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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Video: Successful sustained flight of manned bird-like flapping-wing ornithopter aircraft

By Justin Wastnage

The Canadian team behind the first sustained flight of an ornithopter flapping wings-powered aircraft believes the prospect of a manned craft is now real, despite video evidence showing the experimental craft suffered a buckled trailing-edge in the attempt.

The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies has been working on the piloted Ornithopter concept since the early 1990s, with a proof of concept accelerating to rotation speed in 1999. The ornithopter (C-GPTR) performed its first sustained flight on 8 July on the final of three test runs. Once the aircraft reached forward speed of around 43kt (80km/h) the wings were given maximum throttle, flapping at a rate of 1Hz, lifting the aircraft off the runway at Toronto Downsview airport for 10s of straight and level flight at 48kt.

The ornithopter reached an altitude of around 1m (3ft 3in) and flew for around 330m (1,100ft) before the pilot Jack Sanderson thought he had hit cross wing and throttled back to bring the aircraft down. The team has since concluded that the trailing-edge section of the left wing buckled, caused by the flight loads coupled with the flapping loads. The aileron-less aircraft's left wing touched the tarmac, leading the ornithopter to tip, spin around and collapse the nose gear.

The aircraft had a maximum take-off weight of 350kg (770lb), but the team estimates the wing could have lifted only 270kg before bucking.

James DeLaurier, the researcher leading the ornithopter project says the flight, which lasted a total of 14s has crossed a psychological barrier regarding the feasibility of a full-scale flapping-wing aircraft. "The flapper's few seconds of sustained flight brings the notion [of human-carrying ornithopters] into the realm of reality," he says.

The project is now looking for funding to build a new wing optimised for the actual aircraft weight. If this is not found, the ornithopter will be rebuilt for the Toronto Aerospace Museum.


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