James DeLaurier, a Canadian aeronautical engineer and professor at Toronto University, has fulfilled Leonardo DaVinci’s dream, three centuries later. DeLaurier built a plane that flaps like a bird or, in more technical terms, and ornithopter.
“DeLaurier’s eventual success certainly had much to do with his determination, but it’s also a result of the technology now available to aircraft builders. He was able to use this era’s electronics, lightweight but strong composite construction materials, and the vast storehouse of aeronautic knowledge developed by the fixed-wing aircraft industry.”
In order to achieve liftoff, the Flapper had to reach a speed of 82km/hour by flapping its wings, which added much more stress to them than for an ultralight, for instance. Still, it wasn’t off the ground at that time. Another problem was most runways were too short for the Flapper. In addition, the Flapper tended to bounce up and down with the wings flapping, which cut down on the acceleration. Those problems were solved by adding a miniature jet engine.
“After several trial runs along the airstrip, the pilot went full throttle at 10:20 a.m. on July 8, 2006, flapping faster and faster down the runway. The ornithopter took off, flying about one metre above the ground for 14 seconds for a distance of about 300 metres â€” beating by two seconds the first flight of the Wright brothers’ powered plane in 1903.”
You can watch a video of the Flapper’s flight on the ornithopter’s site.