Articulating Electric Mechanical Wings

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Introduction: Articulating Electric Mechanical Wings

About: Interested in science, aviation, construction, real estate, music and more.

My son Luca has always been interested in science, technology, and engineering, and his project to design and build electric articulating mechanical wings was a great success that is very bird related, so he asked me to help him share the story of his wing design with Instructables readers, from whom we have learned so much over the years. Luca's wings project began with a deep study of bird anatomy, and then focused on developing the mechanics of a working wings prototype. He drew many wing designs (some full size scaled to a human on big rolls of paper taped to the living room floor) and then experimented with plastic straws held together with brads, then Popsicle sticks, then wood sticks, before finally building the wing frame in aluminum u-channel. Luca also began to study several automation and robot websites to learn more about the best way to move the wings, and to ask a lot of questions of experts, and kept all his ideas together in an illustrated invention journal. Luca's wings design, shown in this video, uses two short throw linear actuators, but at the end of this Instructable in the last step, he shows a newer design he made with his sister Allegra, which has a mechanism that uses just one actuator total to open both wings, which cuts down on weight and makes the battery last longer (more openings and closings between recharges). All the linear actuators used have a total throw of 1.5" inches and are 12 volts, but operate just fine at slightly lower voltages.

Step 1: Developing the Wing Mechanics

On the floor at his feet are many small prototypes of the wings mechanics (all rejected). The final design for these articulating mechanical wings was completed over several months in the family garage and dining room, and they are made of aluminum, plywood, fabric, lots of nuts, bolts, washers, lock nuts, nylon spacers, a military grade steel backpack frame, and of course real feathers. The prototype above is in wood and the design had limitations, and was rejected. The final design for these electric wings uses dual short-throw linear actuators along with a small battery clamped to the backpack, and an aluminum wing frame to open smoothly from less than 5’ wide closed to more than a 15’ wingspan.

Step 2: Video Discussion of the Final Aluminum Frame Design

In these videos Luca discusses his design and material decisions regarding the mechanics of the aluminum wing, and shows his prototype wing in testing in the family's crowded garage/ inventor's workshop.

Step 3: Secure the Feathers to the Frame

The wing frame was constructed in the family garage over several months. Here Luca is in a time crunch because his last day of school is tomorrow and he wants to show the wings, so his sister Allegra helped paint and install some of the feathers, which are made from fabric glued to .25" aluminum tubing, cut to shape and then painted in several colors with sponges. The feathers are each attached to the aluminum u channel frame with a small bolt, two washers, a lock washer, and a nut to secure them. At each stage of construction, Luca asked for help from experienced builders and his family, and experimented until the design worked well in wood, before committing to building the final design in relatively expensive aluminum. These wings cost about $200 total in parts to build, and all the parts came from a big box hardware store or the fabric store except the linear actuators and electronics, which cost about $50 online.

Step 4: Wing Mechanics and Construction

The wings were designed to be built from commonly available materials like aluminum u-channel used for screens, common washers, bolts, nuts and nylon spacers - the goals were for the wing mechanism to be strong and light and reasonable in cost. Here is a closeup showing the double structural element design used for the wings, with an assembly of washers, nylon spacers, and locknuts linking to the linear actuator. This design with doubled structural members is much stronger, more rigid and stable than a single u channel would have been, and the design was inspired by the lightweight but still robust construction of an umbrella.

Step 5: The Hand Controller

These wings use two 12 volt, 1.5" throw linear actuators powered by a small battery, and are controlled with a custom hand controller with a rocker switch made to perfectly fit the operator's hand by molding epoxy putty. A small voltage meter is built into the controller to check battery status.

Step 6: Attach Real Feathers to Cover the Mechanism

Once the mechanism was working perfectly, feathers sewed in strips to fabric were added to cover the wing mechanism, battery, and backpack. A military style steel frame backpack was modified and used - the total finished weight is very manageable even by a child.

Step 7: Paint the Feathers in a Naturalistic Design

The feathers were painted on both sides in slightly different colors. Luca chose the colors of a hawk, but you could choose to make a sparrow, or a mockingbird, a parrot, or a dragon! These wings run on a 12 volt battery, normally made for a lawnmower, and are charged with a standard battery charger normally used for charging a motorcycle. When you are done with them for the day (about 50 openings and closings), don't forget to charge the battery by plugging them in!

Step 8: Display to Your 6th Grade Classmates on Last Day of School

Just in time for his last day of school in 6th grade, my son was able to display the wings he had worked so hard to create to his classmates. Look at their faces....:)

Step 9: Take Your Wings Anywhere!

These wings are totally self contained and ready for a day of cosplay and fantasy, and definitely will get you thinking about flying like a bird!

Step 10: Build a Pair of Wings With Your Little Sister

If you are a kid and your sister helps YOU make a pair of electric articulating mechanical wings, don't forget to thank her for pitching in by helping HER build her own wings that are mechanically superior, stronger, faster, lighter, and more beautiful than the first pair you made, in her favorite color, and then wear your fantastic wings together!

21 pictures of the construction process for Allegra's resulting SINGLE ACTUATOR RED WINGS with a refined design are included in the gallery for this last step of this Instructable.

Thanks for reading about this project! We hope this work inspires others to take these wing ideas further. Have no fear of flying too close to the sun like Icarus, and let your imagination guide you to explore and invent! Feel free to use, refine, or modify these designs for all non-commercial purposes. Anyone at any age can learn exciting new things and find solutions to complex problems, and building really cool stuff like these wings is a fantastic way to learn to do research, develop and refine designs, compare and source materials, examine best practices, and gain experience. In our case it was joyous when the wings performed nominally in numerous public demonstrations, and they remain fully functional hanging like superhero suits in the garage! Next project may be to design and 3-D print appropriate "bird helmets." - Marc, Dawn, Luca, and Allegra from Ohio :)

----Final note: We are honored to have received the grand prize in the "For the Birds" contest with so many other beautiful and interesting entries, and we congratulate the other winners and all who participated in the contest!----

For the Birds Speed Challenge

Grand Prize in the
For the Birds Speed Challenge

1 Person Made This Project!

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67 Comments

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schuylergrace
schuylergrace

5 months ago

A quick word of caution here: Many bird feathers are illegal to posses in the U.S., and folks have ended up in expensive legal trouble for using feathers collected in the wild or purchased from less than reputable sources that came from prohibited species. Even a social media post could catch the eye of a federal wildlife official and land you in hot water. But feathers available craft stores are almost certainly fine to use. The most commonly found, legal feathers come from the following birds:
Pheasants
Most Pigeons
Ruffed Grouse
Turkeys
Quail
Chickens
Bobwhite
Eurasian Collared-dove
House sparrow
Mute Swan
Greater Prairie-Chicken
House Crow

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OhioFlyer
OhioFlyer

Reply 5 months ago

These wings are mostly made of aluminum and painted fabric feathers, and also use chicken feathers sewed into strips - not a protected species.

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schuylergrace
schuylergrace

Reply 5 months ago

I assumed they weren't from anything illegal, but I wanted to warn others about this issue. I know a woman who was making dream catchers using feathers she found on walks in nature, which you'd think wouldn't be a problem. The Feds charged her with trafficking in illegal animal parts. The case was eventually resolved with a token fine, but it wasn't a fun time for her. BTW, great work on the wings, both artistically and engineering-wise!

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ArtemisArt
ArtemisArt

8 months ago

wow those would be awsome to cosplay as one of the flock from Maximum ride!!!

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jakkrist
jakkrist

9 months ago

fake green screen

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Keelanclough
Keelanclough

1 year ago

So awesome! My brother and myself cheered when we saw this one won. :) We were hoping it would! You totally deserved it, congrats!

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OhioFlyer
OhioFlyer

Reply 1 year ago

Thank you very much for the compliment - we were honored to win the grand prize with so many other terrific entries!

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Ronna Farley
Ronna Farley

1 year ago

I had no doubt that this Instructable would be the winner!!! Congratulations!!!! This was a fabulous project!!!

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OhioFlyer
OhioFlyer

Reply 1 year ago

Thank you - we are honored to have received the grand prize with so many other beautiful and interesting entries, and we congratulate the other winners and all who participated in the contest!

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Stevens Workshop
Stevens Workshop

1 year ago

Stunning looking piece and a nice detailed Instructable. It's clear where your boy gets his love of mechanics and engineering. A great father son project.

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lucas160
lucas160

1 year ago

I saw you on the news. Everybody liked you. My mom really likes you

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tcspooner
tcspooner

1 year ago on Introduction

Ok, I have to show this to my boy, who is also just finishing his grade 6 year! He just took his own prototype of a wing pack to school, made entirely out of k’nex, but which folds down behind him and then extends longer then his arms. He also took a 4’ long dirigible also made of k’nex that he made with no pattern at all. How he will love your son’s wings, and I know he will be begging his dad to help make some. He dreams of being a dragon, and I can already envision the finished project! Thanks so much for sharing!

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terrefirmax2

What an amazing
story and amazing kid. (And you can give yourself a little pat on the back, dad.)

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welderbot
welderbot

1 year ago

Wow, if only you can make it fly with a person attached to the wings>

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kknicpon
kknicpon

1 year ago on Introduction

I'm just so impressed. My kids are into cosplay and I'm sure they'll be diggin' your instructable just as much as I am! Thank you for sharing.

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ThetaCreative
ThetaCreative

1 year ago

These look fantastic!
I did a similar pair of articulating dragon wings, they look pretty bad and are tiny (I was 9 when I did it and had no help).

20210601_084347.jpg
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snowf7
snowf7

Reply 1 year ago

I am most impressed because you built a whole costume to go with the wings. You are very creative and must have a lot of patience to have done this at such a young age. I hope you continue to use your unique talent as you get older.

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ThetaCreative
ThetaCreative

Reply 1 year ago

That was a few years ago, but thank you for the compliment. :)

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OhioFlyer
OhioFlyer

Reply 1 year ago

Those wings look amazing! Love the whole costume, and its awesome that it includes cool wing tech!