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The Highs and Lows of Human-Powered Flight

By James Trew posted Feb 1st, 2013 at 11:00 AM

On March 19th 2012, YouTube user jarnosmeets80 uploaded the a video to YouTube entitled “Flying like a bird | part 14/14.” In it, a man donning a set of homemade wings and a helmet with a GoPro attached achieves what many wishful-thinkers, scientists and millennia of wingless bipeds have long dreamed of doing: flying. Sadly, one month later the video’s creator, filmmaker Floris Kaayk, admitted the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. Skeptics will have been quick to dismiss the video straight away, and anything more than a cursory Google search might have convinced most of the same. But, with more than 7 million views at time of this writing, it’s pretty clear that as a land-based species, it doesn’t take much for us to suspend our disbelief at the idea of being able to fly. Even if it is just for one minute and 50 seconds. Head past the break to read more.

Of course, Kaayk is far from the first to be inspired by the birds. Greek mythology’s Daedalus and Icarus famously got airborne under their own steam, and set the stage for a lively cast of historical characters that flew the noble flag for science while taking to the skies – and more often than not, the ground again a little too quickly. One of these earliest known accounts comes from China. Emperor Kao Yang (circa sixth century) is believed to have taken to strapping prisoners to kites to see if they would fly as a means of entertainment, under the pretense that it was part of a Buddhist rite of liberation. Something that semi-backfired, however, when one plucky prisoner, Yuan Huang T’ou, reportedly landed safely and survived. This earned him a place in the history books as one of the earliest recorded human flights, along with the dubious privilege of a “lighter” sentence: death by starvation. Around the turn of the 10th century, Andalusian inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas was reported (by “several trustworthy writers”) to have glided a “considerable” distance after making some wings, covering himself with feathers and launching from a suitable “eminence.” Then there was Eilmer of Malmesbury, a Benedictine monk who, with his crude cloth wings, threw himself from a church watchtower in the 11th century, landing alive, but at the cost of two broken legs.

Read more: The Highs and Lows of Human-Powered Flight — engadget.

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