

Ibn Firnas constructed a glider out of a wooden frame with feathers. One version of the story of his flight told of how he flew some distance but then the glider plummeted to the ground. He suffered back injuries from the fall. A second account explained that after the fall Ibn Firnas had realized that he had not paid attention to how birds use their tails in addition to their wings for flight. He had forgotten a tail for his glider. A few years later, Ibn Firnas died, primarily due to the back injuries he had sustained.

These attempts were followed by many others around the world, all the while improving on the previous ideas. Until the Wright brothers, who 100 years ago marked history with their success.

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