Welcome to the
exciting world of flapping-wing flight! Seeing them fly is amazing,
but it is not easy to build an ornithopter. You can improve your chances
of success if you start off with a proven design before beginning
your own experiments. The best way to get started is with an introductory
model kit. The special parts in the kit, such as the pre-bent crank
wire and interlocking wood parts, will save you a lot of headaches.You
will also save money because the kit costs less than buying all of
the materials separately.
of online tutorials that make an "ornithopter" from
Unfortunately, some manufacturers offer flapping-wing model kits
that do not fly very well. The Quest "EZ" Ornithopter
is not "EZ" to build. People have even told me that it
doesn't fly. Do not use online tutorials that show you how
to build an ornithopter from household materials. The substandard
materials result in an ornithopter that doesn't fly. On the other
hand, quality American-made kits are available from BirdKit.com.
They are the easiest to build, and they will fly great, as long
as you do your part and build the model correctly.
Gryphon is a new model kit I designed to help students and hobbyists
get started with flapping-wing flight. It is available from
BirdKit.com. Unlike earlier
kits, the Gryphon features interlocking wood parts that make it
easier to build. It is made in the USA from natural materials, and
it can climb high in the air. The
Gryphon flying bird model kit can be assembled entirely with non-toxic
The first step
in building the Gryhpon is to assemble the wooden strut that holds
the crank wire. The parts have been laser-cut from lightweight birch
plywood only 1/32" thick. They fit together with special notches
to aid in correct alignment. The crank bearing is held securely
by the wood parts, without any need for messy layers of tissue to
hold it in place.
The tail of
this ornithopter is set at a fixed angle. Earlier kits had adjustable
tails, and I observed that students were failing to adjust them
correctly. The Gryphon tail is not adjustable. If you interlock
the parts correctly, the tail will always have the correct angle
for a stable flight.
The wing lever
wires, like the crank, are secured in place by interlocking plywood
parts. The wing lever wires slide into sockets on the ornithopter
body. The wing material is a colorful, high-grade tissue paper.
It's easier to attach than a plastic film would be.
kit comes with a high-performance elastic. It's the same stuff they
use in model airplane competitions. You cannot use office rubber
bands in these models. It's important to lubricate the rubber band,
and BirdKit.com sells a castor oil lubricant that is safe and non-toxic.
should fly alright on the first attempt. If it nose-dives, you probably
didn't put the tail on correctly! (Use water to soften the glue
so you can realign the parts.) Just by a few simple adjustments,
which are explained in the kit instructions, you should end up with
a great-flying bird. Next,
you can do some simple experiments with your Gryphon to start learning
more about how these models operate.
Flapping: Slide the rear connecting rod all the way back against
the crank bearing so the left wing doesn't move when the crank rotates.
With only one wing flapping, your ornithopter should turn sharply
to the left. Now add weight to the right wingtip until the ornithopter
turns right! Is it really flapping just one wing?
Mess Up the
Flapping Mechanism: Get some 1/32" music wire at a local
hobby shop. Make a new crank with a smaller radius than the original.
How does this affect the flapping rate, and the flight of your ornithopter?
You can also change the length of the connecting rods by adding
new holes with a 1/32" drill bit. Make small changes and observe
Tear the wings
off your model. Moisten the tissue along the top of the fuselage,
and after a few minutes scrape it off with your fingernail. Make
new wings with a wingspan of 24 inches. Larger wings will cause
the rubber band to unwind more slowly. This could give you longer
flights, but it also means your ornithopter won't be getting as
much power. Gradually decrease the wingspan, and make a series of
timed flights to find out the optimal wingspan.