A History of Human Flight in 58 Bullets

For any achievement that is beneficial to man is said to be beautiful, and anything not beneficial, is said to be clumsy.

—MOZI, 470–391 BC

Early Beginnings: Mythic Sparks and a Daredevil Monk

~6 MILLION YEARS AGO: The earliest ancestors of humans look up and see birds flying in the sky. There is no going back.

BETWEEN 500,000 AND 91,000 YEARS AGO: We learn how to throw rocks and spears through the air to kill our prey. The first employment of projectiles, this is the earliest technological step in what will prove to be a very slow escape from gravity’s prison.

BETWEEN 45,000 YEARS AGO AND 5000 BC: So begins the long and very uneven drag toward the knowledge and vessel production needed for flight: sailing is developed. There are different theories about the “first” use of advanced seafaring technology—it could explain Australia’s inhabitation, or it was a civilization on the Arabian Sea, or on the Bay of Bengal, or it was the Egyptians, or maybe it was the Chinese—some European people possibly. Or aliens, perhaps.

~400 BC: Mozi, a Chinese philosopher and technician whose Mohism school of thought called for an end to the ritual dependence and structures of Confucianism, creates the first credible kite. Eagle-shaped, the kite flew for a full day. Mozi’s precocious student, Lu Ban, in turn made a kite that flew for three days. Unimpressed, or secretly jealous, or saying something deeper and different altogether, Mozi responded, “Your accomplishment in constructing a bird does not compare with that of the carpenter making a linchpin.“

[Published on March 1, 2015 in the Miami Rail. Read the rest here.]

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