“First Ever” Human-Powered Ornithopter Flight


A group of University of Toronto students has just announced that a flight of their human-powered flapping-wing aircraft, The Snowbird, on Aug. 2 may have set an FAI record with a “first ever” flight for its kind. The group believes that after being towed aloft, the aircraft maintained speed and altitude for 19.3 seconds and covered approximately 145 meters while flying at 25.6 km/h. During that time, it was powered solely by its pilot and designer, U of T engineering PhD candidate Todd Reichert, who estimates he’s capable of about 0.3 horsepower. Reichert believes his team’s effort represents the first-ever sustained flight of a human-powered ornithopter. The aircraft was built from carbon-fiber tubing, balsa wood and foam with a Mylar covering. It weighs 94 pounds and boasts a 32-meter (105-foot) wing. The wing’s bracing wires, like the rest of the aircraft, serve as the team’s best compromise amongst aerodynamic, structural and weight considerations. They also serve to pull the wing down, leading edge first, during the thrust portion of the wing’s stroke.

The aircraft is designed to be strong enough to survive flight, but little more. The team hopes to receive official notice of its record from the FAI this October. To read more, visit the project’s website here. Find the team’s YouTube channel here.