Abbas Ibn Firnas
As westerners teach their children about the Wright Brothers, the Arab and Islamic countries tell theirs about Ibn Firnas, a thousand years before the Wrights—though his flight was not powered. The Libyans produced a postage stamp honoring him. The Iraqis built a statue in his memory on the way to Baghdad International Airport, and the Ibn Firnas Airport to the north of Baghdad is named for him.
Abbas Ibn Firnas (810–887 A.D.), also known as Abbas Qasim Ibn Firnas. He was an Andalusian polymath: an inventor, engineer, aviator, physician, Arabic poet, and Andalusian musician. Of Berber descent, he was born in Izn-Rand Onda, Al-Andalus (today's Ronda, Spain), and lived in the Emirate of Córdoba. He is known for an early attempt at aviation.
He designed a water clock called Al-Maqata. He also devised means of manufacturing colorless glass by additions to the frit from which it was produced, and he developed a chain of rings that could be used to display the motions of the planets and stars.
In 822, a new Caliph named 'Abd al-Rahman II took the throne, and he began to gather together talented individuals. He began with an Iraqi musician called Ziryab who fostered the development of the sciences. Another one was the young astronomer and poet Abbas Ibn Firnas.
In 852, under a new Caliph, a daredevil named Armen Firman decided to fly off a tower in Córdoba using a huge winglike cloak to break his fall. He survived with minor injuries, and the young Ibn Firnas was there to see it. This was considered to be the first parachute.
In 875 at an age of 65 years, Ibn Firnas built his own glider, and launched himself from a mountain. The flight was largely successful, and was widely observed by a crowd that he had invited. However, the landing was bad. He injured his back, and left critics saying he hadn't taken proper account of the way birds pull up into a stall, and land on their tails. He'd provided neither a tail, nor means for such a maneuver. He died twelve years later.
Having constructed the final version of his glider, to celebrate its success he invited the people of Cordoba to come and witness his flight. People watched from a nearby mountain as he flew some distance, but then the glider plummeted to the ground causing him to injure his back.
Ibn Firnas died at the age of 77 years old.
"Ibn Firnas was the first man in history to make a scientific attempt at flying." —Philip Hitti, History of the Arabs.
By Nouran Radwan