In 822, a new Caliph named 'Abd al-Rahman II took the throne, and he began to gather together talented individuals. He began with an Iraqi musician called Ziryab who fostered the development of the sciences. Another one was the young astronomer and poet Abbas Ibn Firnas.
In 852, under a new Caliph, a daredevil named Armen Firman decided to fly off a tower in Córdoba using a huge winglike cloak to break his fall. He survived with minor injuries, and the young Ibn Firnas was there to see it. This was considered to be the first parachute.
Like Ziryab, Ibn Firnas worked at a huge variety of enterprises. He was studied in chemistry, physics, and astronomy. He set up astronomical tables, wrote poetry, and designed a water clock called Al-Maqata. He also devised means of manufacturing glass from sand, and he developed a chain of rings that could be used to display the motions of the planets and stars. He also developed a process for cutting rock crystal. Up to then, only the Egyptians knew how to facet crystal. Thereafter Spain no longer needed to export quartz to Egypt, but could finish it at home.
In 875 at an age of 65 years, Ibn Firnas built his own glider, and launched himself from a mountain. The flight was largely successful, and was widely observed by a crowd that he had invited. However, the landing was bad. He injured his back, and left critics saying he hadn't taken proper account of the way birds pull up into a stall, and land on their tails. He'd provided neither a tail, nor means for such a maneuver. He died twelve years later.
"Ibn Firnas was the first man in history to make a scientific attempt at flying."
—Philip Hitti, History of the Arabs.
As westerners teach their children about the Wright Brothers, the Islamic countries tell theirs about Ibn Firnas, a thousand years before the Wrights—though his flight was not powered. The Libyans produced a postage stamp honoring him. The Iraqis built a statue in his memory on the way to Baghdad International Airport, and the Ibn Firnas Airport to the north of Baghdad is named for him.
Ibn Firnas crater on the Moon is also named in his honor.