Discover the operation of one of Da Vinci’s most famous aviation designs, the ornithopter.
This image is a 3D interpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machine, the ornithopter. Da Vinci designed the contraption in 1488 after studying the flight mechanics of birds. Indeed, in many regards the flying apparatus shares a lot of common features to the expert fliers, including a flexing, compound flapping motion as well as lightweight, feathered wings.
The flying machine operates as follows. A pilot lies down on top of the central wooden plank, hooking their neck and head through the semi-circle hoop and legs through the rear fastener. Once in position, the pilot can operate all parts of the machine with either their hands or feet.
Foot operation entails pushing on two pedals situated at the rear of the aircraft – one opening the wings and the other closing them. The pilot’s hands, meanwhile, can grip the frame and ensure smooth running of the cording, which is responsible for controlling the wings’ multiple wooden struts.
Surprisingly, Da Vinci never built the machine for himself in the 15th century, nor did he proceed to test it- maybe due to the financial challenge such a project would entail, or the large potential for injury. In addition, while many enthusiasts have created direct replicas of the ornithopter from the original schematics, no one has attempted to fly them, despite the mechanisms having been confirmed as fully functional.
Who was Da Vinci?
An irrepressible inventor, Da Vinci created many machines and gadgets still in use today.
Leonardo Da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath (a learned person of many talents). He successfully conceived and built a wide number of tools, mechanisms and machines, many of which are still used in some form to this day. Examples include the machine gun, armoured car, bicycle, mechanical saw, dredger, file-cutter, excavating crane, mechanical drum and odometer. In addition, he drew out numerous fantastical designs for more ambitious inventions that unfortunately never got adopted, one of which was the flying machine examined here. Other examples include a mechanical dragonfly, a self-propelled cart and a skull-shaped lyre. Da Vinci was born near Vinci, Italy, in 1452 and died near flmboise, France, in 1519, aged 67.
Facts about failed flights
2. Vulture man – In the 9th century CE, Muslim inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas reportedly covered his body with vulture feathers and tried to fly. No account survives of his success, however.
3. The flying monk – In 1010 English monk Eilmer of Malmesbury is believed to have jumped off Malmesbury Abbey in a primitive gliding craft. Reports say he flew 180m (591ft) before crashing.
4. Airship – In 1709 Portuguese priest Bartolomeu de Gusmao demonstrated a small airship model before the Portuguese court, but he never succeeded in scaling the model up.
5. Tandem – In 1754 Mikhail Lomonosov showed a tandem rotor aircraft to the RussianAcademy of Sciences. Similar to one of Da Vinci’s designs, it was self-powered by a spring.