Abstract Musings

Documenting the random thoughts of a cluttered mind

The Future of Flight?

First it was Space Ship One winning the X Prize, then came NASA’s historic flight of the X-43A aircraft. Now comes the ornithopter?

Come spring, a group of Canadian researchers will try to realize an age-old dream advanced by both science and mythology: to fly like a bird.

With help from his graduate students, James DeLaurier, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, has created an ornithopter–a full-size plane designed to get off the ground when its wings flap. Pilot Jack Sanderson will attempt to fly the contraption a few thousand feet next April.

If it succeeds, the flight will fulfill a dream that has foiled Icarus, Leonardo da Vinci and other, more modern aviation pioneers–that is, to achieve flight by means of undulating wings. In standard planes, an engine pushes the plane forward, and the lift is generated under a fixed wing. By contrast, the ornithopter is like a bird: The engine causes the wings to beat, which, in turn, creates the conditions for a lift.

As the article makes clear the goal isn’t to revolutionize commercial flight, but to attempt the age old dream of flying like a bird. The project has potential military applications, as well.