[ Early - 1782 ] [ 1783 - 1849 ] [ 1850 - 1876 ] [ 1877 - 1892 ] [ 1893 - 1903 ] [ 1904 - 1960 ]

Would the reader please note that this section comprises, at best, distant memories of distant events and 'evidence' written centuries, if not millenia after the 'supposed' event. These entries, up until at least the the time of Roger Bacon, are included as simply an entertaining preamble to the main part of this essay.


"Thousands of years ago, Emperor Huang-ti reigned over a highly advanced Chinese civilisation, now buried deep in the shadows of history. Huang-ti's political and military feats were quite remarkable, but the bizarre tales of his life and origins lead to an intriguing idea: That Huang-ti was not merely an exceptional emperor, but an extraterrestrial as well. Numerous sources relate that Huang-ti manufactured and used "miraculous tripods" which were made in the "likeness of the Great Infinite," Tao, the concealed engine of the Universe. The "tripods" were used to store knowledge and data and were capable of moving themselves about. The legends of ancient China say that the "tripods" depicted "dragons, flying in the clouds." At the end of his reign, one of these "dragons" carried Huang-ti and his colleagues back to their home in the constellation Syuan Yuan -- the constellation we know as Leo. The "tripods" were always pointed in the direction of Syuan Yuan, which contains the star Regulus -- a radio source that emits signals in metric wave"


also see...

The Story of Vimanas: India's Tradition of Flying Machines


Ancient Airships

2200 B.C.

Chinese emperor Shin, in perhaps the first recorded attempt to fly, jumped from a high tower wearing two large straw hats. Luckily he landed safely.


1000 B.C.

Rameses III has constructed a pair of wings but it is said, baulks at using them

400 B.C.

Archytas, a Greek scholar, builds a wooden pigeon that moves through the air. It is unknown exactly how this was done, but most believe that the Greek connected it to a steam powered arm that made it go in circles.


Archytas, of Tarentum, who, in the fourth century B. C., is said to have launched into the air the first "flying stag," and who, according to the Greek writers...

"made a pigeon of wood, which flew, but which could not raise itself again after having fallen." Its flight, it is said, "was accomplished by means of a mechanical contrivance, by the vibrations of which it was sustained in the air."

Wonderful Balloon Ascents Or the Conquest of the Skies

66 A.D.

Simon the Magician, commanded by Nero (AD 37-68) to "ascend heavenwards in a fiery chariot" from the Circus Maximus


In the year 66 A.D., in the time of Nero, Simon, the magician, who called himself "the mechanician", made certain experiments at Rome of flying at a certain height. In the eyes of the early Christians this power was attributed to the devil, and St. Peter, the namesake of this flying man, is said to have prayed fervently while Simon was amusing himself in space. It was possibly in answer to his prayers that the magician failed in his flight, fell upon the Forum, and broke his neck on the spot.

Wonderful Balloon Ascents Or the Conquest of the Skies


King Bladud - the father of King Lear leaps from a tower in Trinavantum (London) and crashes on the Temple of Apollo.


Armen Firman jumped from a tower in Spain wearing a huge voluminous cloak, hoping that it would billow out and allow him to float gently to the ground. It did not, and he was fortunate to survive.



Abbas ibn-Firmas, a physician, tried to fly using wings in the Andalusians. He covered himself with feathers, attached wings and, according to eyewitness accounts, flew for some distance. Trying to land like a bird he lost his balance and stability and crashed to the ground, severely injuring his back. He attributed his failure to not having a tail.



Eilmer (also Oliver, Elmer) of Malmesbury, a monk from the Abbey, built himself wings and "flew" from the top of the old Minster Church until the lack of a tail caused him to land rather abruptly, breaking both his legs in the process.


It is recorded that the English Monk Eilmer built a glider resembling bat wings. For stability he attached the wings to his hands and feet. This did not present a problem as he stood on the edge of the abbey tower. It is not recorded when it dawned on the monk that this did not provide anything to land with. The leap off the abbey tower resulted in a 200 yard glide and a crash landing



William of Malmesbury, an 11th Century historian, recorded in his De Gestis Regum Anglorum 1120 AD:

"He was a man learned for those times, of ripe old age, and in his early youth had hazarded a deed of remarkable boldness. He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Daedalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower, flew for more than a furlong. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after."


Oliver of Malmesbury, an English Benedictine monk studied mathematics and astrology, earning the reputation of a wizard. He apparently built some wings, modelled after those of Deadalus. An 1850's history of Balloons by Bescherelle describes the legend of his experiments.

"Having fastened them to his hands, he sprang from the top of a tower against the wind. He succeeded in sailing a distance of 125 paces; but either through the impetuosity or whirling of the wind, or through nervousness resulting from his audacious enterprise, he fell to the earth and broke his legs. Henceforth he dragged a miserable, languishing existence, attributing his misfortune to his having failed to attach a tail to his feet."



Oliver of Malmesbury. This ecclesiastic was considered gifted with the power of foretelling events; but, like other similarly circumstanced, he does not seem to have been able to divine the fate which awaited himself. He constructed wings after the model of those which according to Ovid, Daedalus made use of. These he attached to his arms and his feet, and, thus furnished, he threw himself from the height of a tower. But the wings bore him up for little more than a distance of 120 paces. He fell at the foot of the tower, broke his legs, and from that moment led a languishing life. He consoled himself, however, in his misfortune by saying that his attempt must certainly have succeeded had he only provided himself with a tail.

Wonderful Balloon Ascents Or the Conquest of the Skies


In 1178, a 'Saracen' of Constantinople undertook to sail into the air from the top of the tower of the Hippodrome in the presence of the Emperor, Manuel Comnenus. The attempt is described in a history of Constantinople by Cousin, and recounted in several 19th century books on Aerial Navigation.

"He stood upright, clothed in a white robe, very long and very wide, whose folds, stiffened by willow wands, were to serve as sails to receive the wind. All the spectators kept their eyes intently fixed upon him, and many cried, 'Fly, fly, O Saracen! Do not keep us so long in suspense while thou art weighing the wind!' The Emperor, who was present, then attempted to dissuade him from this vain and dangerous enterprise.

The Sultan of Turkey in Asia, who was then on a visit to Constantinople, and who was also present at this experiment, halted between dread and hope, wishing on the one hand for the Saracen's success, and apprehending on the other that he should shamefully perish. The Saracen kept extending his arms to catch the wind. At last, when he deemed it favourable, he rose into the air like a bird; but his flight was as unfortunate as that of Icarus, for the weight of his body having more power to draw him downward than his artificial wings had to sustain him, he fell and broke his bones, and such was his misfortune that instead of sympathy there was only merriment over his misadventure."





Roger Bacon writes in his Secrets of Art and Nature translated in 1542

"Such a machine must be a large hollow globe of copper or other suitable metal, wrought extremely thin in order to have it as light as possible. It must then be filled with ethereal air or liquid fire and launched from some elevated point into the atmosphere where it will float like a vessel on the water"


Roger Bacon, in the thirteenth century, inaugurated a more scientific era. In his "Treaty of the Admirable Power of Art and Nature," he puts forth the idea that it is possible...

"to make flying-machines in which the man, being seated or suspended in the middle, might turn some winch or crank, which would put in motion a suit of wings made to strike the air like those of a bird.

In the same treatise he sketches a flying-machine, to which that of Blanchard, who lived in the eighteenth century, bears a certain resemblance. The monk, Roger Bacon, was worthy of entering the temple of fame before his great namesake the Lord Chancellor, who in the seventeenth century inaugurated the era of experimental science.

Wonderful Balloon Ascents Or the Conquest of the Skies


Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519) builds a "great Bird". Zoroastro his assistant barn 'flies' the device and cripples himself


Leonardo devises amongst many inventions, an airscrew like helicopter a parachute and a man-carrying, man-powered ornithopter

[...] Next he made a flying machine with bird-like wings that "flapped" when you rotated a bar with pedals with your feet, like riding a bike. The person powering it lay underneath the middle of the flyer where the wings met. He or she was supported by ropes and wooden cross pieces. The flyer itself had a wooden frame with covered with tight canvas for the wings. This is what Leonardo thought about it:

"A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law. It lies within the power of man to make this instrument with all its motions, but without the full scope of its powers; but this limitation only applies in respect to balancing itself. Accordingly we may say that such an instrument fabricated by man lacks nothing but the soul of man."

Leonardo spent a lot of time studying birds, but he must not have counted on a bird's hollow bones, for his flyer was much too heavy to fly.



Jean Baptiste Dante, a mathematician of Perugia, who lived in the latter part of the fifteenth century, constructed artificial wings, by means of which, when applied to thin bodies, men might raise themselves off the ground into the air. It is recorded that on many occasions he experimented with his wings on the Lake Thrasymenus. These experiments, however, had a sad end. At a fete, given for the celebration of the marriage of Bartholomew d'Alvani, Dante, who must not be confounded with the poet, whose flights were of quite another kind--offered to exhibit the wonder of his wings to the people of Perugia. He managed to raise himself to a great height, and flew above the square; but the iron with which he moved one of his wings having been bent, he fell upon the church of the Virgin, and broke his thigh.

Wonderful Balloon Ascents Or the Conquest of the Skies


In the late fourteenth century there are reports of partial success by an Italian mathematician Giovanti Dante. He is said to have successfully sailed over a lake, but then attempted to repeat the trick in honour of a wedding.

"Starting from the highest tower in the city of Perugia, he sailed across the public square and balanced himself for a long time in the air. Unfortunately, the iron forging which managed his left wing suddenly broke, so that he fell upon the Notre Dame Church and had one leg broken. Upon his recovery he went to teach mathematics at Venice."



John Damien Abbot of Tungland (Alt: Albert Damien) tries to fly to France from the battelemnts of Stirling Castle. In the presence of James IV (1473-1513), King of Scotland (1488-1513), he crashes claiming after that he should not have used chicken feathers as they are 'ground birds'


early 1600s - Hezarfen Celebi 'flies `from the Tower of Galata on the banks of the Bosphorus to the market place of Scutari

Francisco de Mendoza (? - 1626) suggests that a wooden vessel would float through the air if filled with "elementary fire"

John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester stated that since the air of the upper atmosphere was known to be of lower density than the lower air, a container filled with the air of the upper atmosphere would rise


Gaspard Schott, of Palermo and Rome wrote...

"The shells of hen-eggs, if properly filled and well secured against the penetration of the air, and exposed to solar rays, will ascend to the skies and sometimes suffer a natural change. And if the eggs of the larger description of swans, or leather balls stitched with fine thongs, be filled with nitre, the purest sulphur quicksilver, or kindred materials which rarefy by their caloric energy, and if they externally resemble pigeons, they will easily be mistaken for flying animals."

The Dominion of the Air: The Story of Aerial Navigation by Rev. J. M. Bacon


Francesco de Lana-Terzi (b.1631 - d. 1686/7), a Jesuit Priest, devises a machine, an 'Aerial Boat' (alt: 'Aerial Ship') lifted by evacuated copper spheres


In 1678 a mechanician of Salle, in Maine, named Besnier invented a flying-machine. The machine consisted of four great wings, or paddles, mounted at the extremities of levers, which rested on the shoulders of the man who guided it, and who could move them alternately by means ,of his hands and feet. The following description of the machine is given in the Journal de Paris by an eye-witness: "The 'wings' are oblong frames, covered with taffeta, and attached to the ends of two rods, adjusted on the shoulders The wings work up and down. Those in front are worked by the hands; those behind by the feet, which are connected with the ends of the rods by strings. The movements were such that when the right hand made the right wing descend in front, the left foot made the left wing descend behind; and in like manner the left hand in front and the right foot behind acted together simultaneously. This diagonal action appeared very well contrived; it was the action of most quadrupeds as well as of man when walking; but the contrivance, like others of the same kind, failed in not being fitted with gearing to enable the air traveller to proceed in any other direction than that in which the wind blew him. The inventor first flew down from a stool, then from a table, afterwards from a window, and finally from a garret, from which he passed above the houses in the neighbourhood, and then, moderating the working of his machine, he descended slowly to the earth." Wonderful Balloon Ascents Or the Conquest of the Skies


In 1678 the first article on attempted flight was published in a French magazine, detailing the experiments of a locksmith named Besnier who had attached wings to his arms and legs. Although unsuccessful, the record of his experiments came to the attention of scientists and inspired discussions that would further the development of aerodynamic principles.



Giovani Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679) Italian physicist and astronomer develops the principle of human flight by the use of flapping wings [Copley p.5]


In 1685, Giovanni Borelli's work De motu animalium (On the Movement of Animals) showed how the human muscular structure was inadequate to flap and produce flight. More importantly, it showed how a birds wings were appropriately shaped for flight and how they worked.


Barthelemy Laurenco de Gusman [alt. Bartholomeu Lourenco de Gusmao] devises his Passarola [great bird] to be lifted into the air by magnetic force.


Michail Lomonosov designed and build self-propelled model of lifting airscrew. The purpose of the apparatus was to lift thermometers and other light scientific instruments into the air. It was claimed that Lomonosov built its screw in complete ignorance of Leonardo da Vinci's work.


Henry Cavendish discovers what he calls "inflammable air" - hydrogen, and shows it to be much lighter than the surrounding atmosphere



Joseph Priestly writes his Experiments and Observations with Different Types of Air ; translated into French three years later this inspired paper manufacturer Joseph Montgolfier to start experiments. In 1782, with his brother Etienne, he succeeded in flying small paper and cloth balloons filled with hot air


After the flying-machine of Lana there was constructed by Galien (who, like the former, was an ecclesiastic) an air-boat, less chimerical in its form, looked at in view of the conditions of aerial navigation, but much more singular. Galien describes his air-boat, in 1755, in his little work entitled, The Art of Sailing in the Air. His project was a most extraordinary one, and its boldness is only equalled by the seriousness of the narrative. According to him, the atmosphere is divided into two horizontal layers, the upper of which is much lighter than the lower. "But," says Galien,...

"a ship keeps its place in the water because it is full of air, and air is much lighter than water. Suppose, then, that there was the same difference of weight between the upper and the lower layer of air as there is between the lower stratum and water; and suppose, also, a boat which rested upon the lower layer of air, with its bulk in the lighter upper layer, like a ship which has its keel in the water but its bulk in the air, the same thing would happen with the air-ship as with the water-ship, it would float in the denser layer of air."

Galien adds that in the region of hail there was in the air a separation into two layers, the weights of which respectively are as 1 to 2. "Then," says he,...

"in placing an air-boat in the region of hail, with its sides rising eighty-three fathoms into the upper region, which is much more light, one could sail perfectly."

But how to get this enormous air-boat up to the region of hail? This is a minor detail, respecting which Galien is not clear.


Joshua Hargrave born in Yorkshire (d.1851). Father of John Fletcher Hargrave and grandfather of Lawrence Hargrave.

Travelled to Greenwich in 1806 setting up in business as Joshua Hargrave - Ironmonger, Smith, Brazier and Tin Plate Worker. Also recorded as being in business as Hargrave and Burton - Ironmongers and Smith to the her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales [ref: Kent connection papers: Monash Lib.]


Jean Pierre Blanchard devises a boat like vehicle fitted with large paddles to both lift his craft into the air and propel and manoeuvre it through the air.

[ Early - 1782 ] [ 1783 - 1849 ] [ 1850 - 1876 ] [ 1877 - 1892 ] [ 1893 - 1903 ] [ 1904 - 1960 ]


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Last updated November 17, 2001