The First Man to Fly?

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The generally accepted first powered flight was by the Wright Brothers at Kitty-hawk in the USA. But were there much earlier ‘flights’ by man?   

The advert in Malmesbury High Street   

My home town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire has one such claim and is celebrating it currently. A small hilltop town originally based around a Norman Abbey. Malmesbury has many more claims to fame than perhaps it should for it’s size;   

– once the capital of England (under King Athelstan), England’s oldest Borough, England’s tallest spire (before it fell down) and in this regard, the location of mans first flight!   

The relevant person here is a monk called Elmer (or Eilmer). Now by all accounts Elmer was a bit of a ‘live wire’ and a source of trouble for his colleagues and the Abbot! He does seem however to have been very clever and inquisitive!   

The story goes that Elmer having watched the birds decided that with wings attached he would be able to fly! He attached something akin to a hang glider and leapt from the then Abbey roof (not the current building but probably of a similar height). Supposedly he flew a good distance before crashing and breaking both legs! He then claimed that a tail would have prevented his injuries, but was banned from trying again! The date – 1010. He was apparently a common site in the streets of Malmesbury after his accident, hobbling around.   

Our 'hero'

 

This tale is mentioned in the writings of William of Malmesbury a well known learned Norman writer of a few years later (the town also held one of the largest libraries of it’s day). So is not perhaps some wild tale made up by the locals! He is also celebrated in a stained glass window in the abbey.  

When I was a child growing up in Malmesbury in the 70’s the flight was reenacted with the help of the local RAF base and a stunt man (Colin Skeaping of Star Wars fame – he was Mark Hamills stunt double). Unfortunately the current celebrations are lower key (due to insurance problems) and revolve around kite displays) but this is still a claim that the town is proud to make!

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