Grad students at the University of Toronto just made aviation history with the world’s first successful flight of a human-powered ornithopter.

An ornithopter is a plane that flies like a bird by flapping its wings to generate extra lift. They’ve been long dreamed about in science fiction tales like Frank Herbert’s Dune, but the first motorized flight only took place in 2006 under James DeLaurier, a UofT professor.

The non-powered flight lasted just under 20 seconds and covered 145 meters, but it set a world record as well as the landmark of Canada’s first human-powered flight. Though it’s still far from being a practical form of transportation (Todd Reichert, the pilot and PhD candidate) had to train for months to get that far. Still, the wright Brothers didn’t get very far on their first try, either.

If air travel is going to survive the next century, planes are going to have to become a hell of a lot lighter and more efficient. And while I happen to think pedalling and ornithopter to work would be kinda cool, I also recognize that this kind of design work goes a long way toward making planes of all sorts far more efficient. That goes for cutting edge aerodynamics and carbon fibre, but there’s something far more important here. These guys weren’t a bunch of military scientists and aerospace engineers working out of Area 51, it was a bunch of grad students in Toronto. If new and creative designs are going to come forward, they’re going to come from small, innovative, groups like this.

One step closer to the open-source flying bicycle. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t want one.

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