loading...

Abbas ibn Firnas – Father of Avionics

Abbas ibn Firnas or in the more Latinised form Armen Firman was a great scholar and an inventor who contributed immensely to the developments we see around us today. Ibn Firnas was ethnically an Arabized Berber. He was born in the modern-day Spain in the city of Izn-Rand Onda known as Ronda today, in the year 810 AD. Back when Spain was the heart of Muslim Caliphate of Cordova under the Ummayyidh rule. Ibn Firnas was known mostly as a polymath. He was a great inventor, a chemist, a physician and an engineer as well.

The most remarkable thing he does during his lifetime was a serious attempt to fly. Unlike the usual belief that the idea of flying to be a recent one, more than a millennium ago, while the mainland Europe was in its dark ages, an Arabized Berber born and raised in Iberian peninsula tried it. According to historical shreds of evidence, the idea of flying dates back even to ancient Greek, but there had never been a mechanically thoughtful attempt until ibn Firnas successfully flew for about ten minutes in the air.

This remarkable work of ibn Firnas was inspired by the natural functions of the wings and tails of birds like eagle and vulture. He did a scientific study before he invented his machine in which he flew. The device was a big enough wing to lift and airborne his weight. Ibn Firnas made his flying machine using lightest but most reliable materials available at that time. It is said that the frame of his device was made-up of bamboo and silk and eagle feather was used to cover. The wing is believed to be around five meters long, and he also devised a mechanism that enabled him to dominate its movements with the help of the handles while he suspends himself under it like an eagle.

 

Abbas ibn Firnas

An imaginary drawing of ibn Firnas by Mariyam Fakhira (Phaahi)

 

It was in the year 875 AD Abbas ibn Firnas finally displayed his invention and performed the experiment in front of an invited audience by jumping off a cliff in a mountain. He flung down into the air and demonstrated the trial by flying considerable distance for about ten minutes. However, he didn’t make for himself a tail, an essential part the birds use to take off and to land. Thus he was injured upon landing, and his back was hurt. It is also said that he made an unsuccessful attempt to fly some twenty years before the successful experiment.

 

It was believed to be a successful experiment and groundbreaking achievement at that time. Abbas ibn Firnas later wrote a book detailing his findings and experiences throughout the journey. The book later inspired many people who attempted flying, including Eilmer of Malmesbury of who crossed much longer distance than ibn Firnas but broke his two legs in the process and was lame for the rest of his life and Hazarfen Ahmed Celebi of Ottoman Turkey who successfully flew over the Bosporus using the same technique.

He flung down into the air and demonstrated the trial by flying considerable distance for about ten minutes. However, he didn’t make for himself a tail, an essential part the birds use to take off and to land.

Abbas ibn Firnas is also known for inventing a water clock known as Al-Maqath. His contribution to the development of glass is enormous, Particularly purification of glass to make it colourless as we see it today and the invention of corrective lenses for the very first time in human history, to be worn in eyes to help weak eyesight. He was a great astronomer and contributed to that field as well. It is said that he had a basement laboratory from where he studied the motion of stars in heavens. Further, he invented a process for cutting rock crystal which impacted cordovan economy even at his lifetime.

To appreciate his efforts in the field of avionics a crater on the far side of the moon and one of the bridges over the Guadalquivir River in Cordoba are named after him. He had a keen interest in Arabic poetry and Andalusian music. Almost all of his works were destroyed during the Spanish Inquisition after Isabella and Ferdinand established the monarch.

Comments

comments