Leonardo Da Vinci Flying Machine Designs: Leonardo’s Dream Machines
Could the thought of a Leonardo Da Vinci flying machine have caused the enigmatic smile on Mona Lisa’s face?
Perhaps before she posed for the master, Da Vinci had shared with her his dream of human flight. Perhaps he’d shown her some of his sketches – maybe the sketch of his ornithopter, or maybe his helicopter or parachute.
Maybe her oh-so-slight smile let slip her own fantasy of flight. Could it be that she was dreaming of soaring among the clouds, even as the most advanced aeronautical scientist of the age was painting her portrait?
On the other hand, perhaps the wee little smile that has enchanted countless art lovers for hundreds of years simply betrays her mirth at Leonardo’s crazy dreams of flight.
After all, in the early 16th century – nearly 400 hundred years before the Wright Brothers first flight - the notion of human flight must have been regarded as wildly eccentric, at best.
All silliness aside, though, one thing’s for certain: whether Leondardo Da Vinci shared his dream of flight with his muse (if, indeed, she was a real person and not a fantasy), the dream was quite serious for Da Vinci.
He believed that humans could fly, and would fly. And he had some pretty interesting notions as to how that might happen.
Da Vinci Flying Machine Designs: The Da Vinci Ornithopter
An ornithopter is a flying machine that obtains its lift and thrust by the flapping of its wings, just like a bird.
Modeling their designs after birds seemed a logical step for early aeronautical engineers, and this is the path Da Vinci took for one of his dream designs.
The Da Vinci ornithopter was to be powered by one man – one very busy man! The pilot of Da Vinci’s ornithopter was to power the flapping of the wings by pedaling with his legs and turning a crank with his hands. Steering was to be accomplished with the pilot’s head.
So far as we know, no attempt was ever made by Da Vinci to build a working model of his design. But modern aerodynamicists tell us that it would never have gotten off the ground. More energy would have been required than one human could possible provide.
But Leonardo didn’t totally miss the mark with this design concept, because he was absolutely correct – human powered flight is possible. In fact, it’s been done. An airplane powered solely by a human has even flown across the English Channel.
And interestingly, aerodynamicists are still working on practical ornithopter designs, because ornithopters may offer maneuverability and energy efficiency that can’t be matched by fixed wing designs.
Turns out that Leonardo was on the right track after all.
Da Vinci Flying Machine Designs: The Da Vinci Helicopter
Da Vinci’s concept for vertical flight involved a human powered helical air screw. Da Vinci’s helicopter was to be powered by 4 men, and the massive air screw would have been about 15 feet in diameter.
The machine was never built, but would it have flown?
Again, disregarding any other design flaws, 4 humans couldn’t possibly have generated enough energy for flight.
But in terms of concept, Da Vinci really wasn’t far off the mark. His air screw was intended to achieve flight by thrusting air downwards, which is exactly how modern helicopters create lift.
And the air screw concept is employed every day by thousands of machines world-wide to provide thrust by developing horizontal lift in propeller-powered aircraft.
It’s the same aerodynamic concept as Leonardo’s air screw (and propellers are even called airscrews in some parts of the world).
Da Vinci Flying Machine Designs: The Da Vinci Parachute
Da Vinci even came up with a design for a parachute. It would have been a rigid wood-framed structure, pyramid shaped with a width at the base of more than 20 feet, and covered with linen.
Could it have worked?
It not only could have worked, it has worked.
In 2008, Adrian Nicholas jumped from more than a mile above the earth under a chute built to Da Vinci’s specifications.
It worked perfectly.
It’s A Shame Da Vinci Was Never Able To Experience Flight…
Just as Da Vinci was ahead of his time as a dreamer and as an aeronautical engineer, he also seemed to have an extraordinary grasp of what the achievement of flight would mean to mankind.
Those of us who love to fly understand exactly his famous quote: “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”
How could he have known?
Do You Have Comments or Experiences to Share About This Topic?
Do you have thoughts, comments, experiences with this topic? We'd love for you to share!