Albrecht Berblinger, the Tailor of Ulm and His Flying Machine

Albrecht Berblinger’s Glider

On May 31, 1811, Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger, also known as the Tailor of Ulm, failed to give the proof that his machine was able to fly and fell into the Danube river during the demonstration. He is famous for having constructed a working flying machine, presumably a hang glider.

Albrecht Berblinger became a tailor at the age of 13, even though he mostly enjoyed mechanical tasks. Eventually he focused next to his career on various inventions, such as leg prostheses with joints and other orthopedic tools.

When he noticed his increasing interest in human flight, Berblinger began observing owls and made first attempts to build his very own wings. For several years the curious inventor improved and reconstructed his glider, very much to the despise of his city. He was literally mocked and told to quit his insane experiments, but he wouldn’t.

Berblinger had to perform his tests secretly until Frederick I of Württemberg showed interest in his efforts and proposed to support the inventor financially in case he was able to demonstrate the functionality of his glider. Originally, he intended to jump off the Ulm Minster’s roof, which was back then about 100m high. However, Berblinger’s flying abilities were not trusted wherefore he was supposed to jump off a wall near the Donau river. To be able to cross the river completely, the 13m wall was added by a 20m scaffold.

During the morning of Berblinger’s memorable event, the inventor noticed the bad wind conditions and postponed his flight to the later afternoon. A big crowd came to see him flying but for about an hour, Berblinger just stood on his platform wihtout moving. The audience began to lose it’s temper, wherefore a police officer suddenly pushed him. Due to the moment of surprise and the difficult weather conditions, Berblinger was not able to reach the needed speed and failed to glide across the Donau river. Fisherboats waiting nearby saved the failed pilot and with the downfall the social contempt towards the valiant little tailor increased.

This disaster ended Berblinger’s flying career as well as his success in the tailer business, since he was from then on believed to be a traitor and liar. But, even though the city of Ulm did not really appreciate Albrecht Berblinger’s efforts during his lifetime, he was posthumously honored numerous times. And by the way, it was demonstrated in the 1980’s, that Berblinger’s glider actually was able to fly, but the conditions at the Donau river are just too difficult, even for today’s modern gliders.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a talk by Marc Millis on the future of flight.

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