Dragonfly-Inspired Aircraft Performs Controlled Flight

A flying machine resembling the works of Da Vinci hit the skies in Russia last month.
Chris Young
The ornithopter, SerenityRC Ornithopter/YouTube

Some of the earliest recorded aircraft designs, including the ones depicted in Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches, were ornithopters — machines that incorporated flapping wings, much like birds and insects, in order to lift into the air.

Now, hundreds of years later, a team of engineers in Russia returned to those insect-inspired roots with a dragonfly-like ornithopter, called Serenity, a Gizmodo report points out.

With its approximately 3.5-meter-long (10 feet) fuselage, three sets of flapping wings, and a network of batteries, wires, and linkages, Serenity impressively achieves lift and can remain airborne using a flapping flying motion.

As the video attests, the flapping does make for a rough ride, and any potential scaled-up passenger version of Serenity might need some kind of gyroscope mechanism to stabilize the fuselage.

Could we see ornithopter flying taxis?

Could we actually see any practical use cases for such a design in the future? In a separate video, one of Serenity's engineers speaks of a "synergy" with today's drone designs.

An aircraft that relies on the movement of its wings for lift does have the potential to greatly reduce noise pollution when compared to a jet engine or propeller machine — though Serenity's squeaking wings do currently sound somewhat like a car alarm.

As ornithopters technically have the capacity to flap their wings and hover, an advanced ornithopter might also allow for greater maneuverability, similar to that of a UAV or a helicopter.

In fact, one group of researchers actually designed a flapping wing drone to imitate the maneuverability of the world's fastest bird, the swift.

What's more, a UAV flying taxi revolution is just around the corner fueled by innovative designs by the likes of GKN Aerospace and Lilium Aviation

Of course, one could argue that for passengers, ornithopters provide a much more cumbersome, less efficient design than that of helicopters and UAVs — and they'd probably be right. Still, that likely won't stop the crazy dreamers from trying.

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