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Category Archives: Biomimicry

WOW it WORKS | ornithopter continuation

wow it works ornithopter

This is part 2 of the Ornithopter project . In part 1 , we managed to build a flapping wing ornithopter using straws , foams , wires and tapes . The ornithopter could not achieve flight though . We identified the problems and continue to work to improve the ornithopter in part 2 . And this is the report for part 2 . And yes , we manage to get little “ORNY” flying .. well a good few seconds of flight !! Its a lot better than previous . Tough project though , but we made it !!

Ornithopter | The problems in part 1

In part 1 we identified 2 major problems . Though we very much wanted to use recycled material , but to get a flying ornithopter , we have to get the right material in order to achieve flight . So here is the list of problems we had earlier on part 1 and the recommendations or solutions that we have in part 2 of this ornithopter project

  • Straws . They are just not strong enough though we used tougher straws from Yakult , the Japanese probiotic milk drink products . With normal household rubberbands , the straws bend under severe stress when we wound up the rubberbands . So we have to explore balsa wood which we did . We use different dimension balsa wood for different areas of the ornithopter .
  • Household rubberbands . They are not thick enough and therefore may not be able to provide sufficient force to turn the crank and to move the “wings” of the ornithopter .  Some hobby shops do sell special rubberbands but those that we used , we have to trim the thickness of the rubberbands by half. Alternatively , we can also source rubberbands used on trousers .

Ornithopter | Parts ,  material and dimensions

Here is the list of parts and their dimensions used on part 2 of the ornithopter .

wow it works


wow it works ornithopterwow it works ornithopter

wow it works ornithopterwow it works ornithopter

Ornithopter | The problems in part 2

As we start to build a flying ornithopter , more problems surface . Here are some of them

  • Choice of glue . Putting the balsa wood together was tough as not only was the wood thin with small surface area , it also has to withstand  the stresses imposed by the rubberbands and also the crashes . So choose a glue that is strong enough that can hold the wood together . In our case , we also had aluminium tubing , used for the crank , that we need to stick onto the balsa wood . So type of glue used is important .
  • Balsa wood . We use balsa wood because it is light and stronger than straws . We have to use different dimension balsa wood  though . For the motor shaft , its needs to be thicker for its needs  to withstand the stress caused by the wound up rubberband . The front connector is thicker to allow more surface area to glue and to secure the aluminium tubing . The wing spars balsa wood are specially selected to  be as light as possible but present enough area to stick the foam onto it . As for the back connector , we tried a design without this back connector to save some weight , but with the wings mounted onto the top wing shaft , the wing shaft just could not take the stress alone . So we had to have this back connector to spread the stress .
  • Rubberbands. Household bands will not do and to create sufficient force to move the crank and the wings , the rubberbands needs to be thicker . But thicker rubberband may not allow us to wind many turns and in our design , it allows a maximum of about 30 turns  . This means that the ornithopter will have a very short flight duration lasting less than 30 flaps . More than 30 turns , the balsa wood and the aluminium tubing holding the crank would experience severe stress
  • Wing flaps . We taped and glued  different types of plastic , paper and foam thickness onto the wing spars to create the wing flaps . Foam of 0.7mm thickness was best because it can retain the shape and form of the wings better than any other material . A 1.0mm foam was simply too tight for the ornithopter  and does not allow the crank to turn freely . It is very important to ensure that the wing flaps is not stressed too tightly especially during the downward movement
  • Wing root . There are 2 ways to secure the wing root . Its either at the top or at the sides of the wing top shaft . We prefer securing the wing root using Yakult straws at the side so that the “Z” shaped wire does not interfere and damaged the foam during flight . This also allows us to glue the entire middle section of the wing flap onto the top wing shift .
  • Aluminium tubing and the metal wire crank . We choose aluminium for the tubing for it is light . Plastic tubing may not last as it will be constantly being rubbed  by the metal crank . This aluminium tubing  is a important piece of the ornithopter because the crank at one end will be pulled by the rubberband leaving the “bend” area of the crank rotating and rubbing against the tubing . If there is a lot of friction in this area , then the crank will not turn smoothly . It is a good practice to add some lubrication to this area to allow the smoother turning of the crank . Also maintain parallel or perpendicular of the crank relative to the other areas of the ornithopter to minimise stress build up . The crank is also the area that will  be easily bend due to crashes or head on collisions experienced by  the ornithopter  .
  • Conrods . The conrods dimensions are dependent very much on the 2 metal Z-shaped  wires “bend length” of the crank and the wings spars . In our case , we find that 1.5cm and 2.0cm works well and the conrod must be able to prop the wings up , above its horizontal wing top shaft

Ornithopter | how to achieve longer flight ?

To achieve longer flight duration , we will need a longer rubber band and therefore a longer motor shaft . This means more back weight added to the ornithopter .  We will also need to increase the wing span to create more lift  but we need to ensure that the rubber band is able to propel the wings sufficiently . What this means is that we need to ensure that the ornithopter is able to create sufficient lift over its entire weight .

Ornithopter | What else needs improvement ?

We certainly would like to add a rudder so that the ornithopter can achieve a straight line flight . We believe that we need to improve the wing design by having a sturdy structure to shape the wings . Well , that’s about it for the ornithopter for the time being !!




WOW it WORKS | Ornithopter


This is our first attempt to design and build an Ornithopter . But first , what exactly in an Ornithopter ? Well an ornithopter is any machine that mimic the flying mechanism of birds by flapping its wings . Ornithopter derives it name from the Greeks  (from Greek ornithos “bird” and pteron “wing”) . Guess who was also fascinated by bird flight ? Yes , Leonardo Da Vinci was also a great fan of this flapping wing machine way back in the 15th century

Ornithopter | What material do we use

ornithoptersMost people would use balsa wood , but we will use straws to  build our models instead . It is important to understand the design and mechanical constraints using models before we build one that can fly .  So for our first model , the material needed will be

  • Straws
  • Foam
  • Galvanised wires
  • tapes

 Ornithopter | Observation and findings

Now we will need to build a bigger model to see things clearer . Since we know from the small model , things aren’t exactly symmetrical and this could pose severe challenges to the final design of a flying ornithopter .Here we focus on the turning radius and its impact to the flapping action of the wings

wow it works ornithopterswow it works ornithopters

It seems that the smaller the radius , the smoother the flapping actions . With a larger radius , from the videos below , note how furious is the downward wing movement . It probably can create a lot more lift with such forceful downward movement but being a  larger radius would also mean  less symmetry , leading to  more problems with balancing and flight  . So we will need to strike a good balance between these 2 conflicting parameters .

 Ornithopter | Design and assembly

wow it worksIn this design , we connect the conrods directly to the wing spars   .  This makes the design simpler and require less mechanical parts ,  unlike the previous design . This will also make the ornithopter more efficient  . We still make use of straws , foams , galvanized wires and tapes for our models . Now the ornithopter is completed , with a wing and a tail added to it . Note that it is not symmetry in nature due to the V-shape conrods and the circular crankshaft assembly .

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To reduce the degree of non symmetry , we use thinner straws , those that we get from Yakult drinks for kids . We added some beads at critical areas to reduce stress build up  and a smaller diameter  galvanized wire thickness


 Ornithopter | what else is needed ?

The current ornithopter will not be able to fly . There are 2 major obstacles that we need to overcome . First is the speed of the flapping wings powered by the rubber bands . The addition of the foam wing reduced the flapping wing speed tremendously , due to its added weight and stress . Second is getting the ornithopter to glide due to the imbalanced in its construction and design . So though we have some ideas how an ornithopter works , we still have a long way to go to get a flying ornithopter  up in the air


Wow it works | MOE Singapore

moe singapore

The “wow it works” program has a close relevancy to the syllabus  dictated by MOE Singapore . We will use the “walkalong glider” as an example how this project can be fitted into MOE Singapore  requirements as “Inquiry based education” for kids .

Wow it works | Walkalong Glider

walkalong glider wow it works

The Walkalong Glider is now available in Singapore …. brought to you specially by WOW !! it WORKS !! program for kids . Enjoy this remarkable thin foam flying objects that mysteriously levitate out of nowhere .

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