23 September 2010

Human-powered ornithopter flaps into record books

by Kate Melville

"Snowbird", a human-powered aircraft with flapping wings, has become the first of its kind to be capable of sustained flight, say its creators at the University of Toronto. The ornithopter maintained both altitude and airspeed for 19 seconds, and covered a distance of 145 meters at an average speed of 26 kilometers per hour.

Snowbird performed its record-breaking flight on August 2, the official record claim was filed this month and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale is expected to confirm the ornithopter's world record at its meeting in October.

The aircraft was piloted (and powered) by Todd Reichert, an Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. "The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream," says Reichert. "Throughout history, countless men and women have dreamt of flying like a bird under their own power, and hundreds, if not thousands have attempted to achieve it. This represents one of the last of the aviation firsts."

The fragile craft weighs just 94 lbs. and has a wing span of 32 meters (105 feet). Reichert lost 18 lbs. of body weight this past summer to facilitate flying the aircraft. "The use of human power, when walking or cycling, is an efficient, reliable, healthy and sustainable form of transportation. Though the aircraft is not a practical method of transport, it is also meant to act as an inspiration to others to use the strength of their body and the creativity of their mind to follow their dreams," said Reichert.

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Source: University of Toronto
Photos courtesy of Todd Reichert, University of Toronto