Skip to comments.Aviation history is made by 'flapper'
Posted on 07/09/2006 12:00:46 PM PDT by oxcart
For an aeronautical engineer it was the perfect day and a perfect end to a quest that has consumed his life for more than 30 years.
Yesterday Dr. James DeLaurier, an aeronautical engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies, fulfilled a lifelong dream, seeing his manned mechanical flapping-wing airplane, or ornithopter, fly a dream first imagined by Leonardo da Vinci.
And with the successful flight DeLaurier has been lucky enough to touch what many describe as the Holy Grail of aeronautical design, achieving a place for himself, his team of volunteers and students in aviation history.
The flapper, as it's affectionately known, sustained flight over about a third of a kilometre for 14 seconds at about 10:20 a.m. before being hit by a crosswind and almost flipping over, damaging the nose and front wheel on the runway at Downsview Park.
But the flight was long enough to prove DeLaurier's mechanical flapping-wing design for a manned, jet-boosted aircraft works. The successful test flight was longer than the first powered flight by aviation pioneers the Wright brothers in December 1903 that lasted 12 seconds over a windswept beach in North Carolina. Beating that record was enough for DeLaurier.
"It is a perfect day," he said after the flight. "If I have the big one now, I'll die happy."
After four attempts at getting the ornithopter in the air, the fifth brought glory. The ornithopter, which looks like a cross between an old-fashioned plane and a Canada goose, took off and flew about two metres in the air. DeLaurier whooped and hollered from a truck by the side of the runway, watching it with complete wonder and joy.
"You did it man," he told pilot Jack Sanderson. "You've made an old professor really happy," DeLaurier said as he hugged him, choking back tears. "You've made aviation history." Then DeLaurier matter-of-factly walked down the runway to find a wing tip that broke off during the hard landing.
The team walked the ornithopter quietly down the runway to the hangar.
Like many aeronautical engineers and scientists before him, DeLaurier has long puzzled over the idea of mechanical flapping-wing flight. Indeed, the search for a perfect flapping-wing airplane is, for aeronautical engineers, like mathematicians' quest to solve Fermat's Last Theorem fuelled by an insatiable hunger for knowledge.
"I hadn't planned on this taking most of my career, but I don't regret it," said DeLaurier. "It has been exciting and interesting. Also it's been a worthy project, a worthy quest. You know that age-old saying: `What's the meaning of life?' Quite frankly, life has meaning if you measure yourself against a worthy goal. And for an aerospace engineer who loves aviation history this has been a worthy goal."
Humanity has always been fascinated by the idea of man flying like a bird. The Greeks told mythic tales about Daedalus and Icarus who fled the Labyrinth on wings of wax and feathers. Da Vinci was so fascinated with the idea he conceived an elaborate plan for an ornithopter a design that, DeLaurier said, would never fly because the materials would be too heavy.
And so DeLaurier was moved to build what many have thought impossible a manned engine-powered, flapping-wing airplane that would take off unaided. As a teenager DeLaurier was consumed with that dream, playing with rubber band-model ornithopters that he made out of balsa wood. But he didn't get serious about the quest until 1973 when he met Jeremy Harris, a principal researcher and colleague at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. The two became inseparable, working on the ornithopter.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- `You did it man. You've made an old professor really happy. You've made aviation history'
to test pilot Jack Sanderson
Actually not true. Just recently there was a video here on FR of an MH-60 chopping off it's refueling boom. And I've heard of the same thing happening with that other Sikorski design the MH-53. IIRC, this happens when you get too much forward cyclic along with quickly applied "up" cyclic/power.
Thanks for the info. It seems ironic that the Military would name an airfield and the first aircraft carrier after him, given the financial boondoggle his manned flight epxeriments were. I guess you could consider his houseboat/catapult contraption to be the first prototype of an aircraft carrier.
BTW, your link works fine
I'm not sure that "boondoggle" is really fitting for the good Professor, who was associated with the Smithsonian. IIRC, he was engaged in an honest attempt to achieve manned flight. Admittedly, he didn't succeed, which meant that the money backing him went down the drain. In later years, aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss rebuilt Langley's aerodrome in an attempt to prove that it would have worked had it not been damaged in takeoff. (Curtiss was involved in a dispute with the Wright Brothers, and spent a lot of time trying to show them up. Curtiss also wasn't above "improving" on Langley's design just a wee bit to make sure it worked well enough).
However, this is all from memory, and I haven't kept up on the latest research. Has Langley been discredited somehow?
It's been private since Goddard.
The Wright brothers were in communications with him, and learned a lot from his failures. They, not being academics, or even engineers, but rather bicycle mechanics, took a somewhat different approach. They did however do their development the way engineers probably would have. They constructed models, and prototypes. They built a wind tunnel to evaluate airfoil designs, and IIRC stability. (Their original flier was unstable in pitch, but the instability was controllable by the pilot. Now we have airplanes that are one again unstable or marginally stable in pitch, it has advantages in the drag arena, but the control is done by computers, because human reflexes just are not fast enough.)
Thanks for the (((PING)))
Doesn't a helicopter also beat the air into submission?
On the fixed wing side we call that jousting. It is pretty funny to watch the wild combinations of control inputs a guy can put in trying to get in the basket.
Tanking off 130s can be pretty tough because the baskets move around quite a bit. You have to be patient and wait for the movement to slow before you try to plug.
Yep. And the on-site museum there even has a replica of the wind tunnel the Wright Brothers invented, since they couldn't afford to throw away full-size aircraft! After all, they were spending their own money.
But I've never heard of an F-4, F-14, A-6, A-7, F/A-18 or other probe equiped fixed wing cutting off their probe.
I understand that, even with two guys doing the work, that it can be pretty heavy working getting a B-52 into position and then staying on the boom. A friend who was a BUFF driver said they'd often come off the tanker drenched in sweat, and then they had to go drop bombs on the Ho Chi Minh trail, or in the vicinity of the DMZ. He flew the D model IIRC.
(The Palestinian terrorist regime is the crisis and Israel's fist is the answer.)
However I have heard of aircraft equipped for boom type refueling breaking off the boom. Of course the last few feet of the boom is designed to break off if necessary, and many recievers have landed with that stub of the boom still in the receptacle.
We bring it back with us.
This was a KC-10 basket brought back by a guy I know. Don't know how you could do that on the KC-10 with big soft basket. Sometimes the wing pods will lose power and dump the whole reel on you.
Is that a girl in the pilot's seat?
Maybe Langley's machine didn't flap, but you can bet that his pilot Charles Manley flapped and flayed all he could. Poor bastard, he was dragged out of the river gasping. The sad thing about that story is that it did nothing to advance aeronautics and did much to obstruct it. After having paid Langley good cash to fly, the Government was little concerned with those whacky Wright brothers.
Actually, it's more complicated than that, what with a president who had no interest in any "machines" of any kind, but Langley's 1903 stunts most assuredly did not advance the technology.
Even as a little kid, I had great visions of what I might do when somebody said: "Go fly a kite". One of these days......