Ornithopters In Fact And Fiction

An ornithopter (a flapping wing aircraft) under development at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies may yet make Leonardo da Vinci's dream a reality. The renaissance genius designed an aircraft that would achieve both lift and thrust with its flapping wings over 500 years ago. Many have tried to make it work; none have succeeded.


(From Toronto Ornithopter)

Professor James DeLaurier leads a group of scientists and engineers in creating a full-scale aircraft (not merely a model) that is a true engine-powered piloted ornithopter. The ornithopter will have its first flight in a few weeks at the Downsview airport in Toronto.

An Italian group is hoping to create a second craft and fly it at the 2006 Olympic games in February of 2006 in honor of Da Vinci.

Science fiction fans have long been familiar with the ornithopter concept; it plays an exciting role in Frank Herbert's Dune books - see dune ornithopter for a complete article. Herbert's concept is still a little in advance of reality:

He broke off as the Duke kicked on the jet brakes. The ship bucked as its tail pods whispered to silence. Stub wings elongated, cupped the air. The craft became a full 'thopter as the Duke banked it, holding the wings to a gentle beat, pointing with his left hand off to the east beyond the factory crawler.

Fans may also be familiar with the abbreviated term 'thopter from the novel.

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