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de Groof Machine Volant
In 1864, a Belgian shoemaker named Vincent de Groof designed an apparatus which was a sort of cross between beating wings and a parachute. His plan was to cut loose with it from a balloon, and to glide down in a predetermined direction by manoeuvring the supporting surfaces. He endeavoured to make a practical experiment, both in Paris and in Brussels, but it was only in 1874 that he succeeded in doing so in London.
The apparatus consisted of two wings, each 24 feet long, moved by the arms and the weight of the operator, and a 20 foot long tail which could be adjusted using one’s feet.
De Groof first went up on June 29, 1874, from Cremorne Gardens, London, attached to the balloon of Mr. Simmons. He came down safely, and claimed to have cut loose at a height of 1,000 feet. Subsequently however, it was stated by others that in fact he had not, on this occasion, cut loose at all, but had descended still attached to the balloon. In any event, he went up again on July 5 following, with the same balloon, and on this occasion he really did cut loose. The result was disastrous. In his descent, as soon as pressure gathered under the moving wings, they were seen to collapse together overhead into a vertical position, bringing De Groof down like a stone and killing him on the spot.

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