a tail

Flight has always been an obsession with humans. In the early 11th century, an English Benedictine monk named Eilmer of Malmesbury, attempted a gliding flight using wings he had made. The “flight” went pretty well. It is said that he “flew” about 220 yards, before crashing and breaking both his legs. I suppose you could call that a flight, thereby making it the first winged flight in history, but the reality is that it was quite likely the first “crash” instead. Apparently, this “flying monk” made his maiden flight.

As the story goes, Eilmer of Malmesbury built himself a pair of wings around the year 1005. He then climbed up onto a tower and proceeded to jump off. He managed to glide into a headwind for about 220 yards. Unfortunately, the headwind was quite strong, and combined with a bit of a panic on the part of the “flying monk” he began to descend rapidly…ie crash. He ended up veering off to the side and crashing. I hardly thing what he did could be called a flight. To me it couldn’t even be called a controlled crash. Basically, he jumped off a roof and after the few seconds it took to travel 220 yards, he dropped like a rock. It’s very possible that he found himself at the mercy of his own rash decision to take on such a venture.

Eilmer of Malmesbury, survived the “crash landing” but with both legs broken. He survived the crash and his broken legs healed, but in those days, the setting of his legs couldn’t have been good, and most likely wasn’t done at all. With that working against him, Eilmer of Malmesbury walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Eilmer used a bird-like apparatus to glide downwards against the breeze. Unfortunately, he was unable to balance himself forward and backwards, as does a bird by slight movements of its wings, head and legs. He would have needed a large tail to maintain that equilibrium. While, Eilmer could not have achieved true soaring flight, he might have glided down safely with a tail. Eilmer said he had “forgotten to provide himself with a tail.” I guess every endeavor has its flaws, and this was no exception.

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