Leonardo da Vinci was the embodiment of the Renaissance man. Although renowned for his painting, da Vinci was also a brilliant scientist and engineer. Beyond his famous paintings such as The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, da Vinci’s diaries reveal his studies and observations in many different fields from anothymia to astronomy, paleontology to philosophy.
Da Vinci specially designed flying machines
The Celestial Screw was born in 1489 when Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci imagined a spiral mechanism that could fly through the skies while he was scribbling on his notebook (as cited in the journal How it works). Probably, the air screw, to which the arms rotated by four people, would power, would take off by rotating around a central shaft. Da Vinci believed that air could be compressed. Just as a screw rotated and thrust into the floor, the machine he built would take off from the ground by “sticking” into the air above it.
However, materials that were strong and light enough to enable this machine to work were not available at that time. Moreover, this vehicle would not have been able to fly for long anyway because once it took off from the ground, it would lack the support structure that it could put pressure on and keep it turning. Da Vinci’s innovative celestial screw may have never lifted off from the ground, but his was the first design to explore the potential of flight through a rotating helix.
Ornithopter emerged with da Vinci’s innovative designs within mechanical wings, inspired by birds soaring in the skies. Da Vinci was observing birds and other animals in flight and was obsessed with developing a mechanism that would allow humans to do the same. One of these ideas was a flying ornithopter by flapping its mechanical wings. Da Vinci had written more than 35,000 words about flying machines and made more than 500 sketches. He understood that birds take advantage of both buoyancy and thrust to fly and balance themselves with their tails and wings. He even hinted at the idea of gravity and said that flying machines should be as light as possible.
His sketches show that he has an understanding of aerodynamics, how airflow can be reduced and flying vehicles cause drag. The only downside was that it was not designed to fly on its own, and the human body was not strong enough to operate such a system.