The LION & the CARDINAL by DANIEL MITSUI


The LION & the CARDINAL
« March 2011 »
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile

E-mail me:
danmitsui@
hotmail.com


Please visit
my main
web page
to see my
work as an
artist.

10 March 2011


EARLY CATHOLIC AVIATORS ~ EILMER of MALMESBURY



Dr. Richard P. Hallion:
The first known serious flight attempt in world history occurred about a thousand years before the Wright brothers, in western England. Then, a young Benedictine monk leapt with a crude pair of cloth wings from a watchtower of a church abbey at the beginning of the 11th century. This monk, known to history as Eilmer of Malmesbury, covered a furlong - a distance of approximately 600 feet - before landing heavily and breaking both legs. Afterwards, he remarked that the cause of his crash was that he had forgotten to provide himself with a tail.

We know of Eilmer's attempt through the writings of a historian, William of Malmesbury, who mentions the flight in passing. Of more interest to William was that Eilmer, late in his life, was the first person to spot a comet which people then credited as being an omen of the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror.

Eilmer typified the inquisitive spirit of medieval enthusiasts who developed small drawstring toy helicopters, windmills, and sophisticated sails for boats. As well, church artists increasingly showed angels with ever-more-accurate depictions of bird-like wings, detailing the wing's camber that would prove crucial to generating the lifting forces enabling a bird - or an airplane - to fly. This climate of thought led to general acceptance that air was something that could be worked. Flying was thus not magical, but could be attained by physical effort and human reasoning.

Eilmer was an individual of remarkable daring and boldness. He leapt from the top of a tower, passed over a city wall, descended into a small valley by the River Avon, and then fell into a marshy field fully 150 feet lower than the point of his leap. Of his wings, we can surmise that they were constructed of ash or willow-wand, covered with a light cloth, and perhaps attached to pivots on either side of a back-brace, with hand-holds so he could hopefully flap them.

Given the geography of the Abbey, his landing site, and the account of his flight, he must have remained airborne about 15 seconds. At low altitude he apparently attempted to flap the wings, which threw him out of control. His post-flight assessment qualifies him as the first test pilot, for he sought to understand, in technological terms, what happened on the flight and why he crashed. Malmesbury exists today, much changed and quite quaint, near Swindon and Bristol. The Abbey features a stained-glass window of Brother Eilmer. Alas, a nice pub named The Flying Monk is no more, replaced by a shopping center.

Newer | Latest | Older

This is a not-for-profit web log, with an educational purpose. The quotations that appear in its entries I presume to be fairly used under current copyright law. To my knowledge, the pictures displayed here are either faithful reproductions of two-dimensional works of art in the public domain, or have been authorized for display via a Creative Commons or similar license. I am making an ongoing effort to properly credit all of the quotations and images that appear on this web log.

If you are the owner of the rights to any quotation or image that appears here and you object to its presence, or the manner in which it is presented, please e-mail me at danmitsui [at] hotmail [dot] com and I will remove or amend the post.