Make an Ornithopter/chirothopter

About: Scientia est potentia

this instructable shows how to create an ornithopter or chirothopter (mechanical bird/bat)

this is my first instructable and i decided to make this page after i had finished the project so bear with me

some facts:
ornithopters were originally designed by the great Leonard da vinci.
the word ornithopter opter comes from the latin and/or greek root words Orni meaning: bird and thopter meaning: mechanical flapping wing, chiro means: hand
though many small working models have been constructed, no life sized, motor powered machines, have ever been able to achieve sustained flight

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Step 1: Gather Your Parts

you will need :

balsa wood
wood glue
tape/hole reinforcer

(optional) to make life easier
super glue
some kind of wing membrane
electric motor
small gear
large gear
battery snaps
9v battery
spst switch
660 resistor


exacto knife
soldering iron

total cost: $30+
________w/o any tools or suplies

Step 2: Tail

begin the project by cutting a tail for your machine. make sure it is not too long or heavy!!!

add an upright dorsal fin to the end of the tail. make sure to leave room for a motor.

cut a small triangle out of the main tail piece at about 5/8" away from the beginning of the dorsal fin

make two long and somewhat thin strips of wood, fit the corners of the pieces into the cut-out rectangle and glue them at your desired angle.

if you want you can put a wing membrane on these as show

ignore the top two fins and clips, those are for later

Step 3: Base

the base that this page shows can come in handy during construction and for display

cut or make a large piece of wood keeping the tail in mind for the size.
make one 3 1/2" stand and one 4" stand, cut a small rectangle out of the tops and glue them onto the best side of the base but make sure the tail can fit inside the rectangles and sit on them as shown.

ignore the small box and wire, that is for later

Step 4: Select Your Gear Mechanism

there are about 3 major wing mechanism designs out there. the first and most common has two arms branching off of one rotating arm, the two arms connect to there own wings which share a pivot at one end. the next and most practical is a combination of the other two types but uses two motors. this allows for more maneuverability during flight it consists of a motor rotating an arm that makes another move up and down and then is connected to another for control and is then connected to a wing. this is repeated on the other wing. the last design, which i am showing how to make, is basically the third but it uses one motor and connects to the end of a wing and not the middle.

there are two ways to shorten the third mech design. each is pictured below, i will show how to make the one on the right.

if you have decided to use one of the other designs all i can tell you is that the first main arm needs to be significantly shorter than the others and to keep the dimensions in mind. you can skip to step 6. i also recommend going to and using the flap design software

Step 5: Mechanism Construction

begin by making two arms. they can be any six but one must be twice as long as the other
eg. 20mm & 40mm
carefully make a hole at both ends of each arm if you feel your splitting the wood, wrap the end with scotch tape to reinforce the hole
put the two arms together at one end and put a toothpick through both holes to form a hinge but leave about 10mm space in between the two arms. trim the tooth pick so it leaves just a little more than required. if necessary glue a block to both ends of the toothpick.

glue the optional large gear to the small arm so that the holes line up

place the conjoined pieces on a piece of wood in an L shape. move the long arm so that it looks like an upside-down 7. cut the wood it is on in a T shape around the arms leaving at least 1mm extra at both ends. this will become the face.

Step 6: Wing Construction

make two thin strips of wood at the length of your choice

poke a hole at 1.5 x the smallest arms leagnth from one end of both strips. cut a 3mm X (length of smallest arm) rectangle in the strips with the hole at the center (this is for smoothness)

at the end of the strip poke a hole and hinge the two wings together with an excevly large toothpick. (for the guide)

you can add wing membrane now if you want, use whatever you want. i used a slanted piece of wood, a paper clip , and wax paper.

poke a 2 holes at 1.5 X (the length of the first arm) from the center of the T shaped piece/wood face, put a toothpick in and put the conjoined wings in so the toothpicks are in the rectangles.

Step 7: Mechanism Guide

you will need to have a guide for your mechanism otherwise the arms will be going everywhere.

i suggest making a tall 1/2" wide piece of wood and then poking two hole in it and placing the toothpicks in the holes. remember when i said to make the wing joint excessively long, well this is what you need it for. place that long joint in-between the two toothpicks. glue the piece to your models face,"you may need to add an extension to the face."

Step 8: Attaching Face

first, set the arms so that when the wings are perfectly flat, that the arms make a perfect upside down 7
make a hole in the face plate that lines up with the small arm/gear's hole when in this position
place a toothpick through all the holes. stop when the toothpick starts to slant into a point.
glue a Block onto the top of the pick so that it cant go any farther through the hole.

right above the gear and arm, make a long thin oval cut. this will be use for the second gear.

now, glue the face plate to the tail, " if impatient, use super-glue to quickly bond and then reinforce with wood glue" be sure to leave just enough room for the toothpick.

add in small triangle shaped wood pieces to reinforce the face

Step 9: Motor and Cage

find a good motor and small gear. put the matal rod of the motor through the oval cut made in step 8. attach the small gear to the rod and move them both up and down the cut so that you find a good spot where the big and small gears mesh. glue the motor to the face but make sure not to make the motor jam or stick.

while waiting for glue to dry, take a piece of wood and make a curve shape that could fit around the motor. cut out an inside curve from this piece so that it fits snugly on the motor but can touch both the tail and face. glue it on.

Step 10: Test, Trim, and Decorate

test your motor with the battery you are going to use. i used a 9v but you can use whatever you like.

if it doesn't work, you may need to get a new motor or change your gear ratio. my gear ratio is about 14:4

if it works but is a little jerky, try sanding the hinge holes or adding blocks hear and there

if it works then congratulations!! you have officially made a chirothopter, or if you used feathers on your wings, an ornithopter, and if it has two sets of wing then its an entomopter.

you can now decorate your model by staining it or adding twine or painting, or like i did, add a control box to the base for wired ground control and display(next step)

Step 11: Control Box

if you chose to make this part you will be able to turn on/off your ornithopter as-well as control the speed and if you've decided to use a lithium rechargeable battery you can charge it.

for this you will need the optional:
battery snap
potentiometer/variable resistor
bottle cap
spst switch
660 resistor
alligator clips

begin by cutting 5 pieces of wood for a box, a top and four sides. the bottom is the base
near the center of the top piece cut a round hole fr the potentiometer. make sure its a snug fit
make sure the potentiometer is in the position you want it in for turning.
make a rectangle hole for the switch above the potentiometer. on one side of the switch, make a small hole for the LED
before soldering, make a hole in your back panel and thread your wire and battery snap
through it.
now solder it together in the configuration shown bellow.

glue the box together and glue it to the base. take your bottle cap and poke a hole in the side. thread a short toothpick through the hole and glue it to the top of the potentiometer

on the model, add alligator clips to your circuit for an easy connection

Step 12: Video

here is the you-tube video of it

FYI i use Microsoft Sam's voice for the talking



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    40 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    The biggest problem you are probably having is a wing to body ratio... Your wings aren't nearly big enough to lift that body, plus your motor and battery is way too heavy. From the looks of it, you are just using a DC motor you salvaged, and those can be useful, but not for flight. You should try looking into RC aircraft motors, they are much lighter as they are meant to fly.

    An easy way to get one would be to buy a cheap RC helicopter, and just take out the electronics. That way, you would have one motor to power the wings, and one to steer. (And a remote to control it.)

    Your mechanics are impressive for a beginner, and you should keep up the good work!

    (FYI I fly model airplanes in a club. They are a bit different, but same basic principle)

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Hello, martzsam! I know, your comment is very old and the chance, that you read my answer, is very small,but may be you can give some advices about the wing size and weight for ornithopter?

    toby quemartzsam

    Reply 3 years ago

    Well I know how to solve that problem. Just use capacitors instead of batteries, use balsa wood or bambbo strips for the body, plastic or paper for the wings, and just use the small type of motor used in small electric toys.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    first of all wikipedia cannot be trusted because it can be edited by anyone. second of all, no they didn't. only one actually got a foot off the ground before crashing while the others simply got up to take off speed. but thanks for the compliment


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Ah ornithopters are such a reality you can buy a toy that flies. take your pick parrot or dragon Fly. the technology is well understood - Yes no man carrying ornithopter exists but the models fly well.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    oh and another thing, the 1942 ornithopter was technically not an ornithopter because along with moving wings, it had too use fixed wings. and the 2006 flight required a jet engine at the back. the others are man powered but i will still change the quote to say

    no life sized, motor powered machines, have ever been able to achieve sustained flight


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    If it's pushed by a flapping action, it's an ornithopter, but I'll let you argue that one out with the ornithopter-building community:

    With a 3 hp Sachs motorcycle engine, and presumably wheels added, the ornithopter was able to take off unassisted from the ground. It made a quiet 15-minute flight at about 60 kilometers per hour. Then a 6 hp engine was installed, increasing the speed to 80 kph. After these historic accomplishments, Schmid's work was interrupted by the war.

    By 1947, however, Schmid had constructed a second ornithopter. This one, a modified Grunau-Baby IIa sailplane, was constructed with flapping outer wing sections. Using a 10 hp engine, this double-seater was capable of speeds estimated at 100 to 120 kilometers per hour.

    Yves Rousseau attempted his first human-powered flight with flapping wings in 1995. On 20 April 2006, at his 212th attempt, he succeeded in flying a distance of 64 metres, observed by officials of the Aero Club de France. Unfortunately, on his 213th flight attempt, a gust of wind led to a wing breaking up, causing the pilot to be gravely injured (paraplegic). M. Rousseau deserves international recognition for his 13 years of work on human-powered ornithopter flight.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    as i said before, a combination of wings does not count, and if it did, it would be more of a very strange enomopter (mechanical bug)

    i also already said that i was changing the quote to say motor powered, but either way, human power is quite impratical. first off youd have to be in top shape for a single flight, and once airborn, your body would tire easily from a mixture of bouncing in and out of altitudes and the lack of oxygen from being higher up. besides, i would like to see you try to get a 747 off the ground on man power alone,


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    ... a combination of wings does not count ...

    If it counts for the main ornithopter-makers' site, it counts for me.

    ...motor powered...

    You didn't read my first quote, did you?

    Or don't you consider a 10hp engine to be motor powered? And that's with the main lift-providing wings flapping, not a secondary set, so it satisfies all your criteria. Or does 15min+ at 120kph not count as "sustained" in your dictionary?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    There weren't so many video cameras around in 1910, so this modern replica of a full-sized flying original will have to do:


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    did you not see how at the beginning the wings did absolutely nothing but as soon as the propeller kicked on, it sped off. i also believe that it could not have flown without the top wings. now that i see a propeller, i can tell you that its neither an ornithopter,entomopter or airplane. its some unnamed contraption.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Idk about the whole issue at hand, but the video had a propeller. Secondly they have made a full sized ornithopter (Or whatever) thirdly, you'd have to define wings then, Your version has tail fins, those look like fixed wings. The real full sized one looks like a regular airplane, but the wings are raised up higher. a piston behind the cab makes both wings move up and down. Just putting it out there