In 1507, John Damian, an Italian living in Scotland, made
a pair of feathered wings and leaped off a castle wall. His destination: France. Instead he plunged straight down into a pile of manure and broke a leg. Many before him had tried to fly on homemade wings and failed just as miserably. But none had Damian’s explanation for his lack of success. “I shouldn’t have used chicken feathers,” he said. “After all, chickens don’t fly. Had I used eagles’ feathers, I could have made it all the way to France.”
But he didn’t try again.
Early attempts to fly had a fatal flaw. They depended on muscle power - to fly like a bird, a person would need a six-foot chest.
Throughout history, people have gone to extraordinary lengths pursuing the dream of human flight. Leonardo da Vinci filled hundreds of pages with sketches of flying machines, and much earlier, around 1500 BC, King Kavus of Persia had eagles strapped to a wooden throne, to which were attached long poles with legs of mutton. When the birds flapped to get to the meat, they lifted the royal seat into the air. They soon dropped his majesty in a nearby forest.
Ever after, Kavus was known as the Foolish King.
Human limitation didn’t apply to mythology, where flying is a popular theme: Hermes, the Greek god, flew with wings on sandals and helmet; the Scandinavian Thor thundered through the skies in a chariot drawn by goats; and Icarus, with wings of wax, flew too close to the sun, plunging into what is known as the Icarian Sea.
Before airplanes there were kites and balloons. In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers launched their first hot air balloon. Two years later Blanchard and Jeffries ballooned across the English Channel. To keep aloft, they threw out a bottle of cognac and practically all their clothing before landing on top of a tree.
Then came dirigibles – steerable balloons with engines. In 1901, the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont became the toast of Paris after circling the Eiffel Tower in a dirigible.
Most famous was the mammoth Graf Zeppelin, a 776-foot-long dirigible, which in the 1920s and 30s carried mail and passengers across the Atlantic.
All this ended tragically in 1937 when the Hindenburg, a sister ship, burst into flames landing in New York.
But man’s dream of flying was coming true, beginning with the Wright Brothers.
Bo Zaunders has written four nonfiction books for children and illustrated two. He is also a photographer specializing in food and travel. Like Corrigan, he loves adventures. You can find Feathers, Flaps & Flops in the iNK Books & Media Store.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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