In the last post we dealt with the question of who might be the fastest wingsuiter of all time. The champion will be determined in June, giving us ample time to discuss, pick favorites, and place bets. But other unanswered questions about the birdmen of history are likely to remain unanswered. A favorite is Who was the first birdman? My vote goes to (you guessed it) Icarus. For several millennia the birdmen of yore enacted a tale so similar—a jump from a tower in an effort to escape incarceration, followed by a fall and usually death—that it seems hard to believe that the story of Icarus was pure myth.
Now that we've got that resolved we can turn to other inquiries. Like Who is the most famous birdman? No, it's not Patrick de Gayardon, or Leo Valentin, and probably not even Icarus. The question, framed another way, has caused several semis worth of fat to be chewed over the centuries (I'll work out the exact calculation later): Did Leonardo Da Vinci actually fly? There's no smoking gun, or twanging bow string for you anachronism hating folks, that says he did, but there are plenty of bits and pieces that suggest as much. And now we have a new one. Two determined men from Seattle, Sandy McLaughlin and John Grove, have built a working ornithopiter based on Leonardo's drawings and jottings about flight. By "working" I do not mean that the ornithopiter has ornithoped, or that it has glided for that matter: The wings are for museum display only. But the builders insist that if you climbed into the structure and hopped off a hill you might have some real air time. And if we can do it, surely Leonardo could too.
Which is the long way of saying Check This Out.