Aircraft, flapping wings, makes flying history

Aviation record

The “Snowbird” performed its record-breaking flight on Aug 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham in Ontario, Canada, in the presence of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world-governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records.

The official record claim was filed this month, and the FAI is expected to confirm the ornithopter’s world record at its meeting in October.

For centuries engineers have attempted such a feat, ever since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first human-powered ornithopter in 1485.

But under the power and piloting of Todd Reichert, an engineering Phd candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), the wing-flapping device sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds. It covered a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kmph. “The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream,” says lead developer and project manager Reichert.

The Snowbird, weighing just 45 kg, has a wing span of 32 metres. 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 8.5 kg in weight this past summer to facilitate flying the aircraft.
With sustainability in mind, Aerospace Engineering graduate students learned to design and build lightweight and efficient structures. The research also promoted “the use of the human body and spirit,” says Reichert.

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