A DIRECTORY OF HEAVIER-THAN-AIR FLYING MACHINES IN WESTERN EUROPE, 850 B.C. -
This directory attempts to list all heavier-than-air flying machines, whether models or of man-carrying size, that are said to have been built and tested in Western Europe prior to the Montgolfiers. While I do not include machines that are known to have been totally imaginary, I have been fairly liberal in my sifting of the evidence. Thus the list includes items ranging from those about which there is no historical doubt whatever (e.g., the ornithopters of Pierre Blanchard) to others that may never in fact have existed (e.g., the zany structure conceived by d'Alcripe's drunken Norman labourer).
After the directory I have added a checklist of unadopted items, which I have so far been unable to confirm, and a further checklist of spurious flights, with brief comments on my reasons for rejection.
||DURATION / DISTANCE
||SOURCES AND NOTES
|ca. 850 B.C.
||Wings attached to the arms
||Fell onto the temple of Apollo and was killed.
||Fabyan, The Chronicles (1516) f. viii. See also H.C.
Levis, The British King Who Tried to Fly (London: 1919). Although
Bladud is legendary, the story of his flight might have some factual basis.
|4th century B.C.
||Archytas of Tarentum (fl. c.400-350 B.C.).
||A wooden dove, worked by 'a current of air hidden and enclosed
within it.' Model.
|Aulus Gellius, Noctium atticarum libri xx, X.12,
pp. 8-10. Sometimes interpreted as a kite. 'Dove' should perhaps be read
'small flying object.' Cf. modern 'big birds' = airliners.
|ca. 60 A.D.
||Actor at a feast given by Nero
||Suetonius, VI.xii.2., Such spectacles appear to have been
||Abu'l-Kasim 'Abbas b. Firnas
||Feather-covered wings; body covered in feathers; no tail.
||'A considerable distance,' alighting at his starting point.
||al-Makkari, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in
Spain I, trans. de Gayangos (London: 1840) p. 148.
|1002-3 or 1009-10
||Wings made of wood.
||0/0. Threw himself from the top of a mosque and fell to
the ground, where he was killed.
||A. Zéki Pacha, 'L'aviation chez lez Arabes,' Bulletin
de l'Institut égyptian 5th s., V (1991) pp. 92-101. See also
'al-Djawhari,' by L. Kopf, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition
(Leiden and London 1960, etc.).
||Eilmer, a monk (ca. 980-1066)
||Wings attached to the hands and feet; no tail.
||More than a stadium (= 606.75 ft) from the top of a tower;
broke his legs.
||William of Malmesbury, De gestis regum anglorum I,
ed. Stubbs (London: 1887) pp. 276-7.
||Saillike wings made of 'a long and large white garment,
gathered into many pleats and foldings.'
||He had planned to fly a furlong from a high tower but fell
immediately to the base.
||Nicetas Choniates, Historia (Basileae: 1557) p.60.
Frequently quoted in Renaissance and later.
||Buoncompagno, a Florentine
||Wings (to be flapped by the arms?).
||Flight abandoned at the last moment.
||Salimbene de Adam, Cronica (13th century) I, ed.
Scalia (Bari: 1966) pp. 109-110.
||A friend of Roger Bacon
||Flying boat or carriage, with wings flapped by turning a
||Roger Bacon, De mirabili postestate artis et naturae
(ca. 1260) (Lutetia Parisiorum: 1542) f. 42.
||Giovanni da Fontana (ca. 1395-ca. 1455)
||Model dove powered by a rocket.
||Apparently about 100 ft. for each flight.
||Fontana, Metrologum de pisce cane et volucre (ca.
1420), Bologna, Biblioteca universitaria, MS 2705, ff. 95-104.
||Mechanical fly made of iron.
||A circuit around the dinner table.
||Petrus Ramus, Scholarum mathmaticarum libri unus et triginta
(Basileae: 1569) II.65. Although the account as given must be inaccurate,
Regiomontanus may have experimented with some kind of flying model. (His
other flying invention, an 'eagle,' was a kite.)
||Giovanni Battista Danti (ca. 1477-1517).
||Feathered wings on a structure of iron bars.
||Trial flights over Lake Trasimeno, followed by a flight
from a tower across the city square, crashing on to the roof of Saint Mary's
||Cesare Alessi, Elogia civium perusinorum II (Romae: 1652)
||Monte Ceceri, Italy
||Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
|Leonardo, Sul volo degli ucceli (1505) f. 18. Whether
Leonardo ever undertook a flight with one of his ornithopters is uncertain.
He could perhaps have succeeded in making a short glide, but in 1550 Cardanus
wrote that Leonardo had tried 'in vain.'
||Stirling Castle, Scotland
||John Damian, an Italian adventurer
||Wings made of hen feathers.
||A very short distance from the walls of the Castle.
John Lesley, The Historie of Scotland (1568-70)
(Edinburgh: 1830) p. 76.
||Denis Bolori (d. 1536)
||Wings flapped by a spring mechanism.
||Two or three kilometers from the tower of the cathedral,
ending in a fatal crash after a spring broke.
||Pierre Jean Grosley, Oeuvres inédites I (Paris:
1812) pp. 84-88.
|20 June 1540, 5:00 pm
||Two pairs of wings, of which the upper were larger than
the lower, covered with calico, and joined by iron hoops lined with cloth.
The flier was provided with a helmet representing an eagle's head with open
||From the tower of the cathedral, intending to fly to the
nearby Saint Matthew's fields. Crashed onto a roof when the helmet slipped
over his eyes and died a few days later.
||Donna Maria de Gloriá, Probenda (17th century).
Quoted in a number of later Portuguese books on aviation history, e.g. Albino
Lapa, Aviaçao portuguesa (Lisboa: 1928) p. 12. According to
Donna Maria, Torto had his attempt announced by the town crier on 1 June
||Tour de Nesles, Paris, France
||Wings, possibly of cloth.
||According to the poet Augié Gailliard, he dropped
'like a pig' close to the base of the tower and broke his neck.
||Pierre de Saint Romuald, Trésor cronolgique et
historique III (Paris: 1669) p.583.
||Saint Mark's, Venice
|J. Sturm, Linguae latinae resolvendae ratio (Argentiraci:
1581) p. 40. Probably imaginary.
||An old church cantor
||Wings flapped by a mechanism including wheels.
||"Flew here and there,' but broke his arms and legs
when the mechanism failed.
||J. E. Burggravius, Achilles (Amsterodami: 1612) p.
||A French laborer
||Wings made of the two halves of a winnowing basket, with
a coal shovel for a tail.
||0/0. Fell from the top of a pear tree into a drain and broke
||Philippe d'Alcripe, La nouvelle fabrique des excellens
traits de vérité (16th century), ed. Gratet-Duplessis
(Paris: 1853) pp. 178-9. Probably Fictional.
||San Yuste, Spain
||Giovanni Torriano (d. 1580 or 1581)
||Wooden sparrows (models).
||A circuit around the dining roomof Charles V's retreat near
||F. Strada, De bello belgico (Romae: 1632) p. 8.
||Long coat used as a sail or wings.
||Fell almost immediately on to a stone which emasculated
||John Hacket, Scrinia reserata (London: 1693) p. 8.
Williams was about seven years old at the time.
||Paolo Guidotti (ca. 1150-1629)
||Wings made of whalebone and covered with feathers; springs
were used to give them curvature.
||About 1/4 mile starting from 'a height.' Fell through a
roof after his arms grew tired. Broke a thigh and was left in 'a sorry plight.'
||F. Baldinucci, Notizie de' professori del disegno
IV (Firenze: 1700) pp. 248-50.
||Giovanni Francesco Sagredo (ca. 1571-1620)
||Wings based on those of a falcon.
||Threw himself from a height and arrived 'many yards from
his starting point.'
||Paris, Blbliotheque nationale, MS Latin 11195, f.
|Broke his legs on landing.
||Tommaso Campanella, De sensu resrum (Francofurti:
1620) p. 280: 'a certain Calabrian, a few years ago.'
||Kaspar Mohr, a monk (1575-1625)
||Wings made from goosefeathers held together by whipcord.
||S.B. Wilhelm, 'Schweikart und Mohr, zei schwäbische
Flieger aus alter Zeit,' Illustrierte aeronatuische teilungen 13
(1909) pp. 441-45.
|Robert Hooke 'An Account of Sieur Bernier's [sic] Way of
Flying,' Philosophical Collections I.1 (1679) p. 15.
||Near Vauxhall, England?
||An English boy
||Winged chariot made from farming machinery.
||Said to have flown the length of a barn. The inventor, the
Marquis or Worcester, said that he knew 'how to make a man fly; which I
have tried with a little Boy of ten years old in a Barn, from one end to
the other, on an Hay-mow.'
||Edward Somerset, Second Marquis of Worcester, A Century
of ... Inventions (London: 1663) pp. 54-55 (invention p. 77). Although
perhaps entirely apocryphal (Worcester was a gross exaggerator), some kind
of experiment may have been made.
||Tito Livio Burattini (1617- ca. 1680)
||Flying dragon: a complex ornithopter of which at least three
working models were made.
||Successful indoor flights reported.
||Paris, Bibliotheque nationale, MS Lation 11195, ff.
50-61. The projected man-carrying machine appears never to have been built.
||Salomon Idler, of Cannstatt (ca. 1610- ca. 1670), a cobbler
||Wings made of iron and feathers.
||Dissuaded from flying from a tower, he flew instead from
a low roof on to a bridge covered with mattresses. He broke the bridge,
killing some hens nesting under it. Later he took his wings to Oberhausen
and chopped them to pieces.
||J.J. Becher, Närrische Weiszheit und weise Narrheit
(Franckfurt: 1682) pp. 164-68; C.J. Wagenseil, Cersuch einer Geschichte
der Stadt Augsburg IV.2 (Augsburg: 1822) pp. 485-87.
||Scutari (Üsküdar), Turkey
||Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi
||Wings, like those of an eagle, attached to the arms.
||Began with training flights, 'turning round and round in
the air,'; then starting from Galata Tower, flew several kilmeters, landing
in Dogoncilar Square, the marketplace of Scutari.
||Evliyâ Çelebi (1611-83), Seyahatnâme
I (Istanbul: 1896) p. 670. See also Türk Ansiklopedesi XIX (Ankara:
1971) p. 207.
||Bat-shaped wings of leather, with wooden ribs and iron hinges;
||Managed a safe descent from the roof of St. Paul's, London.
Broke his neck at a second attempt when one of the hinges failed.
||Georg Heinrich Büchner, Merkwürdige Beyträge
zu dem Weltlauf der Gelehrten III (Langensalza: 1766) pp. 542-66. Account
may be fictional.
||Improved wings like those of the Frenchmen above, but with
the addition of eagle feathers and a tail like that of an eagle.
||A successful trial flight from the highest tower in Rotterdam
was followed, about a year later, by a trial flight from a tower in The
Hague, with a safety line attached. A further free flight ended in a crash
that broke his arm.
||Robert Hooke (1635-1703)
||Model bird, powered by 'springs and wings.'
||Hooke says it 'rais'd and sustain'd it self in the Air.'
||Richard Waller, 'The Life of Dr. Robert Hooke,' prefaced
to The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke (London: 1705) p. iii-iv.
||Johann Hautsch (1595-1670), a skilled mechanic and coach
|Becher, Närrische Weinszheit p. 164-68. Little
is known of the work, which appears to have been carried out late in Hautsch's
|15 January 1672/3 at 7:00 pm
||Charles Bernouin, a surgeon of Grenoble
||Wings, described as a 'well-tensioned sail.' The flight
was assisted by rockets.
||Said to have flown from a high tower. A variant account
in Le journal se sçavans (12 December 1678) (ed. of Amsterdam:
1679, p. 455) says that he broke his neck flying at Frankfurt.
||Le mercure hollandois (Amsterdam: 1678) pp.98-99.
Bernouin (spelled 'Bernovin' in the Mercure) had spent eight years
in Germany. He was reputed to be good at flying.
||Besnier, a locksmith
||Hinged wings made of taffeta stretched over frames; flapped
alternately using both arms and legs.
||Did not claim to be able to rise from the earth, but starting
from a height, to be able to sustain himself sufficiently to cross a wide
||Le journal des sçavans (12 December 1678)
(ed. of Amsterdam: 1679, pp.452-455).
|11 February 1678/79
|A flight from a high tower in Venice, on the occasion of
the annual banquet of the Duke and Counsel.
||Erasmus Francisci, Der Wunder-reiche Uberzug unserer
Nider-Welt (Nuremburg: 1680) p. 370.
|2 April 1680 and again soon afterwards
||A Polish peasant
||Wings made of mica.
||0/0. Both attempts having failed, the peasant was obliged
to refund subsidies he had received; he was also severely beaten.
||See Savorgnan di Brazza, La navigazione aerea (Milano:
1910) p. 15, who cites the Russian chronicler Zheliabuzhskii (b. 1638).
||Johann Gabriel Illing, a locksmith
||Artificial eagle, with a wing span of 5 ells (approx. 12
ft.). The pilot was to have sat inside while the feather covered wings were
operated by a perpetual motion machine.
||Probably never finished.
||Johann Gottfried Seidler, Der fliegende Wandersmann oder
philosophische Untersuchungen der Fliegekunst (Halle: 1710). Possible
fiction elaborated from some factual basis.
||Saint Germain, France
||Charles Allard (ca. 1650-after 1711)
||Wings attached to arms.
||An attempt to fly from the Terrasse de Saint Germain to
the Bois du Vésinet.
||Traditionally said to have been gravely injured in the attempt
and to have died from his injuries.
||Abbé don Falco
||Possibly a lighter-than-air machine, like Lana's?
|Johann Georg Keyssler, Neüste Reise I (Hannover:
1740) p. 252.
||The soidisant Marquis de Bacqueville (ca. 1680-1760)
||Wings attached to the arms and legs.
||A short distance across the Seine, crashing into a boat.
||Pierre-Mathias Charbonnet, Eloge prononcé par
La Folie devant les habitans des petites-maisons (Avignon: 1761).
||Wildburg (Württemberg), Germany
||Schweikart, a miller
||Two large wings of taffeta.
||0/0. Stood on a high mountain before many observers and
tried to fly over the town in the valley below; fell, smashed the wings,
and hurt himself.
||Franz Lana und Philipp Lohmeier von fer Luftschiffkunst,
trans. anon. (Tübingen: 1784).
||Bird-shaped flying carriage of complex construction; wingspan
||0/0. Probably never tested.
||The Whitehall Evening-Post (p. 3-5 October 1751)
I. Grimaldi, posing as a widely travelled priest, appears to have been a
||Canon Pierre Desforges (b. ca. 1723)
||0/0. The wings were fixed to a peasant, who refused to make
||Annonces, affiches, nouvelles et avis divers de l'Orléanois
36, 39, 40 (4, 25 September and 2 October 1772) pp. 147-148, 161-62, 165-66.
||Wickerwork gondola with flapping wings of 19.5 ft. span,
and with an overhead canopy of 8 ft X 6 ft.
||0/0. Immediate fall from the top of the Tour Guinette (ca.
||See Annonces and Lauren Gaspar Gérard, Essai
sur l'art du vol aérien (Paris: 1784) pp. 40-45.
||Carl Friedrich Meerwin (1737-1810)
||Ornithopter of wood and fabric; wing area 111 ft2;
triangular tail; weight 56 lb.
||Probably never tested.
||Carl Friedrich Meerwein, Die Kunst zu fliegen nach Art
der Vögel (Frankfurt und Basel: 1784).
||Saint Germain, France
||Jean Pierre Blanchard (1750-1809)
||A nacelle 4 ft. X 2 ft., with four wings, each 10 ft. long.
||Journal de Paris for the period. See also Jules
Duhem, Histoire des idČes aČronautiques avant Montgolfier (Paris:
1943) pp. 174-76.
|End of Autumn 1781
||Saint Germain, France
||Vaisseau volant: a larger machine, similar to the
first. Four oval wings, hinged along their central spars, like those of
Besnier (see earlier).
||Never tried in public.
||See Journal de Parisand Duhem, Histoire des idées
aéronautiques. There are also four contemporary illustrations
that have often been reproduced.
|End of 1782-1783
||Saint Germain, France
||A machine for producing vertical lift on the jellyfish jet
propulsion principle (cf. Morris's fictional flying machine of 1751).
||Some lift demonstrated in trials.
||Duhem, Histoire des idées aéronautiques
p.176. Blanchard continued to experiment with his heavier-than-air machines
until the success of the hot-air balloon converted him to lighter-than-air
craft. See Léon Coutil, Jean-Pierre Blanchard: physicien-aéronaute
|Wings based on measurements of a large number of birds.
||Said to have glided down from a height of c. 500 yards before
falling on to the top of an open well. The wing structure saved him from
||Journal politique de Bruxelles (= part II of Mercure
de France) (18 October 1783) p.127.