Somewhere around 1996 I got caught up in that Magic: the Gathering card game that was going around like the flu. One of the cards, the Ornithopter, had a picture of a set of wings made from sticks and cloth that I found facisnating. I haven't played the game in years, but that card got stuck in the back of my memory, probably because its name is fun to say.

I've had a resurgence of interest in these devices thanks to the growing popularity of micro air vehicles (MAV), like palm sized helicopters and quadcopters, and suddenly had the need to try build my own ornithopter. This Instructable documents my recent  attempts at crafting my own micro-orithopter from inexpensive components. This is really more of an Instructadon't, as none of these prototypes actually fly. I'm close to having a working version in the air, when that happens l will also create new Instructado using a more conventional format.

Project Goals
  1. Design and fabricate a palm sized flying machine using 3D printed parts
  2. Non-3D printed pieces, such as structural material and electrical components, must be cheap and easily to find.
  3. Printed parts should total no more than $10 when being made from ABS plastic or similar.
  4. Total cost should not exceed $40, including RC.
  5. Design and fabricate a Infra-red receiver and transceiver for remote control
  6. Small is the name of the game! I'm shooting for a wingspan of less than six inches.

Materials Used
  1. Spring Steel, aka Music Wire. hobbylinc.com
  2. Guitar Wire
  3. Miniature Motor, common pager style solarbotics.com
  4. 40mAh Lipo Battery sparkfun.com
  5. Tissue Paper
  6. Plastic Film, various thicknesses
  7. Sewing Pins
  8. Gorilla Glue

Design Software and Tools
Objet Printer
Up3D Printer
123D beta9, Autodesk Inventor Fusion
Dremel, scissors, wire cutters, micro drills

Step 1: Initial Design and Material Testing

While building the first design I had three main objectives: to make a working mechanism, to test different materials for strength and flexibility and, most importantly, to make it look cool. I know next to nothing about the science of flight, so I wasn't all that surprised when the first prototype nose dived. The important thing was that I learned why it was failing and how I might correct it.

In the pictures you can see parts of the ornithopter printed from different materials.  These were all printed on Objet 500 UV cure 3D printers that are able to mix a rigid material with a flexible material while printing. To test these materials  I made several separate prints using different ratios of rigid and flexible at different thickness. The parts were then assembled to a semi-functional state and stress-tested to determine what combination made for the best ornithopter.

The type of material that comes out of these photopolymerization printers is very similar to plastic, but it's not quite the same. Thin pieces tended to be floppy, and thicker parts were prone to snapping. These materials were not intended to be made into mechanical parts. As far as durability was concerned, I was having much better luck with pieces made from ABS plastic printed by an Up3D. ABS is plastic, and I think that will be strong, flexible, and light enough to be used in the final version.

I learned a lot from this first test model. For one, the small gear ratio didn't provide enough  torqueto flap the heavy wings. More importantly, I started to realize that slapping on ad hoc paper wings and expecting the craft to actually fly was a bit optimistic. I did find a suitable material, the gears and linkages were working, but the wings were flat and lifeless. I went back to my virtual drawing board and started on the revisions.

About This Instructable


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Bio: When I was young I took all of my toys apart just to see inside. Eventually I learned how to put them back together.
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