Canadian ornithopter achieves Da Vinci's dream

Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:44pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Leonardo Da Vinci would be proud: the Snowbird has flown.

Centuries after the Renaissance inventor sketched a human-powered flying machine, Canadian engineering students say they have flown an engineless aircraft that stays aloft by flapping its wings like a bird.

International aviation officials are expected to certify next month that the Snowbird has made the world's first successful, sustained flight of a human-powered ornithopter, according to the University of Toronto.

The Snowbird sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, in an August 2 test flight near Toronto that was witnessed by an official of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the university announced. A video of the flight was shown on news programs on Wednesday.

Others have claimed to have built machines that flew like a bird, but the Canadian group says they have the telemetry data to prove their ornithopter powered itself through the air rather than just glided after being lifted aloft.

"Those past claims were never verified. We believe we are the first, because we know what it took to do it," chief structural engineer Cameron Robertson, said in an interview from Tottenham, Ontario, north of Toronto, where the Snowbird was displayed on Thursday.

"This represents one of the last of the aviation firsts," said Todd Reichert, the pilot and project manager, said in a statement.

The aircraft weighs just 94 pounds, but has a wing span of 105 feet, which is comparable to that of a Boeing 737 airliner.   Continued...