Following in the success of the Dr. Paul B. MacCready‘s 1985 flying Quetzalcoatlus ornithopter (Fig. 4), a few years ago there was an attempt at getting another very complex pterosaur ornithopter to fly.
Margot Garritsen is a Dutch engineer and Stanford professor who led a team intent on building a flying pterosaur based on Paul Sereno’s ornithocheirid from the Sahara. They were counting on greater success with lighter materials and a more accurate wing movement with not one, but five wing joints for flight control. Several paleontologists were team members and Hall Train provided some of the mechanics. So it had everything going for it. The project was featured in the IMAX film “Sky Monsters.”
the new and improved ornithopter failed to flap and failed to fly.
Another inventor, Kazuhiko Kakuta
using a much simpler design (Figs. 2, 3), created a successfully working ptero-ornithopter.
Cheaper. Simpler. Less accurate.
Actually, almost nothing is more pterosaur-like than bird-like here other than the fashioned crest. The key here appears to be the successful creation of sufficient thrust and lift without a cambered airfoil — as in any toy bird-like ornithopter.
For those interested ornithopters are explained here.
An efficient flapping wing must be able to flex and/or rotate: if a static wing is kept at the same angle while moving up and down, it will produce no net lift or thrust. Flexible wings can attain efficiency while keeping the driving mechanism simple. In Ornithopters its the ventral and dorsal curling of the wing during flapping that changes the wing shape and creates lift and thrust.
Read about the model maker here with his other pterosaur YouTube videos listed.
Most ornithopters have extremely simple motions and deep chord wing shapes.
What would happen if the wing had a camber, a narrow chord and a spoon-shaped wing tips, as in pterosaurs? So far, except for the MacCready invention (Fig. 4), no one has built a short chord. long wing ornithopter and even the MacCready invention did not have the proper pterosaur wing shape and leg configuration.
So there’s an opportunity here to do something great for an engineering student: replicate a real pterosaur and make it flap using simple ornithopter techniques.
Dr. Paul B. MacCready is famous for creating a dang big ornithopter the size and shape of a Quetzalcoatlus back in 1985. Here it is on YouTube. Here is a pdf of the project. It flew very successfully. There’s a Popular Science article here about MacCready’s work.
It would have been better to extend those hind limbs like horizontal stabilizers on airplanes (Fig. 5), but they were listening to Kevin Padian back then and he saw pterosaurs as very bird-like. Now that we know they were more lizard-like, pterosaur configurations have changed.
For a change of pace, here’s a video that shows a small simple pterosaur-shaped airplane powered by propellers. So basically, it’s an airplane.