Human Birds Take Flight In The Great White North

Canadians have proven their usefulness once again, with students from the University of Toronto devising the world’s first continuously flying ornithopter.  

For those that don’t keep abreast of things in the world of human-powered flight, an ornithopter is essentially a human-powered airplane that has the wingspan of a 737, but weighs only ninety-four pounds. The human pilot inside – who had to lose 18 pounds to make this flight workable, and who wasn’t exactly a fatty to start off with – uses pedals to cause the wings of the plane to “flap”.


If you’re thinking that this looks a lot like a bad old black-and-white movie reel, you’re right – and previous attempts at such human-powered high flying have been, well, unsuccessful to say the least.


The flight done by the intrepid Torontonians managed to go 145 meters in 19.3 seconds at a speed of 25.6 kilometers per hour. This breaks the current world record, and is set to be confirmed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in October.


The history flight of the “Snowbird” took place on August 2, 2010, but there wasn’t a great deal of fanfare surrounding it, in part because the flight needs to be confirmed by the FAI and in part because, well, 145 meters just doesn’t seem like that big a deal.


Think again.


Human-powered flight, while looking decidedly low-tech, is one of the last bastions of technological barriers in the world of aviation. The dream of flying under one’s own power – not just gliding – had been a seemingly unreachable goal – until now.


Sure, this is merely a “new record” in the history of human-powered flight, and it’s not as though tomorrow we’ll be zipping around the globe in self-powered super copters. In addition, some critics argue that the Snowbird was merely hovering due to the “near earth” effect, and wasn’t really flying at all.


Still, that isn’t going to stop scientists at the U of T and other like-minded individuals who really want to see their friends and relatives hurled off into the wild blue yonder under their own power.


Sounds like an idea that could pass with flying colors.


Source: PhysOrg via University of Toronto


Photo courtesy of Todd Reichert, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies