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Human Powered Ornithopters

WE have dreamed of flying like a bird since…well, since we first started to dream.

Leonardo Da Vinci conceived of a man-power machine that would  fly by flapping its wings.  He called it an Ornithopter.

Ornithopter: from Greek ornithos “bird” and pteron “wing”.

An Ornithopter is a machine that flies like a bird, by flapping its wings, pushing down on the air, instead of just using the lift created by the pressure differentials that occur when air is forced under and over a curved surface.

Fiction writers from Tolstoy (Aelita), Edgar Rice Burroughs, of Tarzan fame (Princess of Mars),  Robert A. Heinlein (The Number of the Beast) and Frank Herbert (Dune series) have all used ornithopers as a means of flying.

The first machine-powered ornithoper (as near as I can tell) was a flight by the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS)  ornithopter.   Although it needed JATO to get off the ground, UTIAS insists that it was flying under its own power.   Not that I would want to ride in one, it is fascinating to watch.   See a video here.

The first human-power ornithopter flight is credited to  Alexander Lippisch who, in 1929, flew his design about 300 meters.

Here is a video on a flight a year or so ago, which claims to be the first, but isn’t.   Still it is beautiful to watch,

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