Thursday, October 28, 2010

1st Human powered Ornithopter flight!

I'd like to give a BIG shout out, congratulations, and standing ovation to the University of Toronto Aeronautical Engineering team of students, led by Todd Reichert, for their outstanding achievement recently. 

Leonardo DaVinci dreamed of it, and made famous sketches of it.  Greek myths of it (Icarus and Daedalus) have inspired the imaginations of humans for thousands of years.  Many others, some infamously memorialized in grainy black and white footage, have failed in attempting it.  Even TV commercials have been made depicting it lately.  Countless times, humans have daydreamed of soaring like the birds while gazing at them on a nice summer day.  Not just flying like the birds, really FLYING like the birds: silently flapping wings and defying gravity, like the birds do. 

See this funny video below for some of the more infamous actual attempts long ago.

The study of birds and how they fly is called Ornithology, and wacky but very smart engineers/pilots have been chasing this dream for the last twenty years with a committed zealousness.  A tightly focused and committed group of ornithopter junkies have existed on the Internet, pursuing their cause, while gaining knowledge and community together.  As a result, you can now buy any number of remote controlled ornithopters, or flapping winged remote controlled 'birds'

About four-five years ago I had a period when I was all gaga myself about designing and creating a human powered ornithopter.  In my spare moments while commuting and on overnights, I spent time sketching human powered ornithopters, and thinking and reading about ornithology.  I even told a First Officer or two about my dreams (carefully, it's very easy to be labelled a crackpot in this realm!)  I fantasized about getting a team together and working on it during our spare time, meeting during the summer to build and experiment.  Sketches shown to a pilot when I was commuting in the jumpseat was about as far as it went.  I will say, however, that two features of my design ideas have appeared in form on the aircraft successfully flown recently: a high wing, drooping fuselage design, and a rowing, leg pressing motion by the pilot used to flap the wings.

Another University of Toronto team have previously had a successful flight of a powered manned ornithopter, and now, this team led by Aeronautical Engineering PhD candidate Todd Reichert, achieved successful and sustained human powered ornithopter flight multiple times.  Although the 'Snowbird' was towed into the air by a car each time, it can be seen that once the aircraft starts flapping, it sustains flight, slightly dipping between each downstroke. 

I believe he would have flown longer a longer time and distance, but they were doing it on a grass strip and trees and obstacles were in the way beyond the end of the runway, also on numerous occasions control cables broke and prevented the plane from flapping wings further.

From Canada's National Post: Canadian student pilots first ‘ornithopter’

by Linda Nguyen

A Canadian university student has become the first person ever to pilot a human-powered “wing-flapping” airplane.

Todd Reichert, an engineering graduate student and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, accomplished the feat when he flew the aircraft “Snowbird” for 19.3 seconds on Aug. 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ont.

The 42-kg plane made from carbon fibre, balsa wood and foam, travelled 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kilometres per hour during the flight.

“Our original goal was to complete this sort of, original aeronautical dream, to fly like a bird,” said 28-year-old Reichert on Wednesday. “The idea was to fly under your own power by flapping your wings.”

The flight, which was witnessed by a member of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), was set to be officially confirmed as record-breaking next month by the governing body.

The group stayed quiet about the record for nearly two months in order to get the data finalized, he said.

The four-year project, a brainchild of Reichert and student Cameron Robertson, was worked on by 30 students, including some from France and the Netherlands.

The plane, with a wingspan of 32 metres, was powered by Reichert, who petalled with his legs, pulling down the wings to flap. He had to endure a year-long exercise regime to bulk up on muscle and lose nearly 10-kg so he could fly the aircraft.

“Thousands of people have tried to do this for hundreds of years,” said Reichert. “To be honest, I don’t think it’s really set in yet that I’m the one who has been successful. I was pushing with everything I had. When I finally let go and landed, I was hit with a breadth of excitement. It was pretty wild.”

Reichert went through 65 practice flights, and he said the aircraft will probably never be flown again.

The students are attempting to get it into the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

The FAI is a non-governmental and non-profit organization which aims to further aeronautical and astronautical activities worldwide.

Congratulations again to Todd Reichert, Cameron Robertson, and the rest of the team at the University of Toronto for your magnificent achievement!  For more information on their Snowbird, including interesting technical data on the engineering behind flapping winged flight, see their ornithopter website.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I’m originally from Oklahoma, but have always been drawn to California. A few weekends ago we had a great time after I let myself be drawn there again with my triplet sister, when we met up in Dallas and flew to LA to visit my triplet brother and his family. Yep, you heard that right, I’m a triplet, there are ‘two others like me’. Well, not a whole lot like me, but all three of us have similarities: we’re all fairly easy going, fun loving, and still have plenty of ‘Okie’ in us.

Before I go on, you might want to know how it happened. Us three, I mean. The way I tell it, the Holy Spirit just made the fertility pills Mom was taking work really well. Regardless of your take on why/how conception times three occurred, it did and rocked Mom and Dad’s world, big time. My parents raised three different kids quite well, at the same time. They had their hands full, more than I know, but Dad says ‘I was easy to work with’, thanks. To me, the fact that all three of us still call Jesus our Lord and Savior shows that Mom and Dad did the Christian faith upbringing thing right.

This was our 41st, and we had two-thirds of us together last year, so to get the last third we came to Chris this year. He and his family live in a Glendale, California suburb, which is a Burbank suburb, which is an LA suburb. It just keeps on going and going in 'SoCal'.

After finishing a trip in Washington on a Friday at noon, I jumpseated on a jet to “big D” instead of towards home. Once at DFW airport I had plenty of time to reminisce while waiting for my sister to join me from Wichita. Together we got seats (separately, unfortunately) and flew on a long, silver “AA” bird
westbound into the night, towards, Burbank, California.

I and my family have spent plenty of time at DFW ‘non-reving’, or flying non-revenue standby, while growing up when my mother worked for American Airlines in the 80’s and 90’s. These were days when I was all gaga (before lady gaga) about flying an MD-80 or something bigger for American, enough to write poetry about it. I remember less crowded flights, meals in coach (apple stuffed and rolled pancakes for breakfast) and smokers lighting up soon after takeoff, cigarette and lighter in hand (and use sitting next to them). It was stressful, but exciting, this non-reving, waiting patiently until all the paying passengers got on, not knowing whether you got a seat till the last minute, then scrambling on the plane in victory or making plans for the next flight in defeat. Looking back it was good training for the two leg commute and drive I endure now!

It was both before and after I started flight training in ‘85 (6.5 hours) and ‘88 (private pilot training). American ruled DFW (and Delta to a lesser extent) than compared to today when it now seems they have fewer flights, it could be that it just seems that way. McDonnell Douglass was still a vaunted and powerful name in airliners, and Airbus got a turned up nose reaction from us, like a snooty French reaction to American tourists. DFW still has that huge but friendly feel to it, with a little boastful attitude thrown in, a lot like the Texas that it is located in.

It was great to see my sister and talk with her hanging out in the aisle during the flight to California. She’s been very busy because her school teaching has started again, and as a special-ed teacher, it‘s a tough position to do well. Add raising three boys and numerous small dogs to the mix and she was ready to take a break. Together with my red haired brother Chris (Kim and I have brown hair) and his family we were going to celebrate our B-Day with a laid back SoCal attitude, in non-Hollywood style.

After we started our descent I settled in for a view out the window. LA’s downtown and Dodger Stadium lights rapidly slid by as the guys up front were trying to make our MD-80 “slow down and go down” on arrival to Burbank. A “marine layer” of low clouds and fog I could see below us from my window was draping over the rest of LA from the far side of downtown towards the coast, covering up the colossal LAX airport. Even with the clouds hiding the rest of the city, you could tell that LA still lives large. It’s still an incredibly huge place in terms of area, urban sprawl, and humanity. I then saw the dimly lit ridges of the Hollywood Hills below and knew a steep descent was to follow into Burbank beyond, with “the boards out” (flight spoilers extended).

After a fine arrival with an expected firm touchdown and aggressive deceleration on the wheel brakes and reverse thrust, we made a short taxi to the ramp at Burbank. There was a “that guy” (a know it all) behind me swearing the pilot was an ‘ex-Navy carrier Pilot‘. I bit my tongue thinking “fella, you see that last few thousand feet of runway lights coming up quickly and let’s see what you do with the landing, brakes and reversers”. Maybe he hadn’t heard of Southwest’s infamous overrun of Burbank’s 5,801 foot long runway 8 (towards the east) on March 5, 2000, where a 737 ‘stopped at a Chevron for gas‘. Fortunately there were no flames and no fatalities.

There were two serious injuries and forty-one minor, the plane had major damage, and the pilots lost their jobs, however. ATC took a little of the blame but most of it was laid on the pilots by the NTSB. Flight 1455 was about 2,300 feet above the runway only four miles from it, where it should have been 1,200 feet above the ground. The NTSB said they made a 7 degree descent, normally it’s a 3 degree descent for final approach. They ignored sink rate warnings from the aircraft and touched down a little long (2,150 feet down the runway, the FAA‘s “touchdown zone" is the first 3,000 feet, perfect touchdown is at the 1,000 foot marker) and very fast at 182 knots, 44 knots faster than it’s final approach ‘target speed’ of 138 knots. They should’ve gone around, and the Captain’s mood concerning this was clear in his post-crash comments on the CVR: “Well there goes my career”.

After a little research about this I learned that this evening we landed on the same runway the Southwest flight had overrun. In MD-80 and airliner speak, any runway less than 7,000 feet is basically a short runway, and a runway less that 6,000 feet is to be avoided if at all possible. We land the CRJ regularly on a 5,000 foot runway, but it has less overall momentum than larger airliners and thusly is easier to stop. Still, we don’t mess around; if we‘re more than a little high or fast crossing the threshold it‘s time to go around (before then preferably). If I had ’that guy’ in the back of my CRJ after landing on Philly’s 5,000 foot long runway 26, he’d be giving his spiel again, cause we’re ’hard on the binders’ there.

As a close to this ‘that guy’ stuff, all kidding aside, I hope to God this never happens to me, that I’m smart enough to operate according to SOP and go around when, not if the conditions warrant. (I’m pretty sure I am, but just in case I’m not.)

My brother met us on the sidewalk of the compact and throwback, but charming Burbank terminal as we quickly got accustomed to the California atmosphere. He drove us though Burbank, then Glendale, then up to their house in a quaint town in a valley where the term "Valley Girl” is from, according to him.

Our Birthday morning brought us to attend my niece Rylie’s soccer game and my nephew Declan’s baseball game, and they both won. The locals were friendly and down to earth it seemed, different from the attitude I’ve received from beach locals in the past. For the rest of the day we hung out by my brother’s pool and caught up on things, having a party time and jamming out to my wonderful oldest niece’s iPod play list (I’ll explain more about her ‘star status’ later). My brother Chris grilled good steaks and asparagus and we had a surprise visit from my cousin Jose, who is stationed with the Coast Guard in San Diego. It was a complete surprise to all three of us and his bald head really took us back for a second! (who is that? Ha ha ) Thanks Kelly, I should have known after the birthday singer last year that you’d be up to something!  (Picture below is me from last year)

After that we rocked the Wii Pop Star game, which I hadn’t played before. What a blast, I’ve got guitar and drum talent, at least on the wii I do. Rebel yell, Band on the Run, and No Sleep Till Brooklyn will never be the same now! Lastly, Kelly broke out the birthday cupcakes, ending a great birthday in SoCal.

It was a great time in Cali, in spite of the fact that we didn’t visit Hollywood. Speaking of which, I’d like to plug my entertainer niece now. Madisen Beaty is a talented young actress who has had memorable roles in films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the Lifetime Movie Network film Pregnancy Pact. She’s also been in numerous commercials and has had a guest starring role in a popular episode of iCarly on Disney channel.

Currently she can be seen this fall as a guest in episodes of the new series No Ordinary Family and NCIS. Watch for her this fall!

She and her family have had many changes on their road from Denver suburbia to TV and film up and comers. My brother and sister-in law set the bar high for Madisen to show that she was really, really willing to commit to acting on the screen small and big, and she showed them she was ready. They visited out here for while in 2006, and she somehow got an agent and a manager (difficult to do, let them tell you). They haven’t looked back and love it out there, in spite of everything involved in ‘the business‘. The acting bug has spread too, even Rylie and Declan have performed in a few acting roles and commercials, click on their names to see.

I should write about my brother Chris. It would be dishonest to leave out the part that I’m inspired by him, and proud of him and how he’s provided for his family. He’s used plenty of courage and wily instincts to get where he is these days, all with a tour behind him in the Navy as a ‘Sonar-tech‘, some college, and an ability to talk to almost anyone and network well. He’s been in his role a Technical Recruiter for contract internet and network programmers for business applications for quite a few years now, and knows the business very well. Kelly know it well too, and they’ve built a successful home based business on it, called Spyglass Staffing.

He and his family aren’t afraid of dreaming big and chasing new opportunities after a glimmer of shining ideas and aspirations are glimpsed. By design, they live in a valley removed from the craziness of Hollywood, and I’m confident and his family can stay grounded in the Christian faith we all share.

Thanks for reading my blog, and God bless you. Jesus still Loves you!