9. You Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari believed the wings he invented would let him fly like a bird – they didn’t
Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari was a Renaissance man before the Renaissance had even started. Born at the end of the 10th century in the city of Farab, in modern-day Kazakhstan, he went to Baghdad as a young man to study the Arabic language. While he was there, however, he also became fascinated with flight. According to the legends that have grown up surrounding his life and death, he believed he could master the art of flying like a bird. He devised a prototype glider, modeling it on a bird’s wings, and then set about proving that it worked.
It’s believed that al-Jawhari made his first – and last – flight attempt in the city of Nishapur in the year 1008. It’s said he took his homemade wings onto the top of a mosque and jumped. Some contemporary accounts claim that, by the time he came to jump, the inventor had become delusional, even to the extent that he believed he was a bird. It’s far more likely, however, that al-Jawhari was sane and rational and was just one of many early flight pioneers. Indeed, it may well be that he was inspired by the attempts at gliding carried out by Abbas Ibn Firnas in Arabic Andalusia or even by the supposed 11th-century ‘flight’ by the English monk Eilmer of Malmesbury.