An aircraft with flapping wings that are powered by a human being has become the first of its kind to fly continuously.
The “Snowbird”, which was developed at the University of Toronto, performed its record-breaking flight in August at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ontario.
For centuries engineers have attempted such a feat, ever since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first human-powered ornithopter in 1485.
But under the pedal-power and piloting of Todd Reichert, an Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), the wing-flapping aircraft sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, and covered a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kilometres per hour.
’The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream,’ said 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 Snowbird weighs just 94lbs and has a wing span of 32 metres (105 feet). Although its wingspan is comparable to that of a Boeing 737, the Snowbird weighs less than all of the pillows on board.
Pilot Reichert lost 18 lbs of body weight during the summer to enable him to fly the aircraft.