Feeds

World's first pedal-powered ornithopter takes flight in Canada

Sky-pedalo inventors get into a flap

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Vid Canadian enthusiasts have finally achieved a feat that has eluded humanity's finest engineers since the time of Leonardo da Vinci - to build a machine, powered by a human pilot's muscles, which flies by flapping its wings: an ornithopter.

The "Snowbird" man-powered ornithopter achieved its history-making flight last month in Ontario, Canada, witnessed by a Canadian official of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) - the body responsible for authenticating aviation records, first flights and the like. The machine was piloted (and flapped) by Todd Reichert, an engineering PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. It flew for 19.3 seconds, and covered a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kilometres per hour.

"This represents one of the last of the aviation firsts," said Reichert, who was also leader of the project to build the Snowbird. The intrepid ornithopteror had undergone a rigorous training regime prior to the flight, which involved shedding over 18lb of weight over 4 weeks.

The Snowbird itself, constructed mainly from wire, carbon fibre, foam and balsa wood, weighs just 94lb despite having a 105-foot wingspan comparable to that of a Boeing 737. Its pilot powers the flapping wings by pedalling like a cyclist, one of the most efficient ways to generate energy using the human body.

The ornithopter is the culmination of decades of effort at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) which has long studied flapping-wing flight and encouraged many of its students to work towards a human-powered example. The Institute's Professor James DeLaurier won an FAI “Diplôme d’Honneur” as long ago as 1991 for developing the world's first remotely-piloted, engined ornithopter.

"This achievement is the direct result of Todd Reichert's dedication, perseverance, and ability and adds to the already considerable legacy of Jim DeLaurier, UTIAS's great ornithopter pioneer," said Professor David Zingg, Director of UTIAS. "It also reflects well on the rigorous education Todd received at the University of Toronto. We're very proud of Todd and the entire team for this outstanding achievement in aviation history."

The Snowbird now seems set for retirement into the museums, as it is already showing signs of wear and Reichert's training regime was tightly focused on a planned time window. According to the project's organisers there would be little chance of getting any longer flights out of it this year, and "the risk of destroying a historical artifact is not worth the reward".

However the design team expect to post full tech details at their website in coming weeks, saying that the Snowbird is merely the "first iteration" in human-powered ornithopters. They anticipate major steps forward in future "whether designed by or by another team of inspired and dedicated individuals".

There's some basis in past history for that: the original propellor-driven Gossamer Condor of 1977, the world's first successful human-powered aircraft, was succeeded 11 years later by the MIT Daedalus which flew more than 70 miles across the Mediterranean from Crete to Santorini.

If he could be aware of this summer's events, Leonardo da Vinci - who famously sketched out designs for a human-powered ornithopter in the 15th century - would doubtless be overjoyed to see his dream finally come to life. However, given that these various exploits took place well into the era of jet planes and spacecraft, he might also be just a trifle puzzled. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.