Human-powered flight is nothing new, but to create a working human-powered ornithopter has been a dream shared by inventors and tinkerers since the 1800s. Now a Canadian engineering student has built and flown one that really works.
An ornithopter is any aircraft that gets its forward thrust from flapping its wings like a bird, rather than using a propeller or jet. Long before the Wright brothers showed us the way, many of those wacky early flying machine attempts were ornithopters, but none were truly successful at achieving sustained flight.
Using advanced materials and modern know-how, Todd Reichert, a 28 year old PhD engineering student at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies, has created and flown The Snowbird in the first truly successful human-powered ornithopter flight. For his record-breaking feat, Reichert managed to fly some 475 feet at 16-mph, or about twice as far as those early Wright brothers flights.
The Snowbird has a wingspan close to that of a Boeing 737 but weighs a mere 94-lbs, so Reichert dropped 18-lbs of his own body weight while preparing for the attempt. A tow vehicle is used to get The Snowbird off the ground, but once underway the wings take over, with a series of lightweight lines connected to the pedals making its wings flap gracefully. After the flight Reichert noted that "this represents one of the last of the aviation firsts,"
I just wonder how long before he attempts to fly it across the English Channel?