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Did Da Vinci Fly?

A huge metamorphosis in Leonardo's approach to flying machines and flying occured as he went from the theory of flight to actually attempting flight. In his early designs, if you scroll down to the six graphics below, the platform model for example, seen in the upper left hand corner and the close up of the cockpit detail in the graphic farther below, although it looks as though it could possibly work, in reality it was way too heavy. The center graphic with the blue background, shows a later design and the one Leonardo used for his first flight attempt as outlined in the "Did Leonardo Da Vinci Fly?" link found on the Da Vinci Glider page also linked below. He soon learned imitating the way birds glide rather than human powered wing motion was the way to go if any substained flight for any extended period was expected. His next step would be not imitating nature at all but designing and building winged gliders exclusively by and for human use in mind.

Glider with maneuverable tips

Thus, sensing the difficulties involved in accomplishing the great dream of flying with human-powered machines, Leonardo started to study gliding flight more thoroughly. In the glider designed by him, the flier's position is conceived in such a way as to allow him to balance himself by adequately moving the lower part of his body. The wings, an imitation of the wings of bats and of large birds, are fixed in their innermost section (closest to the person) and mobile in their outer section. The latter in fact can be flexed by the flier by means of a control cable maneuvered through handles. Leonardo had developed this solution after having studied the structure of birds' wings and having observed that the inner part of their wings moved more slowly than the outer part and that, therefore, the function of this part was to sustain rather than to push forward.

Codex Atlanticus, Folio 846 v.

Drawing in sanguine and pen. The folio contains three drawings of articulated wings, operated by means of belts strapped to the legs and body of the flier. Leonardo streamlined the wing structure to its simplest form, with wings attached directly to the flier's body (ornithopter). The note in the margin, added at a later stage, does not refer to the drawings described but contains remarks on the motion of water flowing from the mountains. For a larger and clearer image of the same drawing click the center image of the second row below.

Codex on the Flight of Birds, Folio 11 v.

Modern day tester designed to test the articulated wing.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 1058

In his notes, Leonardo remarks that, with a linen curtain shaped into a pyramid having a base 12 yards (about 7 metres) across and equally deep, if it is stiffly held open, "ognuno si potrÓ gettare da qualsiasi altezza senza alcun rischio" (anyone can jump from no matter what height without any risk whatsoever).

Drawing from Il Codice Atlantico di Leonardo da Vinci nella biblioteca Ambrosiana di Milano, Editore Milano Hoepli 1894-1904. The original drawing is kept in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. See: Da Vinci's Parachute Flies.

More of Leonardo da Vinci's Study of Flight

Flying Machine Wing on Block Structure of Wing

A Flying Machine. 1490
Pen and ink
Leonardo intended the aviator
to lie prone, working the wings
with his legs and arms.

A Wing on a
Test Block
Pen and ink

Study of the Structure
of a Wing. 1490
Pen and ink
"Dissect the bat...and on this
model arrange the machine"

Flying Machine 2 Control of a Wing Flying Machine 3

Drawing of a Flying Machine
Pen and ink
"Observe how the beating of its
wings against the air suffices to
bear up the weight of the eagle"

Study of the Construction
and Control of a Wing
Pen and ink
A batlike wing with
flexible construction.

Drawing of a Flying
Machine with Operator
Pen and ink
"The great bird will
take its flight"

Click pictures for larger images

Did Leonardo's machines actually work, that is, did Da Vinci fly?
(please click)

For animated version click HERE. Requires loading time of approximately 2 minutes.

For a second version click HERE. Also requires approx 2 minutes.


The Wanderling writes of his childhood attempt at flight following a Da Vinci design:

"My uncle drew a lifesize outline of the craft on the floor of the studio and from that the machine grew into an over fifteen-foot wingspan glider capable of supporting a man--OR a young boy like myself--in flight. I am not sure what his exact plan for the machine was, but one day without my uncle's knowledge a friend of mine and I hauled it out of the studio and up to the top of the second story apartments across the compound, and hanging on for dear life, launched it."

"Initially the flight played out fairly well, picking up wind under the wings and maintaining the same twostory height advantage for some distance. Halfway across busy Arlington Street though, the craft began slowing and losing forward momentum. It began dropping altitude rapidly, eventually crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house across the way. Other than a few bruises and a wrecked machine, nothing was broken, although as it turned out, my dad wasn't nearly as proud of me as intended. I never forgot the thrill of that flight and carried that thrill and Leonardo's dreams into my adulthood."(source)



Cockpit Detail provided through the gracious services of:
INCUNABULA Museum Series

Animated Bat GIF provided through:
Wonka School and Willys Classroom


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