Among the many model aircraft, ornithopters and yes - flying panties - sent skyward by Japanese hobbyists this past March 6th, one delicate and exquisite device soared above all the rest. The fragile flyer motored its way around the indoor Arts Chiyoda building in Tokyo for several minutes at a time, gently bobbing in reaction to stray air currents.
The semi-transparent plane is made with balsa wood struts and clear plastic film held together with hair-thin wires. Its control center consists of a miniature FM receiver, a tiny motor and an ultra-lightweight battery. Here's a video of the plane taken on March 6th at the Sorafes event:
The design of the tiny airplane may look familiar and in fact, a startlingly similar full-size prototype airplane was displayed over a century ago by British inventor Horatio Frederick Phillips. The 1904 Phillips Multiplane pictured below had 21 individual wings and, as readers may recall from classic "early flying machines" newsreel clips, never got off the ground.
Undaunted, Phillips completed another "flying venetian blind" that boasted an incredible 200 airfoils! Even more surprising, this unlikely device actually took to the air on April 6th, 1907, thus staking its place in history as Great Britain's first successful powered flight!
But back to the present. The diminutive RC model plane demonstrated at Sorafes may not revive Horatio Phillips' design aesthetic but it does shed light on an interesting period of aviation history. Ol' Horatio is likely looking down with approval, though the Flying Panties sharing the airspace on March 6th surely would offend his Victorian sensibilities.
The hobbyists who built the ultralight miniature multi-wing plane have no definite plans for mass production though they did hint at it, saying that the cost of building a single plane was around 30,000 yen (around $335) - a price which would come down as more planes were made. (via Gigazine)