Man, flapping wings, makes 20-sec flying history


Toronto: A man-powered aircraft with flapping wings made aviation history by becoming the first of its kind to fly continuously for almost 20 seconds.

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The “Snowbird” performed its record-breaking flight Aug 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham in Ontario, Canada, in the presence 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.

For centuries engineers have attempted such a feat, ever since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first human-powered ornithopter in 1485.

But under the power and piloting of Todd Reichert, an engineering Ph.d candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), the wing-flapping device sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds.

It covered a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kmph.

“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, weighing just 45 kg, has a wing span of 32 metres. 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 8.5 kg in weight this past summer to facilitate flying the aircraft.

With sustainability in mind, Aerospace Engineering graduate students of UTIAS learned to design and build lightweight and efficient structures. The research also promoted “the use of the human body and spirit,” says Reichert.

“The use of human power, when walking or cycling, is an efficient, reliable, healthy and sustainable form of transportation,” he said.

“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.”