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Canada Transportation Technology Science

First Human-Powered Ornithopter 250

spasm writes "A University of Toronto engineering graduate student has made and successfully flown a human-powered flapping-wing aircraft. From the article: 'Todd Reichert, a PhD candidate at the university's Institute of Aerospace Studies, piloted the wing-flapping aircraft, sustaining both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds and covering a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kilometres per hour.'"
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First Human-Powered Ornithopter

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  • by thescreg ( 1854974 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:50PM (#33668336)
    Must flow.
  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:51PM (#33668360)

    Just in time for Yueh to leave us a pair of stillsuits in the back. The article doesn't mention if it's big enough to lift a spice harvester however.

    Oh a million deaths are not enough for Yueh!

  • The article doesn't make it clear that the aircraft still needs to be pulled for it to glide into the air (you can see this in the attached video). I was under the impression that it took off like a bird. The "flapping" of the wings is really cool to see though, once the craft gets airborne.

    Either way, really neat.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hitmark ( 640295 )

      consider that most birds do give themselves a first start with their legs rather then wings. Hell, the swan basically runs like crazy before getting of the ground. And iirc, the wright brothers flier was pulled along a rail using a weight and pulley system to get enough speed. But once up to speed, the motorcycle engine was enough to keep it up there unless the pilot did something crazy.

    • by gringer ( 252588 )

      I was under the impression that it took off like a bird

      It does take off like a bird; it takes off like a very big bird []. There are a couple of interesting sentences in that:

      Albatrosses in calm seas are forced to rest on the ocean's surface until the wind picks up again.

      When taking off, albatrosses need to take a run up to allow enough air to move under the wing to provide lift.

      • > It does take off like a bird; it takes off like a very big bird.

        Though big birds run to take off they do so under their own power. Maybe he needs to add leg holes?

  • by kurokame ( 1764228 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:54PM (#33668420)
    To put off writing their thesis.
  • by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:57PM (#33668448)
    Human-powered ornithopters? Sounds like Dune meets the Flintstones!
    Atreides, Paul Atreides
    He's the greatest man in history
    On the planet Arrakis
    He'll kill Harkonnen and make the Fremen free
    • by boxwood ( 1742976 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @06:16PM (#33669502)

      I see you've bought into all the government propaganda about Paul Atreides.

      FACT: Paul Atreides isn't a true Fremen. Why haven't we seen his birth certificate? I'll tell you why, he wasn't even born on Arrakis.

      FACT: Paul Atreides is a secret Harkonnen. He cares more about loss of spice harvesting equipment than the lives of people. That doesn't sound like an Atreides to me.

      FACT: Paul Atreides has a huge ego. He thinks he's some kind of messiah.

      FACT: Paul Atreides's mother dabbles in witchcraft. She claims that she's no longer a witch, but do we really believe that?

      FACT: Paul Atreides regularly cheats on his wife. The only reason he's still married is because it would hurt him politically to end the marriage.

      Yeah, he makes big promises about making Arrakis more green, but what how can we trust him?

    • Human-powered ornithopters? Sounds like Dune meets the Flintstones!

      So, that makes Dino...a sandworm? "Daddy's home! No, Dino! Down, Dino, Do... "

  • Ornithoglider (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru ( 723634 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:00PM (#33668498)
    So it gets towed to 20 feet and flaps a few times until it settles back to the ground. Flight? At least tow it to a certain height and flap to a higher altitude.
    • Re:Ornithoglider (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AshtangiMan ( 684031 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:05PM (#33668584)
      I tend to agree. It looks like the max altitude (and perhaps speed) was reached just prior to releasing the tow cable. The flapping may have extended the glide, you can see the cockpit move up on the "flap" but it also sinks when the wings spring back up. I'm not sure what is being done is sustainable flight. I am glad they did this though, as it looks promising, and perhaps they will get to the sustainable flight goal.
      • The flap is meant to produce thrust, not lift I would think. The cockpit moving up and down is just a question of Newtons 2nd law, it isn't really gaining altitude or losing altitude, just changing the center of mass. I would like to know, however, how far it can fly with flapping vs how far it can glide without. That would at least give some idea of how effective it is.

        Another interesting question would be what kind of wattage the operator is putting out. Is it something the average human can do or did

    • Seriously... You can't tell at all whether the flapping did anything productive at all. The plane is towed into the air for a fair distance, then appears to coast and land - towards the end there's a little bit of flapping that doesn't seem to do anything at all. I'm not sure what, exactly, this is supposed to display, because it certainly doesn't demonstrate to the public (through the video) that this particular flapping does anything.

    • Birds have feathers on the wingtip that provide forward thrust on the down stroke.

    • by Just_Say_Duhhh ( 1318603 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:36PM (#33668984)
      I looked at all the videos available for the flight. It is obvious that the flapping is maintaining flight - if he just started gliding at the release point, there is no way the flight would have been as long. This [] is probably the best view, and it also lets you hear what this thing sounds like when it flaps.
      • by hitmark ( 640295 )

        Just speculating from a armchair, but i would guess that the problem is that the flapping is more vertical then horizontal.

        Also, as the wing do not deform much on the up stroke, i will claim that it basically produce much the same force downwards as it did upwards on the down stroke. Birds and bats appears to collapse the wings on the upstroke to allow it to move into position with minimal drag, not unlike a person swimming butterfly strokes.

      • by ebuck ( 585470 )

        From my looking at the videos it isn't obvious if the flapping is maintaining flight at all. This could be a glider that just happens to flap.

        The frontal views use perspective to hide whether the plane's relative position to the ground is being distorted by the perspective aspects of travelling towards the camera. The video that shows the plane traveling away exaggerates the plane's descent due to a similar perspective induced distortion.

        A camera consistently showing the plane from the side would be more

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tehcyder ( 746570 )
      In other news, the Wright brothers pathetically short attempt at heavier-than-air flight is not expected to lead to any further developments, ever.
  • I opened this when the front page was telling me there were only five comments, wondering if anyone had made a Dune reference yet. Oh, how naive I was...
  • Looks more like an automobile-powered flight to me. A car pulls it into the air, it flaps a few times and descends. That is human-powered, flapping flight? Sorry, doesn't impress me all that much.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:15PM (#33668696)

    Potential Customer: Ryanair.

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:18PM (#33668734) Homepage

    This is not even close to the first human powered ornithopter. One of the most significant recent attempts is Yves Rousseau [] who crashed and became a paraplegic as a result of one of his flights.

  • This looked like the wings were flapping but the machine was slowly going down, not a single flap pushed it up.

    This did not look like a flight, it looked like a delayed fall.

  • Sure, it seems like a neat project now, but just wait until this guy swoops over Toronto and sounds the Panic Horn.

  • Not that great... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EkriirkE ( 1075937 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:34PM (#33668956) Homepage

    This is merely a glider, nothing more. The up-flap cancels out the down-flap as the wings appear to move vertically. All winged animals I'm aware of either twist their wings at angles or fold them, especially on the up-flap, so that most of the powered force is directed to pushing air under the wings on the down flap and the wing simply cuts through the air on the up flap.

    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      Because surely just basing it on those videos you can judge the wing twist and such. LOL.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @06:12PM (#33669458)

    In order to win the Ornithopter X-Prize, you need to flap and stay in the air long enough to drop your pants, and take a crap on a car windshield.

    Now that would really prove that man can build a machine that enables man to emulate bird behavior.

  • Nothing new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @06:22PM (#33669572)

    ...we've had flapping-wing aircraft for three-quarters of a century.

    Birds flap their wings with a painfully inefficient reciprocating motion, because nature doesn't know how to make one critical component: a rotating joint. We do, so our wing-flappers flap their wings with nice, efficient rotary motion...and we call them helicopters.


  • The aircraft needs to be towed off the ground. And at least for me, everything that she is able is to glide some distance, and unable to gain altitude.

    It reminded me two brothers who guarantees that have achieved the first flight of a heavier than air long time ago...
  • It makes me think of that old footage of failed flying machines... remember the umbrella thing that bounced up and down? Anyways, this is just the greatest. This is right up there with winning a hot dog eating contest. Totally useless probably, but so inspirational.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker