The Ornithopter

The flying machine featured here is called an ornithopter, and its conceptual origins date back at least as far as the late 15th century, when Leonardo Da Vinci first produced drawings of a bird-like machine capable of flight. Da Vinci would never see his designs realized in the form of a working apparatus, but in the last 500 years, ornithopters have become an object of interest to engineers, aviators, and hobbyists alike; and based on videos like this one, its easy to see why. Via io9

Early history of the ornithopter

Leonardo's ornithopter design

The Sanskrit epic Ramayana (4th Century BC) describes an ornithopter, the Pushpaka Vimana.

The ancient Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus (Daedalus’s son) and The Chinese Book of Han (19 AD) both describe the use of feathers to make wings for a person but these are not actually aircrafts. Some early manned flight attempts may have been intended to achieve flapping-wing flight though probably only a glide was actually achieved. These include the flights of the 11th century monk Eilmer of Malmesbury (recorded in the 12th century) and the 9th century poet Abbas Ibn Firnas (recorded in the 17th century). Roger Bacon, writing in 1260, was also among the first to consider a technological means of flight. In 1485, Leonardo da Vinci began to study the flight of birds. He grasped that humans are too heavy, and not strong enough, to fly using wings simply attached to the arms. Therefore he sketched a device in which the aviator lies down on a plank and works two large, membranous wings using hand levers, foot pedals, and a system of pulleys.

The first ornithopters capable of flight were constructed in France. In 1858 Pierre Jullien’s model flew an estimated forty feet. Gustave Trouvé’s 1870 model flew a distance of 70 metres in a demonstration for the French Academy of Sciences. The wings were flapped by gunpowder charges activating a bourdon tube. Jobert in 1871 used a rubber band to power a small model bird. Alphonse Pénaud, Abel Hureau de Villeneuve, and Victor Tatin, also made rubber-powered ornithopters during the 1870s. Tatin’s ornithopter (now in the US Air & Space Museum) was perhaps the first to use active torsion of the wings, and apparently it served as the basis for a commercial toy offered by Pichancourt c. 1889.

From 1884 on, Lawrence Hargrave built scores of ornithopters powered by rubber bands, springs, steam, or compressed air. He introduced the use of small flapping wings providing the thrust for a larger fixed wing. This eliminated the need for gear reduction, thereby simplifying the construction. In the 1930s, Alexander Lippisch and the NSFK in Germany constructed and successfully flew a series of internal combustion powered ornithopters using a similar overall design, with aerodynamic improvements resulting from methodical study.

Erich von Holst also working in the 1930s, achieved great efficiency and realism in his work with ornithopters powered by rubber band. This includes perhaps the first success of an ornithopter with a bending wing, intended to more closely imitate the folding wing action of birds although it was not a true variable span wing like birds have.

Edited from Ornithopter

This entry was posted in Design, Flight, Invention. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ornithopter

  1. murali sham says:

    respected sir
    you done well . congradulation
    but one question
    what is your contribution to furthe study of sanskrit .?
    I Am one of sanskrit student doing research in Rashtriya sanskrit vidyapeetha tirupati.

Comments are closed.