Froebe Ornithopter

  • Status: On display

    In Pursuit of Flight…

    A dream first imagined by Leonardo da Vinci – the pursuit of a mechanical flapping-wing airplane, or ornithopter, has been a centuries-long pursuit.

    Our ornithopter was designed and built by Doug Froebe – the middle brother of Nick and Theodore – in the 1930s. It was powered by the pilot’s feet pumping the pedals. It never flew. The other brothers realized their claim to fame by building Canada’s first helicopter known as the Froebe Helicopter.

    Decades Later

    On July 8, 2006, the Toronto Star reported that “Dr. James DeLaurier, an aeronautical engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, fulfilled a lifelong dream, seeing his manned mechanical flapping-wing airplane, or ornithopter, fly.”

    And with the successful flight, DeLaurier has been lucky enough to touch what many describe as the Holy Grail of aeronautical design, achieving a place for himself, his team of volunteers and students in aviation history. The flapper, as it’s affectionately known, sustained flight over about a third of a kilometre for 14 seconds at about 10:20 am before being hit by a crosswind and almost flipping over, damaging the nose and front wheel on the runway at Downsview Park.

    But the flight was long enough to prove DeLaurier’s mechanical flapping-wing design for a manned, jet-boosted aircraft works. The successful test flight was longer than the first powered flight by aviation pioneers the Wright Brothers in December 1903 that lasted 12 seconds over a windswept beach in North Carolina.


    An Ornithopter is defined as a heavier-than-air craft designed to achieve flight by flapping its wings.

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