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Skybird RC Ornithopter

by Pteryx Model Aircraft, product review by Nathan Chronister, editor of the newsletter Flapping Wings

Skybird RC Ornithopter by Pteryx Model AircraftThis fall, visitors at the National Model and Hobby Show in Chicago were stunned by the first public appearance of a long awaited radio controlled ornithopter (flapping wing aircraft) kit. Sean Kinkade of Pteryx Model Aircraft has been developing the kit since the successful flight of his VT1 prototype in 1997.

Skybird, the new kit, has several improvements over Sean's earlier successful ornithopters. The precision CNC mechanism, made at Sean's own facility in Florida, has been refined for maximum reliability and performance. The wing design has also been improved over the Spencer-type wing Sean began with. The kit wings include performance enhancing features as well as a slotted wingtip resembling feathers. Sean said the feathers are for looks and have little effect on performance.

A new control system gives the RC pilot authoritative control over the aircraft. One channel controls the throttle of the powerful 0.15 RC car engine. The other two channels control the pitch and tilt of a triangular tail, which directs the flight of the ornithopter without resorting to ugly hinged surfaces. The kit features an automatic gliding system that engages when the engine is idle. Flapping can be resumed in mid flight just by increasing the throttle.

Skybird RC Ornithopter by Pteryx Model AircraftSean said his goal in developing this kit was not to get it on the market as soon as possible, but to ensure that the quality of the kit would equal or surpass that of other RC products. Having some skill in marketing as well as being a brilliant engineer, Sean knows that an RC ornithopter kit will not succeed on uniqueness alone. It must also be a great-flying, hassle-free aircraft. For that reason, Pteryx is offering the ornithopter as an ARF (almost ready to fly) kit, with the most difficult assembly steps already completed.

Skybird has a 2.4 meter wing span and ultra light construction. The huge wing area and weight of only about 2 kg allow slow glides and safe landings on grass. Yet it is also a stable, powerful flier that can tolerate moderately windy flying conditions.

The kit is priced in the same range as good RC helicopters. You shouldn't expect a piece of custom built, precision engineered machinery like this to be cheap. But while an RC helicopter will get you a lot of attention at the flying field, this thing will stop traffic and get you on the local news. It 's also a lot easier to fly, with controls similar to an airplane. Sean has made several demonstration flights since the trade show in Chicago, wowing audiences each time.

Nathan Chronister