A brief history of our obsession with human-powered flight

Leonardo da Vinci would be proud!

Flying Machine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Flying through the air like a bird with little more than our muscles and our wits is a dream so etched into our being that the ancient Greeks immortalized it in myth. And while Icarus and his waxed wings may have hewed too close to the sun, human beings have tried — and failed — throughout history to defy the gravity that ceaselessly pulls us to Earth.

Some attempts at human-powered flight were more successful than others. In 9th century Spain, a Muslim inventor named Abbas Ibn Firnas was said to have successfully floated through the air using a winged apparatus that would later inspire a Renaissance polymath named Leonardo da Vinci. A little later on, an English monk in the 11th century named Eilmer of Malmesbury similarly strapped feathers to his arms and leaped from the top tower of Malmesbury Abbey.

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