Human powered flights can exceed 74 miles in length and gain more widespread adoption in years to come. Watch this video on hummingbird flight from PBS. Pay attention to the slowed motion of wing movements and you will see the simplicity of the pattern. You will understand how engineers at Aerovironment have been able to successfully recreate this motion with robo-hummers. A simple and demonstrably safe testing platform for human-sized, bio-inspired ornithopters could be on a bungee suspended from a span in well understood air patterns. In this position, mimic outfits of several different species could be evaluated inexpensively by ice-climbing, kayaking, slack-lining grad students such as my neighbors, or Mike Hay, for their effectiveness. Testing could progress to catapult, ramp, or spring-assisted launches over water with the aim to fly at very low altitudes to model advantages known to pelicans, gannets, boobies and the herons (A. herodias is a remarkble flier). The Feather Atlas is a resource for those interested in precisely scaling the flight feathers of a number of different species. Talos Perdix offers a comprehensive course in large mass ornithopter design, and Douglas George and Ted Ciamillo have embarked on an effort to create a falcon inspired human-piloted ornithopter. While a great deal of work remains to be done, it is clear that there is a way for us into the air in ever greater droves. Up is the direction we’re heading as a species.
I’ve felt that in order for this effort to move forward quickly, people would need to collaborate with each other publicly (ala Wikinomics) without much regard for personal financial gain. That appears to be happening in a number of places right now. Could we be getting ready to make a huge evolutionary leap as a species? Scientists of all disciplines are helping us grasp our biological history. Through our work on brain physiology, genetic engineering, and personal fabrication it follows that we’ll each enjoy markedly different and much madder skills in our rapidly warming future. ‘Extreme’ flying can be part of that future in the short term.