December 3, 2004 Humankind has dreamed of flight since ancient times, but until now most attempts to fly by flapping wings, either using human muscle or mechanical power, have failed. Over 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci conceptualised a self powered flying machine that would achieve both lift and thrust with flapping wings alone and named it the "ornithopter". Now, hot on the heels of the 100th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers pioneering air flight and the recent X Prize won by Burt Rutan for civilian, privately funded space flight, a team of scientists, engineers, and historians in Toronto have taken on the challenge to make Leonardo's orinthopter dream a reality.

Currently in development under the purview of Professor James DeLaurier at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies - the Ornithopter prototype is preparing for a historical manned test flight at the Downsview airport on Dec 6th, 2004. If successful, it will be the second manned ornithopter to achieve sustained, controlled flight, after Vladimir Toporov's ornithopter, Giordano successfully flown in 1995.

Origins of the ornithopter

As a child of an Italian mother, DeLaurier recalls "there was a Leonardo da Vinci book in our home, and I fell in love with the pictures and fantasised about taking flight one day in a self-propelled flying machine." It was whilst working as a research engineer in the early 1970's, at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio that he met Jeremy Harris, who also had a penchant for ornithopters. The two developed the ornithopter as a hobby but soon it became an avocation for DeLaurier when he later joined the faculty of the University of Toronto he began serious flight tests on engine-powered models. This led to the development of a full-scale aircraft that is recognized by the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique International) as the first successful engine-powered piloted ornithopter.

How It Works

The full-scale ornithopter is an engine powered aircraft that carries one pilot. All of the thrust and nearly all of the lift is created by the mechanical flapping of the ornithopter's wings. The two wings of the craft are joined by a centre section which is moved up and down by pylons connected to the drivetrain. The wings' thrust is due primarily to a low-pressure region around the leading edge, which integrates to provide a force known as "leading-edge suction". The wings also passively twist in response to the flapping. This is due to a structure that is torsionally compliant in just the right amount to allow efficient thrusting ("aeroelastic tailoring"). It should be noted, though, that twisting is required only to prevent flow separation on sections along the wing. It does not produce thrust in the same way as required by sharp-edged wings with little leading-edge suction. For a more in-depth description of the full-scale ornithopter's functioning please refer to "The Development and Testing of a Full-Scale Ornithopter" here.

Whilst still in prototype mode, the expediency of the ornithopter model as it approaches efficiency may one day outperform fixed wing aircraft and be seen as the natural evolution in flight technology. Once the prototype has flown, and some five million additional dollars are raised, the group plans to build an entirely new, thoroughly flight tested machine specifically for the Olympic Games in February 2006. This very well could be an unprecedented public relations opportunity with the perfect backdrop for any sponsor who may want their name associated with this historical event. Adam's team is currently working with the Italian Trade Commission and other fundraisers with the hope of showcasing Leonardo's dream at the 2006 games, five hundred years after he first envisioned the orinthopter.

"The first thing thought of in flight and the last thing left to be done is bird like flapping wing flight. Showcasing this spectacular technology developed by Jim at the 2006 Turin Olympics in Italy, would inspire a new generation of flight enthusiasts and lead to a multitude of advancements in science" says Adam Kushabi of Volo Libero.

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