Over 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci conceptualized a self-powered flying machine that would achieve both lift and thrust with flapping wings alone and named it the “ornithopter”.

Since ancient times, mankind has envisioned themselves in flight, much like a bird. However, until now, most attempts to fly by flapping wings, either using human muscle or mechanical power have failed.

Hot on the heels of the 100th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight, and the recent X prize won by Burt Rutan for civilian, privately funded space flight, a team of scientists, engineers, and historians in Toronto have taken on this challenge to make Leonardo’s dream a reality.

Currently in development under the purview of Professor James DeLaurier at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies – in a few weeks there will be a special previewing for a select group of dignitaries of the Ornithopter prototype prior to its historical manned test flight at the Downsview airport. As a child of an Italian mother, DeLaurier recalls “there was a Leonardo da Vinci book in our home, and I fell in love with the pictures and fantasized about taking flight one day in a self-propelled flying machine.” It was whilst working as a research engineer in the early 1970’s, at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio that he met Jeremy Harris, who also had a penchant for ornithopters. The two developed the ornithopter as a hobby but soon it became an avocation for DeLaurier, when he later joined the faculty of the University of Toronto he began serious flight tests on engine-powered models. This led to the development of a full-scale aircraft that is recognized by the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique International) as the first successful engine-powered piloted ornithopter.

The expediency of the ornithopter model as it approaches efficiency will outperform fixed wing aircraft, and will be seen as the natural evolution in flight technology. Flapping flight as a practical means of personal flight may well be developed into an extreme sport that may one day see itself even lauded at a future Olympic Games.

More here.