An artist’s rendering of bigo, likely the first glider the world had ever known.
By Cha Kwang Hyok, researcher at the History Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences in the DPRK
Humans began to come up with the ideas of developing flying objects in the world in the Middle Ages. Leonardo da Vinci, Italian painter and technician, proposed an idea about the device which could be controlled by hands and whose main planes fluttered by feet. Many other ideas reflecting the humans’ dream of flying freely into the sky like birds were also produced, but they were implemented centuries later.
But there was a flying object which was made and applied to actual fighting at the time when these ideas began to be proposed, and it was called bigo in Korean, meaning a “flying cart”.
According to an old record, Ojuyonmunjangjonsango, during the Imjin Patriotic War between 1592 and 1598 when Japanese invaders encircled the Jinju Fort in the Ryongnam area (South Kyongsang Province at present), the Korean soldiers in the fort used bigo to carry out military signal communication and it flew about 12 kilometres.
Bigo is known to have been made by a Yun Tal Gyu. It was made of leather in the shape of bird and flew up in the air by sending out a gust of wind from the belly filled with air, with four people on board.
Decades-long study of data on it reveals that bigo consisted of the head, body, wings and tail like a Japanese crested ibis in structure and the body was equipped with a device used to move wings in the middle, a bellow for blowing air, an air bag for storing and jetting wind and a device to operate them, with four seats and conditions provided for four-member crew.
The wings and tails were connected to the central part and body by several ropes to control the flight.
It had wheels at the bottom of its body so that it could run on the ground. Hence the name bigo, or a flying cart.
Bigo ran on the top of high mountains or the flatland of mountain forts and began to glide usually about 200-300 metres, with its stability and controllability of glide ensured by the reaction of the wind blasted from the wind bag (jet propulsion at present) and the movements of wings. It was able to fly nearly 12 kilometers if it was in a favourable condition like the ascending air current.
Some Korean historical records say that there was a fact that earlier in the period of Koryo Kingdom between 918 and 1392, a military attack was made on the enemy positions by carrying soldiers aboard many kites during a battle to repulse foreign aggressors. If it is proved, there will be a possibility that it might be much earlier than the 16th century when humans flew into the air in the world history.