da Vinci Ornothopter model

During his 30’s, Leonardo took a great interest in flight, and by about 1505 had collected around 20 years of theory on flight. In his sketches he illustrates what is known as an ornithopter, but no one really knows if he actually built or attempted to fly the device. An ornithopter (from the Greek ornithos “bird” and pteron “wing” is an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings. Designers seek to imitate birds, bats, and insects.

Ultralite Ornithopter-1999 Taxi trials

Downsview airport, Toronto, Canada

Currently, manned ornithopters have been built, and some have been successful. Two types are currently being used: those using engines, and those powered by the muscles of the pilot. There were some who supposedly tried to fly ornithopters prior to da Vinci, but it is thought that they merely glided their machines to the ground from an elevated location. An eleventh century Monk by the name of Eilmer of Malmesbury is the first recorded person to document such activities. He was followed by the ninth century poet Abbas Ibn Firnas. In 1260 Roger Bacon also considered a technological means of flight.