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15 May 1793: Farm labourer makes Spanish aviation history

Castle and monument in Coruña del Conde.
Castle and monument in Coruña del Conde. / SUR
  • Diego Marín had no scientific education, yet he built a flying machine out of wood, cloth and feathers

On the night of 15 May 1793, a farm labourer with no formal scientific education made Spanish aviation history with an invention that was purely the result of his own ingenuity, skill and courage. Although his achievements were often overlooked, today, he is recognised in Spain as the 'Father of Aviation'.

Diego Marín Aguilera was born in Coruña del Conde (near Burgos) in 1757. His father died when he was a child and the youngster was forced to take control of his seven siblings, working as an agricultural labourer in order to support the family. From an early age, Marín had dreamed of flying and it soon became an obsession.

Marín did not have any formal access to the trials and errors (or possibly even knowledge) of his early flying predecessors, such as Leonardo de Da Vinci, or Armen Firman, who, in 852, attempted to launch himself from the top of the minaret of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Like them though, Marín had an inventive mind, designing several labour-saving devices for working the land. However, he was forever intrigued by the eagles that soared overhead and he would spend several years building a flying machine out of wood, cloth and feathers. With the help of a local blacksmith, the inventor produced sophisticated metal hinges that allowed the wings to flap. Marín studied the bodies of the birds, making calculations regarding the weight, volume and dimensions of the feathers.

On 15 May, 1793, Marín launched his flying machine from the top of the local castle, cruising for approximately 500 metres, crossing the river Arandilla, before crash-landing when one of the metal joints broke; he escaped with minor cuts and bruises. However, the locals turned against Marín; they accused him of being a lunatic and set fire to his machine. The inventor never attempted fly again. He died six years later at the age of 44, depressed and almost forgotten.

In 1993, the Spanish Air Force installed a monument to Marín next to the castle from where he took off.