Little Bits of History

First Flight

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 15, 2015
Castle with flight monument *

Castle with flight monument *

May 15, 1793: Diego Marín Aguilera flies – well, glides. He was born in 1757 in Coruña del Conde, Spain. He became the head of the household when his father died, leaving him to take care of his seven brothers. He was forced into agricultural labor as a matter of necessity and spent his days herding sheep. He was an inventor by inclination and devised several pieces of technology which could ease the burden of physical labor. He improved the local mills and improved a method of cutting marble from quarries. He came up with a device to whip horses during the threshing process and he invented something to make cloth pads.

His afternoons spent in the fields with the sheep were not wasted. He watched eagles flying overhead and wished to soar with them. He wanted to fly and to that end, he spent six years trying to build a machine to help him. His craft was made of wood, iron, cloth, and feathers. In order to secure enough feathers, he built traps and loaded them with rotting meat. As the vultures and eagles swooped in for their free food, they were caught and Marín harvested the feathers. As he watched the birds, he studied their wing and tail movements and with the help of the local blacksmith, Joaquin Barbero, he built wrought iron “joints” for his flying machine that moved like a fan. He built added for his feet and hand-cranks to steer his machine.

On this day, as night fell, Marín and Barbero, along with one of Marín’s sisters took the glider to the highest part of the Coruña del Conde castle. The 36-year-old pilot confidently laid out his plans to fly to “Burgo de Osma, and from there to Soria,” adding, “and I’ll be back in a couple of days.” He flapped the wings as he took off and rose to a height of 16 to 20 feet. He managed to make it across the Arandilla River and reached an area known as Heras, crash landing about 300-500 yards from his take off position. One of the metal joints broke. His sister and friend ran to his aid, fearing he may have also been the first flight fatality. Marín had suffered only scratches and bruises. He was irate with Barbero, accusing him of improperly welding the joint.

The locals thought he was either a lunatic or a heretic, or possibly both. They burned his “demonic” flapping wing creation. He lost hope and became depressed, never again attempting to fly. He died six years later in 1799 and left no documentation about his invention. The Spanish Air Force dedicated a monument to him placed  next to the ancient castle from which Marín flew. He is known as the “father of aviation”. The old castle was on sale for one euro in 2002 with the proviso that the purchaser restore the crumbling building.

It is impossible to determine how much truth there is to the story of Marín, but it seems that he did achieve some gliding flight, surviving after structural failure and a crash landing. Marín, who had no formal scientific education, was endowed with a special technical ingenuity and is a good example of the ageless human aspiration toward flight. – American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. – J. B. S. Haldane

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. – Golda Meir

I hate flying, flat out hate its guts. – William Shatner

Also on this day: A Cattle Trail Grows Up – In 1905, Las Vegas was established.
Friends Hospital – In 1817, the first private psychiatric hospital in the US opened.
Puckle Gun – In 1718, the first machine gun was patented.
Plane Crazy – In 1928, Mickey Mouse starred in a silent, black-and-white cartoon.
Baily’s Beads – In 1836, Baily described what he had seen during an annular eclipse.

* “Castillo De Coruña Del Conde” by Juan Carlos Gómez – Castillo De Coruña Del Conde. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


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