Armen Firman - artificial weather simulation room
(810 – 887 A.D.) was a Berber, polymath: an aviator, chemist, humanitarian, inventor, musician, physician, poet, and technologist. He was born in Izn-Rand Onda, al-Andalus (today's Ronda, Spain), and lived in the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba in al-Andalus, together with the Persian contemporary musician Ziryab. Like Ziryab, Ibn Firnas worked at a huge variety of enterprises. He was studied in chemistry, physics, and astronomy. He also set up astronomical tables and wrote poetry. The name 'Abbas ibn Firnas' was later Latinized as Armen Firman.
He designed a water clock called Al-Maqata. He also devised means of manufacturing colorless glass by additions to the frit from which it was produced, and he developed a chain of rings that could be used to display the motions of the planets and stars. He also developed a process for cutting rock crystal. Up to then, only the Egyptians knew how to facet crystal. Thereafter Spain no longer needed to export quartz to Egypt, but could finish it at home.
"Ibn Firnas was a polymath: a physician, a rather bad poet, the first to make glass from stones (quartz), a student of music, and inventor of some sort of metronome."
—Lynn Townsend White, Jr.
Another one of his inventions was an artificial weather simulation room, in which spectators saw stars and clouds, and were astonished by artificial thunder and lightning. These were due to mechanisms hidden in the basement.
Minaret of the Great Mosque, today - Córdoba, Spain
In 852, under the new Caliph 'Abd al-Rahman II, Armen Firmen decided to fly off the minaret of the Mezquita mosque in Córdoba using a huge wing-like cloak to break his fall, which he survived with minor injuries. This was the first example of an early parachute.
Ibn Firnas recognized that aviation was a difficult task and asked himself in a personal ledger:
"What man-made machine will ever achieve the complete perfection of even the goose's wing?"
In 875, at an age of 65 years, Ibn Firnas made the first attempt at controlled flight when he invented a hang glider with artificial wings as flight control surfaces, and launched himself from the Mount of the Bride (Jabal al-'arus) in the Rusafa Area, near Córdoba. He apparently managed to fly a considerable distance for quite some time. This was the first attempt at controlled flight, as he was able to alter his altitude and change his direction in order to return to where he flew from. The flight was largely successful, and was widely observed by a crowd that he had invited. However, after successfully returning to his starting point, the landing was bad and he eventually crashed to the ground. He injured his back, and left critics saying he hadn't taken proper account of the way birds pull up into a stall, and land on their tails. He'd provided neither a tail, nor means for such a maneuver, and he later said that the landing could have been improved by providing a tail apparatus.
Ibn Firnas died twelve years later in 887, at the age of 77 years old.
Ibn Firnas stated the following moments before he flew:
"Presently, I shall take leave of you. By guiding these wings up and down, I should ascend like the birds. If all goes well, after soaring for a time I should be able to return safely to your side."
Several eye witnesses reported the event. One of the witnesses reported:
"Having constructed the final version of his glider, to celebrate its success he invited the people of Cordoba to come and witness his flight. People watched from a nearby mountain as he flew some distance, but then the glider plummeted to the ground causing him to injure his back..."
Another account states:
"We thought ibn Firnas certainly mad ... and we feared for his life!"
Another witness, the poet Mu'min ibn Said (d. 886), reported:
"He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture."
Based on these and several other eyewitness accounts, the historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari described the event as follows:
"Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one."
"Ibn Firnas was the first man in history to make a scientific attempt at flying."
—Philip Khuri Hitti, History of the Arabs.
Ibn Firnas' flight was apparently the inspiration for Eilmer of Malmesbury, more than a century later, who would fly for about 200 meters using a similar glider in England (circa 1010).
As Westerners teach their children about Sir George Cayley, Lilienthal and Santos-Dumont the Islamic countries tell theirs about Ibn Firnas, a thousand years before their time. The Libyans produced a postage stamp honoring him. The Iraqis built a statue in his memory on the way to Baghdad International Airport, and the Ibn Firnas Airport to the north of Baghdad is named for him. Ibn Firnas crater on the Moon is also named in his honor.
According to Paul Lunde, "had he lived in the Florence of the Medici, [Abbas ibn Firnas] would have been a “Renaissance man”."
1. ^ « Ibn Firnas ('Abbâs) » by Ahmed Djebbar, Dictionnaire culturel des science, by Collective under the direction of Nicolas Witkowski, Du Regard Editions, 2003, ISBN 2-84105-128-5.
2. ^ "'Abbas Ibn Firnas". John H. Lienhard. The Engines of Our Ingenuity. NPR. KUHF-FM Houston. 2004. No. 1910. Transcript.
3. ^ a b c d e f Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), p. 97-111 .
4. ^ a b c d e First Flights, Saudi Aramco World, January-February 1964, p. 8-9.
5. ^ Witness accounts to his gliding flight:
6. ^ Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (1978). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, An Eleventh Century Aviator", Medieval Religion and Technology, Chapter 4. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
7. ^ Paul Lunde, Science in Al-Andalus, Saudi Aramco World, July 2004, pp. 20-27.
* J. Vernet, Abbas Ibn Firnas. Dictionary of Scientific Biography (C.C. Gilespie, ed.) Vol. I, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970-1980. pg. 5.
* Salim T.S. Al-Hassani (ed.), Elisabeth Woodcock (au.), and Rabah Saoud (au.). 2006. 1001 Inventions. Muslum Heritage in Our World. Manchester: Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation. See pages 308-13. (ISBN-13: 978-0-9555035-0-4)
* List of Arab scientists and scholars
* History of hang gliding
* Video documentary with English subtitles: . On YouTube:
* Zyriab on muslim heritage
* Flight of the blackbird
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