The Ornithopter Jeremy Harris Built

The CHCA wanted to ensure that a wider audience could appreciate the breathtaking scientific and engineering accomplishment of one of our longstanding Colonial Hills neighbors, as reported in the October, 2019 Courier article “The Ornithopter Jeremy Harris Built.” We include some additional information and media after the reprinted Courier article to more thoroughly explain this wonderful result brought to fruition after years of agonizing failures. We hope that some young folks will be inspired by this story of decades of visionary effort, of how science and engineering are actually done, to become scientists and engineers themselves. Enjoy!

*** Reprinted from the October, 2019 Colonial Hills Courier ***

Reported by Ron Sears

This is a story about absolute dedication to accomplish something no one has ever done before. It’s about failing again and again and learning something new each time, until one incredible moment when everything works. It’s about an IMAX film crew no less showing up to film for wide spread publication what everyone expects will be yet another failure after 23 years of failure – but this time, this time, everything works and your creation flies perfectly! And then, with the IMAX cameras rolling again like this happens every day, it flies perfectly a second time.

It’s about two young Battelle engineers, Jeremy Harris and Jim DeLaurier, who many years ago, just for the fun of it, by themselves at first, and later with a team of students at the University of Toronto, took on the engineering challenges to build and demonstrate a new way to make a controlled mechanical system fly literally like a bird. And it’s a story about Colonial Hills since much of the invention, design and testing took place right here on Park Overlook Dr.

An Ornithopter is an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings (Greek ornithos “bird” and pteron “wing”). Jeremy’s project was to build the first one ever to be powered by an internal combustion engine and under control during its flight.

How many of you knew Colonial Hills was where the critical components of the first internal combustion-powered controlled-flight Ornithopter were invented, designed, built and tested? Did you know a massive wooden wind tunnel to test these components once filled most of your neighbor’s basement? It’s gone now, but I can’t help imagining how a Real Estate Agent might describe this feature when selling the home.

Decades of ideas, prototypes, testing, failure, learning and trying again. A break-through patented idea called “shearflex.” Forever patient families making this project part of their vacation schedules as their children grew up. A long series of prototypes the kids took to calling Mr. Bill, since they always ended up crashed and broken in testing. Look up some classic SNL skits if you have never heard of Mr. Bill.

As you continue reading, we invite you to be there the day Mr. Bill flies for the first time, by playing this video which Mr. Harris has generously given us permission to load to the website:
Mr. Bill First Flight
Notes: 1) Please be patient for this 10 minute 0.5 gigabyte video to download to your device for your media player application, possibly a few minutes; 2) If the video plays with only sound, your media player application is missing the MPEG-2 video extension codec, which you need to download from your device’s software vendor – Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc.

As you can see from the video, after some warm up testing, the team moves to the flight test field. Note the Canadian IMAX film crew. Wait for the long absolutely stunned silence when Mr. Bill flies successfully for the first time after 23 years of work, followed by the man screaming and the other man holding him up…. The man screaming is Jim DeLaurier of the University of Toronto. The man holding him up is Jeremy Harris, your neighbor here in Colonial Hills.

And then there’s Jeremy’s design for an inexpensive wooden motor scooter published in Popular Science, and the men who built two of them and rode across a few states to visit Jeremy here in Colonial Hills. But that’s another story.

*** End of Courier Article ***

And here is some information in addition to what was in the Courier. There are three images at the end of this blogpost, including a photo of the project team and visitors on the wonderful day of that first successful remote-controlled powered flight, September 4, 1991 (see the Wikipedia article “Ornithopter”: “ … In 1991, Harris and DeLaurier flew the first successful engine-powered remotely piloted ornithopter in Toronto, Canada. …”)

And you may wish to download Mr. Harris’ detailed history of the project The Mr. Bill Story.

And even though you might want to refresh your definitions of some aeronautical terms (see the Wikipedia “Airfoil” article for more detailed definitions) – such as airfoil (cross-sectional shape of a wing), lift (component of aerodynamic force perpendicular to motion of the airfoil thru the air), (net) thrust, (parasite) drag, and yaw (nose left or right), pitch (nose up or down) and roll (one wing up, the other down) and dihedral (angle of wings above horizontal) –
before reading this history, we think you can still be swept along by this odyssey of defeat and discovery without being an aeronautical engineer. And especially awe-inspiring is the drama of the last section of the story “The Reckoning,” where the plane, which had never before been completely successfully flown, miraculously (or was it just karma?) was flown beautifully twice in a row, on one of the only two possible weather and IMAX film crew time-constrained four-day intervals!

And now for the pics – please click the “Continue reading” link below to see the following photos:

_01 The Diagram of the Ornithopter
_02 The FAI Certificate for “The First Flight Powered by an Internal Combustion Engine” September 4, 1991
_03 First Flight Team Members and Guests, at the Newton-Robinson site shortly after the 9/4/91 flights: Mr. Harris second from left, Dr. DeLaurier third from left.

Ornithopter First Flight
Ornithopter First Flight
Ornithopter First Flight

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