Student-powered ornithopter realises da Vinci aspiration

It lasted just over 19 seconds, but when the long-limbed Snowbird touched down it was after a flight which no one in human history had seen before.

Snowbird is a human-powered ornithopter – a flying machine held aloft and driven forwards by flapping wings – and in August it produced the longest sustained flight of a machine first envisaged, it is thought, by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century.

Inside was engineering student Todd Reichert, one member of the University of Toronto’s Human Powered Ornithopter team.

Challenges to flight include the limited power of the human body (the vehicle was designed to fly slowly.)

But at a slow speed you need a huge wing to produce lift, and you need the aircraft to be extremely light. Traditionally, such a structure is wire-braced for support; in the HPO project the bracing wires also helped produce the flapping motion, by pulling the wing down during the stroke cycle.

The wing is also designed to twist during the cycle, to present to the oncoming air at the best angle for lift and thrust.

Inside, the machine is powered by an adapted rowing motion, which has to shift a machine weighing just over 43.5kg (about the same as a thin, short adult) with a wingspan of 32m, half that of a Boeing 747.

For more details of the project, including technical spec, look here

Or to just see the Snowbird gracefully flying through YouTube, flap on over here

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