Who invented human flight?

2019-06-20

The Chinese were the first to fly by using tethered kits around the 5th Century BC.

However the first successful gliding flight was made in Spain in 875 AD by Abbas Ibn Firnas.

Ibn Firnas - a Spanish Muslim was an inventor, engineer, physician and Arabic poet. 

Ibn Firnes was inspired by Armen Firman who made a living as a showman.

In 852 Armen constructed a suit of silk with wood reinforced rods. In front of a large crowd he climbed to the top of the grand mosque in Qurtuba and jumped. He did not fly. He fell to the ground. Fortunately his suit created enough drag that he didn't hit the ground at full speed. Only mildly hurt but not dead or crippled, this was probably the world’s first parachute jump.

Ibn Firnas was in the crowd watching.

23 years later in 875, the 70 year old Ibn Firnas constructed his own flying machine after spending years studying the nature of flight. He constructed a pair of wings out of silk and wood and even added actual feathers. From the hills of Jabal Al-'Arus he jumped off a cliff. His glide would last 10 minutes. 

However he was unable to control his speed on landing and hit the ground hard seriously injuring himself.

Ibn Firnas lived another 12 years and though never flew again he did reach the conclusion that his design did not include a way to slow down on landing. Observing that birds use their tails and wings in unison to slow their speed and stall just before touching the ground.

Centuries passed before another attempt was made in 1630 by Ahmed Celebi, an Ottoman Turk. He would glide across the Bosporus. In 1783 in Paris the Montgolfier brothers launched a tethered hot air balloon with humans on board. Yet it wasn't until 1853 in Yorkshire England  that Sir George Cayley built the first modern glider based on a basic understanding of aerodynamics almost 1000 years after the first attempt by Abbas Ibn Firnas in 875.

Leonardo Da Vinci is often thought to be the inventor of human flight but in fact was not.

He did design devices to fly including parachutes, yet it was as late as 1485 before he drew plans for a human-powered Ornithopter (a wing-flapping device intended to fly). There is no evidence to suggest he ever actually built one or attempted to fly it.