The Dream of Flying

Page 16




  Meerwin and his ornithopter (1781)  
  Carl Friedrich Meerwine (1737 – 1810) studied mathematics, physics and engineering in his youth. After a degree in civil engineering he began to work as master builder for the Marquis of Baden.

In addition to his professional duties he worked passionately with the problem of flying. He rejected the balloon as the solution as it was impossible to steer. He studied the birds and how they flied and calculated the wing area that, in his view, was necessary for a man to fly. For a man of his weight it would have been 12 m˛. The maximum total weight of himself as the pilot and the weight of the flying machine would have been 100 kg. He called the aircraft he designed “ornithopter”. Today we would call it a combination of ornithopter and glider. 

The pilot hanged under the centre of gravity of the wings in a special dress. The machine was controlled with help of the extended legs of the dress and their feet, on which swan feathers were fastened. The wings were also moveable, thus imitating a bird. However, Meerwine underestimated the force which would have been necessary to move the wing enough to fly.

It is said that he made a successful flight with one of his ornithopters in 1781. Probably he made one or two short glides, possibly combined with flapping. Without any tail or other auxiliary surfaces his flights could not have been very long.

According to other sources he failed with flight tests in 1784 and 1785.

A flight apparatus Meerwine constructed was found in the end of the 19th century by a grandson, over 100 years after it was built.





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© Lars Henriksson

Updated 2009-05-13