Abbas Ibn Firnas Biography

Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini, also known as Abbas Ibn Firnas, was a remarkable figure in the 8th century. He was not only an inventor, engineer, aviator, physician, Arabic poet, and Andalusia musician, but also the first person to successfully demonstrate a controlled flight of a human being. Despite his crash landing and injury, Ibn Firnas learned from his mistake and emphasized the importance of a stabilizing tail in flight through his book. In addition to his pioneering flight, he is credited with various other inventions, including clear glass for vision correction, a water clock, and a device for cutting rock crystal. His contributions have been honored by naming a crater on the moon after him, as well as an airport in Baghdad and a bridge in Cordova. While the Wright brothers are often remembered as the pioneers of flight, it was Abbas Ibn Firnas who first documented the concept and inspired further research in aeronautics.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini, Abu l-Qāsim Abbās ibn Firnās, Armen Firman
  • Died At Age: 77
  • Died on: 887
  • Place of death: Cordoba

Childhood & Early Life

Abbas Ibn Firnas was born in the year 810 in Izn-Rand Onda, which was part of the Al-Andalusia Caliphate of Cordova. This is located in today’s Ronda, Spain, which was a Muslim dominated area. He was of ethnic North African, Berber descent and his name is derived from the word ‘Afernas’, which is a common name in today’s Morocco and Algeria. During his time, Al-Andalusia was a great centre of learning for engineers, architects and scientists. Cordova and Baghdad were twin cultural centres of Islamic art and science. Young Abbas studied medicine and astrology but was more interested in engineering and making his own inventions. He was also fond of Andalusia classical music and Arabic poetry.

As a child he was very inquisitive and loved opening up things and putting them back together. He was good with his hands and also enjoyed music. He was enthusiastic about witnessing any event in his neighborhood.


Abbas Ibn Firnas lived in the Emirates of Cordova which covered parts of today’s Gibraltar (UK), Morocco, Portugal and Spain. He grew to be a polymath – he was an inventor, engineer, aviator, physician, Arabic poet and Andalusia musician. He was influenced by Armen Firman, who in 852 had attempted to fly by jumping off a minaret of the grand mosque in Qurtuba, wearing a contraption fabricated out of a wooden frame and silk. The contraption dampened his fall and Armen got away with minor injuries from what may be referred to as the world’s first parachute attempt.

Firnas witnessed the jump and went on to make a scientific study of the shortcomings of Armen’s flight path. Twenty three year later in 875, he made his own flying machine out of a bamboo frame covered with silk cloth that had actual eagle feathers sewed to it. His machine had a harness, whereby he could be suspended and control the movement of the wings. This was an improvement on the contraption of Firman that had fixed wings. Firnas took a long time to complete his study on avionics and satisfy himself on the reliability of his machine. Finally at the age of 70, he decided to jump off a cliff in the Jabal Al – ‘Arus hills to demonstrate his invention. He invited an audience to witness the event and told them that if his invention was a success he would live to tell them about it. As per witnesses, he accomplished a flight of almost 10 minutes by flapping his wings up and down. Unfortunately, he had not worked out his landing and hit the ground with force leading to serious injuries to his back. He lived another 12 years after his flight and continued his studies in avionics. Though he did not make another attempt to fly, he studied the shortcomings of his landing and came to the conclusion that besides wings there is a necessity of having a tail to act a rudder to control flight. In addition to his attempt to fly, Abbas studied astronomy and designed a mechanized planetarium that had revolving planets that moved in relation to each other as they do in the universe. He also experimented with crystal, quartz and sand to create transparent glass of high quality that was used for making famous Andalusian glasses for drinking water. He further studied the magnifying properties of glass and made lenses for correcting eyesight. He is also known to have designed a water clock called Al-Maqata for keeping track of time. His other contribution was to devise a means of cutting rock crystal that was only known in Egypt at that time.

Abbas Ibn Firnas devoted his entire life to science and wrote many books on mathematics, physics, astronomy and engineering that were taught in the University of Al-Andalusia. His book describing his first flight and the lessons learnt went on to inspire many more who endeavoured to fly, including Leonardo Da Vinci.

Major Works

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