Friday Report: Jon de Vos |

Friday Report: Jon de Vos

Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

Ever wished you could invent something? Something that would benefit all mankind while the royalties over-poured your piggybank? It’s a happy thought, but inventing things isn’t easy and doesn’t always lead to Easy Street. Sometimes it’s a direct road to downright disaster.

One of the first attempts at flight happened around 860 AD when an Arabian inventor named Abbas Ibn Firnas pasted feathers all over his body, roped wings to his arms and jumped off a ledge, flapping madly like a flightless bird. Observers described his escapade as more of a plummet but noted that Abbas survived everything except the unexpected stop at the bottom.

Might be what’s in the hookah, but a hundred years later Ismail ibn Hammad roped a couple of wings to his arms, strapped a tail to his butt and ‘flew’ off the roof of a mosque, ending up in a pulverized puddle at the foot of the steps.

Berlin inventor Otto Lilienthal inspired the Wright Brothers and is hailed as “The Father of Flight.” His very sophisticated gliders were based upon an intensive study of birds. In 1896 Lilienthal had several successful flights nearly 1,000 feet-long, but an errant gust of wind stalled the glider and Otto died in the crash.

Franz Reichelt’s Flying Parachute could have saved him! Franz claimed his device would safely evacuate pilot and passengers from a failed aircraft. In 1912, successful tests with dummies led him to leap off the first level of the Eiffel Tower. While struggling with an irksome knot, the 187-foot drop reduced Franz to about 3 inches tall.

Henry Smolinski, an automotive engineer, dreamed of a flying car. Henry modified a 1973 Ford Pinto to accept the wings and tail of a Cessna Skymaster with a few simple wrenches. Suburbanites could look out the window and let the weather decide if they should drive or fly. Flying Ford Pintos would truly be a spectacular sight today but Smolinski died in a crash when a wing fell off the car, being a Pinto, after all. The NTSB determined that bad welds were responsible.

In 1896 at the ripe age of 73, Sylvester H. Roper built the first steam-powered bicycle. And died a couple of weeks afterwards while flying around the track at 40 mph.

In 1862, Confederate engineer Horace Hunley, designed and built the first submarine. Horace drowned when the Hunley sank but the submersible lived on. It was raised, refitted and sailed on to become the first submarine to ever sink another ship. The Hunley sank again, later in the Civil War. The search for the vessel went on for more than a hundred years before being discovered by Clive Cussler in 1995.

Sometime around 1200 AD, a Chinese official named Wan-Hu assembled a rocket- powered flying chair to see if it was a viable means of transportation. He strapped 47 gunpowder-filled rockets to his lawn chair and lit the fuse. It worked! The explosion instantly transported Wan-Hu to the afterlife.

Not learning much in 700 years, Max Valier was hired by automaker, Opel, in 1928 to strap a rocket to one of their cars. It worked! It worked so well with one rocket that they tied 24 together, reaching 143 mph on a Berlin racetrack. While filling the tanks with pure alcohol for the next day’s run, an explosion instantly transported Max to a celestial pole position right next to Wan-Hu.

Shipbuilder, Thomas Andrews, was the architect for the Titanic and perished with her when she sank in 1912.

1921 saw a Russian, Valerian Abakovsky, strap an airplane engine to the back of a train. It worked! Once. Heading back to Moscow the high-speed train flew off the tracks, killing the inventor and a bunch of ribbon-cutting celebrities.

Jimi Heselden didn’t invent the Segway but in 2010 he rode one off an 80-foot cliff shortly after buying the company. Witnesses say he was still quite upright on his scooter as he smashed into the rocks below.

Be careful what you wish for.

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