Friday, October 1, 2010

Human-powered aircraft makes aviation history

Human-powered aircraft makes aviation history by becoming the first to fly using flapping wings
Niall Firth
23rd September 2010

It has been the dream of engineers and eccentric inventors for centuries.

And ever since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first human-powered ornithopter in 1485, humans have tried to take to the air like birds by flapping their wings.

But now a human-powered aircraft has made aviation history by becoming the first with flapping wings to fly continuously.

The 'Snowbird' performed its record-breaking flight at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Ontario in Canada in August.

Todd Reichert, an Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), flew the wing-flapping device and sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, covering a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kilometres per hour.

He flew the Snowbird by pedaling with his legs. Pulleys and ropes attached to the wings pulled down when he pedaled forward.

‘The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream,' says lead developer and project manager Reichert.

‘Throughout history, countless men and women have dreamt of flying like a bird under their own power, and hundreds, if not thousands have attempted to achieve it. This represents one of the last of the aviation firsts.’

The Snowbird weighs just 94 lbs and has a wing span of 105 feet. Although its wingspan is comparable to that of a Boeing 737, the Snowbird weighs less than all of the pillows on board.

Pilot Reichert lost 18 lbs of body weight over the summer to facilitate flying the aircraft.

The feat was witnessed by the vice-president of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world-governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records.

The official record claim was filed this month, and the FAI is expected to confirm the ornithopter's world record at its meeting in October.

Reichert said: 'The use of human power, when walking or cycling, is an efficient, reliable, healthy and sustainable form of transportation.

‘Though the aircraft is not a practical method of transport, it is also meant to act as an inspiration to others to use the strength of their body and the creativity of their mind to follow their dreams.'


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