In the Rusafa area on the outskirts of Cordoba, Ibn Firnas mounted a hill and appeared before the crowd in his bird costume, made from silk covered with eagle feathers… [He] explained with a piece of paper how he planned to fly using the wings fitted on his arms: “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.”
He flew to a significant height and hung in the air for more than ten minutes before plummeting to the ground, breaking the wings and one of his vertebrae.
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 to 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.
But let’s move away from this for now and think about what it means for another area of alternative studies, the ancient astronaut theory.
Ancient astronaut theorists repeatedly tell us that the ancients had all manner of flying contraptions, and that they were so familiar with powered flight that they made jewelry in the image of airplanes, wrote about rockets and airplanes in their sacred myths, and routinely were taken on flights across the oceans or into outer space.
Given this, why on earth would Ibn Firnas’ flight have been news?
Nor was his the only flight to make news in Antiquity or the Middle Ages. As I discussed yesterday, the Chinese made several attempts at flight between 100 BCE and 600 CE before arriving at a design for a kite capable of lifting a man. Additionally Eilmer of Malmesbury, in the eleventh century, attempted the same feat, according to William of Malmesbury, a respected medieval historian considered the most reliable of his age:
He was a man learned for those times, of ripe old age, and in his early youth had hazarded a deed of remarkable boldness. He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Daedalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower, flew for more than a furlong. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of his failure, his forgetting to provide himself a tail.
Source: William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum / The history of the English kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson, and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Medieval Texts, 1998–9).
The point is, William of Malmesbury, the Chinese court writers, and the Arabic historians all considered these early attempts at gliding to be extremely newsworthy and important of note. For this to be the case, flights carrying human passengers therefore could not have been commonplace, or even known. (Surely these writers would have compared them to the alien transports had they existed.) This calls into question the widespread alien air travel promoted by Giorgio Tsoukalos, David Childress, and Erich von Däniken. Why bother writing about gliders if you already had supersonic air transport?