Abbas Ibn Firnas : The Pioneer of Aviation.

Flying in the sky has been a human dream since time immemorial. Today there are many ways to fly in the sky such as helicopters, aircraft, jets, parachutes, Gliders, etc.  But do you know who contributed to these inventions that would take humans to the sky? Many would say the Wright Brothers, but today in this article we are discussing the first human, who flew about 1000 years before the Wright Brothers. So, let’s begin with the article “Abbas Ibn Firnas: The Pioneer of Aviation.”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Abu Al-Qasim Abbas Ibn Firnas Ibn Wirdas Al-Takurini also known as the Abbas Ibn Firnas was born in 810 at Izn-Rand Onda Al-Andalus (Today Ronda Spain).  During that time Al-Andalus was one of the major centres of education in the Muslim World. He was a polymath, an inventor, physician, chemist, engineer, and Arabic-language poet. He lived in the city Qurtuba Al-Andalus (Cordoba, Spain) which was one of the major centres of learning at that time.

Some historians say he was inspired by the Armen Firmen in 852. These men earn his living by doing stunts.  One day he made a suit of silk with wood reinforced rods, today which we would recognize as parachutes. He climbed the highest minaret of the Grand Mosque in Qurtuba and Jumped. He was not a scientist so his idea was not scientific but was a crude attempt. He didn’t fly and plummeted but due to his parachute his falling speed was slow and he didn’t die. He was just mildly injured. This event influenced Abbas Ibn Firnas and took him into the realm of aeronautics, which made him a Pioneer of Aviation.

The Mezquita Cathedral In Cordoba, Spain. This Was Once A Moorish Mosque But Has Since Been Converted Into A Cathedral.

Armen Firmen is a Latinized name of Abbas Ibn Firnas so many historians say that Armen Firmen who jumped from the minaret of Mosque, and Abbas Ibn Firnas are the same Person.  So, after that incident, Abbas Ibn Firnas learned that his technique will work and started studying how birds fly. He may be inspired by the ayah of the Quran to study birds’ flights “Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except (Allah) Most Gracious: truly it is He that watches over all things.” [Al-Qur’an-Surah Al-Mulk- 67:19]

After studying the flights of the Birds for 23 years. In 875 he made a glider of wood and silk. He used bamboo to make frames, and silk to tie them. At that time silk was the lightest and strongest Fabric. He also used the eagle’s feather to cover the glider. His flying machine was like the wings of Birds as he studied birds for 23 years. So, with the up-down movement of his hands, he could make the wings up-down as the birds.

He was fully assured that his invention would work. Ibn Firnas invited hundreds of people to watch him flying in the sky. He also invited the members of the Court of Muhammad I, Amir of Andalusian Caliphate. From Jabal Al- ‘Arus he jumped and flew for approximately 10 minutes. At that time, he was 70 years old so the motion of wings is also limited. Imagine how fit he was at the age of 70. After flying for 10 minutes, he landed difficulty on the ground but survived. He became the first human to fly with a machine heavier than an air machine.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

He was severely injured after the difficult landing. In his study, he mainly focused on how to fly but neglected the way of landing. After that incident, he lived for 12 years but was not able to make another attempt. He found that birds use their tails to control their landing but he did not use a tail in his flight that’s why he was not landed properly.

In 1630-1632 another attempt was made by the Ottoman Turk who would glide across the Bosporus which resulted in his death.  In the year 1783, the Montgolfiers brothers launched a tethered hot air balloon with humans on board in Paris. Approximately after 1000 thousand years.  In 1853 Sir George Cayley had built the first modern glider based on a basic understanding of aerodynamic theory and glide in the town of Yorkshire England.  In 1903 Wright Brothers succeeded in flying the first free, controlled flight of a power-driven, heavier-than-air plane for 59 Seconds. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ibn Firnas flew six hundred years before the design of Leonardo da Vinci and more than thousands of years before German Aviation Pioneer Otto Lilienthal.  On his legacy, a crater on the moon is named after him. At Baghdad airport, a statue of Ibn Firnas is built.

At that time when there was a “Dark age” in Europe, in Al Andalus, there was a street light System, Libraries, Hospitals, Universities that offered free education.  It was one of the major centres of learning in the Islamic Golden Age. The fall of Al Andalus inspired the Europeans to condemn the rules of the church and began the scientific revolution.  Europeans used maps of the Golden age for navigation. Copernicus mentions Al Battani 23 times in his book as a reference. Some day we will discuss Al Battani.

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