Student Makes History with First Ever Human-Powered Ornithopter Flight

Photo via Todd Reichert
A Canadian university student has done what Leonardo da Vinci had only dreamt of: piloted a human-powered "wing-flapping" plane! Called an ornithopter, and the inspiration for modern day helicopters, the machine was first sketched by Da Vinci way back in 1485 and never actually built.

Todd Reichert, an engineering student at the University of Toronto, made history by sustaining flight in his ornithopter--named Snowbird--for 19.3 seconds and covering 475.72 feet. Snowbird is made from carbon fiber, balsa wood and foam. The 92.59 pound vehicle maintained an average speed of 15.91 miles per hour.

Human-Powered Flight Videos from U of T Engineering on Vimeo.

Todd and his plane made the accomplishment on August 2nd at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ontario. The crew kept the achievement quiet for nearly two months to get the data finalized. Todd and some 30 other students had been working on the plane for 4 years.

Photo via Todd Reichert

The team went through 65 practice flights and sadly, the aircraft will probably never be flown again.

Todd endured a year long exercise program in which he lost 18 lbs. to prep for the flight. With a wingspan of 104 feet--which is comparable to that of a Boeing 737--he had to pedal with his legs all while pulling on the wings to flap at the same time. And he had to do it fast enough to fly!

Photo via Todd Reichert

"Our original goal was to complete this sort of original aeronautical dream to fly like a bird," said 28-year-old Reichert yesterday. "The idea was to fly under your own power by flapping your wings."

The flight, witnessed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), is the first officially confirmed flight in an ornithopter.

"Thousands of people have tried to do this for hundreds of years," said Reichert. "To be honest, I don't think it's really set in yet that I'm the one who has been successful. I was pushing with everything I had. When I finally let go and landed, I was hit with a breadth of excitement. It was pretty wild."

I bet it was, Todd!

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Tags: Airplanes | Air Travel