Fly Like a Bird

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in History of Flight

On July 8, 2006 a manned, engine powered airplane with flapping wings took-off and flew for the first time. It went for a distance of about 1,000 feet in 14 seconds at a height up to four feet before crash landing.

Man has dreamed about flying like a bird throughout history. Daedalus and Icarus are famous in Greek history for trying to fly like a bird and weren’t successful. Leonardo da Vinci designed a machine to mimic a bird but never flew it. On July 8, 2006 two guys from Ohio were finally successful.

No, their names were not Orville and Wilbur Wright. They names are Jim DeLaurier and Jeremy Harris. They met at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, located across the street from Ohio State University. DeLaurier is an Aeronautical Engineer and Harris is a mechanical engineer.

They are both retired now although DeLaurier, who in recent years was a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Toronto’s Aerospace Institute, still maintains his laboratory and advises students, some of who helped build the ornithopter.

The machine weighs 760 pounds and is powered by a small jet engine that produces 60 pounds of thrust.

On the fateful day the pilot Jack Sanderson, tried several times to get off the ground but failed. On the fourth attempt, with the wings flapping, the machine rose, touched down a couple of times and then rose and flew.

Harris envisioned 38 years ago building an ornithopter, an airplane that has flapping wings like a bird. DeLaurier, a colleague at Battelle, joined him in the endeavor that became an obsession for both men.

The Wright brothers flew with fixed wings that could be warped over a hundred years ago. Their longest flight was 852 feet in 59 seconds on their fourth flight of the day. Their Flyer served as the model that became the modern airplane of today.

It is not expected that a flapping machine will experience similar success. It does represent what creative engineering can achieve. Da Vinci would be proud of Harris and DeLaurier.

The ornithopter, appropriately named Flapper, will be placed in the Aerospace Museum at Downsview Park, Toronto.

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