Leonardo da Vinci made the first real studies of flight in the 1480s. He had over 200 drawings and sketches that illustrated his theories on flight. His ornithopter flying machine was an aircraft that would fly by flapping its wings, a design he created to show how humans could fly. It even had a sophisticated flight control system; however, this design was never built by the designer. Yet, as one of da Vinci’s most famous inventions, the ornithopter displays his powers of observation and imagination, as well as his enthusiasm for the potential of flight. The design for this invention is clearly inspired by the flight of winged animals, which da Vinci hoped to replicate. In his notes, he mentions bats, kites, and birds as sources of inspiration. In mythology, the idea of constructing wings in order to resemble the flight of birds dates to the ancient greek legend of Daedalus (Greek demigod engineer) and Icarus (Daedalus’s son).
The Museum’s display is a model of an ornithopter built by John Lichtenburg, and was derived from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs.