Category Archives: History

Holy human-powered flight, Batman!

A Canadian man has become the first human to fly by flapping wings, according to the Toronto Star.

Todd Reichert is an engineer, studying for his PhD at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. He both designed and flew the craft, which is called an ornithopter. Ornithopters are flying machines that are heavier than air and powered with flapping wings, in imitation of birds.

Reichert named his ornithopter “Snowbird”. The machine is built out of balsa wood and carbon fiber – two very light substances. Although Snowbird has a 105-foot wingspan, which is just six feet shorter than the wings of a Boeing 737 jet, the ornithopter only weighs 94 pounds.

Snowbird was towed by an SUV to takeoff (much like you would run with a kite to get it in the air). Then, with Reichert peddling like crazy, the wing-flapping device sustained altitude for 19.3 seconds and carried him 475 feet with an average speed of 16 miles per hour.  The Toronto Star doesn’t say how he landed.

Reichert has now filed a claim for a new world record in human-powered flight.

Here is some historic footage of early attempts at human-powered flight:

Named Magellan: An explorer, a spacecraft, and more

It was on September 20th in 1519 that Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain on the first successful attempt to sail all the way around the world. The word “circumnavigate” is used to describe this feat.

A native of Portugal, Magellan sailed under the Spanish flag with a fleet of five ships and 237 men.

As a result of his successful voyage, his name has come to represent exploration and navigation. NASA launched the Magellan spacecraft in May 1989, on an unmanned exploratory flight to Venus. It arrived at its destination in August of 1990, and for several years, it flew in an orbit around the planet. Cameras on board Magellan took pictures of Venus, enabling scientists to map 98 percent of the planet’s surface.

Scientists are particularly interested in Venus because they believe it to be the planet in the solar system most like our own, Earth.

The Magellan spacecraft’s mission ended with a dramatic flourish when scientists on Earth ordered it to crash-land on the planet’s surface. This allowed the spacecraft to gather data on the planet’s atmosphere on the way down.

Like the Magellan spacecraft, Ferdinand Magellan didn’t make it home, either. He was killed in a battle in the Philipines during his expedition. While he didn’t actually finish circumnavigating the globe, his fleet did. However, only 18 of the 237 men who originally started out on the voyage finished the trip. They arrived home in 1522.

Other things named after Magellan include the Magellanic Clouds, which are dwarf galaxies; the Magellanic Penguin, which he first observed and recorded during his voyage, and a GPS system.