Eilmer of Malmesbury was the country’s first aviator c1005AD.
William of Malmesbury wrote about 100 years after the event in his epic ‘Deeds of the English Kings’:
‘He was a man of good learning for those times; of mature ge and in his early youth had hazarded an attempt of singular temerity: he had by some contrivance fastened to his hands and feet in order that he might fly as Daedalus, and collecting the air, on the summit of a tower, had flown for a distance of a furlong (200m); but agitated by the violence of the wind and a current of air, as well as the consciousness of his rash attempt, he fell and broke both his legs, and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of the failure that he had forgotten to provide himself with a tail.’
The date of the flight can be judged fairly accurately as it is recorded that Eilmer saw Halley’s comet in 989 and again in 1066. Assuming he had to be at least six to remember the comet, to make the flight in early youth suggests a date between 995 and 1010. Celebration of the millennium of the flight was held in Malmesbury in July 2010.
Modern calculations by Paul Chapman of Bristol confirm the feasibility of the flight. Launching into the southwest wind his initial descent would enable him to gain sufficient speed so that he could ride the air currents off the hillside. Lack of a tail would make continuing to head into the wind difficult and he would have been blown sideways to land where legend suggests – Oliver’s Lane.
Eilmer in full flight by T.S. LaFontaine, a professional artist of renown who lived all his adult life in Malmesbury. He drew this picture especially for the museum.