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to the Ornithopter Zone!
(definition): An ornithopter is a manned aircraft or an
unmanned flying machine in which the driving airfoils have
a flapping, reciprocating, or oscillating motion, instead
of the rotary motion used in airplanes and helicopters.
to our YouTube Channel
Ptera Software for Flapping Wing Flight
software, developed by Cameron Urban, is a fast, easy-to-use,
and open-source package for analyzing flapping-wing flight.
Visit our Design Tools page for
to Build an Ornithopter
are two common types of ornithopters. The simplest models
are powered by winding up a rubber band. These
ornithopters are the least expensive to build, and they can
be flown indoors. The rubber-band-powered ornithopters are
great for a school competition to see who can get the longest
flight time. Building and flying these ornithopters is a great
way for kids to learn about science and how to work as a team.
This is also the recommended starting point for adults.
For your first ornithopter, begin by constructing
a proven design from the Ornithopter Zone's Freebird
Plans. Like the name says, it's free.
the right materials is
important. There are kits and online tutorials where
you build an "ornithopter" from things you
find around the house or heavy plastic and bamboo. Many
of them will not fly, after all of your hard work.
don't want to start with a rubber-band-powered ornithopter,
because it doesn't seem technologically advanced. But the
rubber-powered ornithopter will teach you important concepts
and skills that you will find useful when you start building
more complex ornithopters. You will progress more rapidly
by having this foundation. The rubber-powered ornithopter
itself has become highly developed, with some very unique
designs and advanced concepts.
through the how to section of
this web site, for more information on ornithopter design
and construction techniques. You will progress more quickly
if you study what has been successful in the past.
type of ornithopter is powered by an electric motor. Electric
ornithopters are more difficult to design and build. These
ornithopters range from 10 cm wingspan "micro air vehicles"
to the size of an eagle. They are often radio controlled,
and they can carry payloads such as cameras. The first challenge
is constructing a reliable gearbox and flapping mechanism
that will provide enough power for your ornithopter to fly.
Once you have accomplished that, you will find that getting
an ornithopter to steer and turn effectively can be equally
difficult. As you overcome each of the challenges that your
ornithopter can present, you will advance your knowledge of
building techniques, electronics, and the principles of flight.
Ornithopters Got Started
of the ornithopter comes from ancient times. Three thousand
years ago, Assyrian stone carvings depicted God riding in
an ornithopter. The Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus describes
two men building wings which they used to escape from the
labyrinth. In 875 AD, Abbas ibn Firnas in Spain built an ornithopter/glider
with which he made the first successful gliding flight by
1870s the focal point for the development of aviation was
in Paris. Unmanned aircraft were built, including ornithopters,
as a stepping stone to the development of manned flight. The
rubber-band-powered ornithopters developed then form the basis
for modern designs that are built by students and hobbyists
and internal combustion engines were then used, with some
great advancements taking place in Germany prior to World
War II. Alexander Lippisch, who is also known for developing
the Me 163 Komet rocket-powered fighter, led a team of young
researchers who perfected the design of engine-powered, unmanned
ornithopters, achieving successful flights up to 16 minutes.
Building on that work, in 1942, Adalbert Schmid made the first
successful flight of a powered, manned ornithopter. Although
there have been a few others,
Schmid's manned ornithopter still stands as the most successful
radio-controlled ornithopter was built by Percival Spencer
in 1960. He also built a series of more bird-shaped, engine-powered
ornithopters. During the 1990s, Spencer's design was adapted
for electric power and came to greatly influence the design
of most RC ornithopters to this day. Read more ornithopter
Students can build ornithopters for a school
project. They can learn about engineering design, physics,
math, electronics, and more!
are a great
hobby for those who enjoy the challenge
up with their own designs. There are also ready-made
toy ornithopters if you just want to fly one.
can put a camera
on board your ornithopter to gain
a first-person perspective and see what it would be
like to fly like a bird!
are used at airports
to chase birds away. If a plane runs into birds, that
can damage the engines, so keeping birds away is an
important part of airport safety.
is the definition of an "ornithopter"?
is a device that imitates the flapping-wing flight found in nature.
The word "ornithopter" (c.1908) combines the ancient Greek
words for "bird" and "wing". An ornithopter
doesn't need to have feathers, though. What makes it birdlike is
the flapping motion! How is it different from an airplane or helicopter?
Airplanes have a rotating propeller. Helicopters have a rotary wing
that provides both lift and thrust. Those machines are driven by
rotating airfoils. Instead of rotation, the ornithopter wing imitates
the reciprocating motion of a bird's wing.
wings of the ornithopter don't have to supply all of the lift. Even
in real birds, the body and tail provide a significant portion of
the total lift.
(simple definition): An ornithopter is a device that flies by
Ornithopter (technical definition): An ornithopter is a manned
aircraft or an unmanned flying machine in which the driving airfoils
have a flapping, reciprocating, or oscillating motion, instead of
the rotary motion used in airplanes and helicopters.
invented the ornithopter?
da Vinci did not invent the ornithopter. The idea of the ornithopter
goes back to ancient times. Ancient Assyrians depicted God flying
in a winged chariot or ornithopter about 3,000 years ago. Ornithopter
attempts were made before Leonardo's time, and Leonardo himself
never actually built one -- he only drew sketches. The first successful
flight of a manned ornithopter
took place in 1942.
people like to build and fly ornithopters, just because ornithopters
are amazing! There are practical benefits as well: flapping wings
potentially offer improved efficiency, better maneuverability, and
reduced noise compared with the rotary-driven airplanes and helicopters.
The resemblance to a real bird can also be useful for certain missions
such as spying or for keeping birds away from airport runways.
people ever flown in an ornithopter?
Schmid's engine-powered manned ornithopters, flown in 1942 and 1947,
were the most successful to date. Several other manned
ornithopters have made successful flights.
does an ornithopter fly?
Find out in the "how
to" section of this web site.
doesn't the upstroke cancel out the downstroke?
produced by a wing depends on the angle the wing is held at, relative
to its motion through the air. This is called the "angle of
attack". During the upstroke, the angle of attack is adjusted
so that the wing isn't pushing down. more
I build my own ornithopter?
people build ornithopters as a hobby or school project. There are
free plans on this web site.