OTTAWA — A Canadian student inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s centuries-old sketches of an ornithopter said Friday he was the first to make a sustained flight in a human-powered, wing-flapping aircraft.
Powered and piloted by engineering student Todd Reichert, the craft, dubbed Snowbird, flew 145 meters (476 feet) in 19.3 seconds, traveling at an average speed of 25.6 kilometers per hour (16.5 miles per hour).
“The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream,” Reichert said in a statement through the University of Toronto.
“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 feat was accomplished on August 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ontario, north of Toronto.
The Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world-governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records, is expected to confirm the ornithopter’s world record at its next meeting in October.
The Italian painter and genius Da Vinci designed a variety of mechanical devices which were far ahead of their time, and his famous sketches of the ornithopter are believed to have been drawn around 1485.
But it was more than 400 years later that the Wright brothers were to herald in the aviation age with the first powered flight in 1903 lasting 12 seconds and covering 37 meters (121 feet).
In 1977, the Gossamer Condor became the first human-powered aircraft capable of controlled and sustained flight after covering a 1.6-kilometer (one-mile) figure-eight course in 7.5 minutes.
Another Gossamer human-powered aircraft also flew across the English Channel two years later.
Reichert noted that the Snowbird “is not a practical method of transport.” Rather, the aim of the project was to inspire others “to use the strength of their body and the creativity of their mind.”
The Snowbird, built from carbon fibers and balsa wood, weighs just 43 kilograms (94 pounds) and has a wing span of 32 meters (105 feet) — comparable to a Boeing 737.
To keep it light, liftoff mechanisms were not built into the craft. Instead it was towed by a vehicle to gain some initial altitude.
Reichert said he also lost eight kilograms (18 pounds) over the summer to facilitate flying the aircraft.
More than 30 students from the University of Toronto, Poitiers University in France and Delft Technical University in the Netherlands also participated in the project.