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STEAM like Leonardo

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You’ve probably heard of Leonardo’s pioneering "flying machine" designs made 400 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight – pretty impressive. Focusing on friction and resistance, Leonardo hoped that one day he could teach us all to fly like birds, but he quickly realised that human strength alone could not lift us from the ground. So, he began to look at birds’ wings and other types of wings that might one day make a flying machine.

Leonardo da Vinci produced more than 35,000 words and 500 sketches dealing with flying machines, the nature of air, and bird flight.
He invented machines to fly and travel inspired by birds. Some of its machines are: airplanes, gliders, parachute or helicopter,
Leonardo developed also different types of wings, like the one in the shape of a bat and uses different materials, the wood of spruce, the moleskin covered with feathers and taffeta starched stretched over a loose network.



What kinds of flying machines did da Vinci come up with?

The first approach of Leonardo with the design of flying machines came in 1485 with the realization of a prototype of parachute.

How did Leonardo da Vinci explore flight?

Leonardo observed the flight of the birds that inspired his work. He observed flying birds in the hills near Fiesole outside of Florence.

Leonardo was studying how birds flapped their wings, how they controlled their flight with their wings and tail, and how they were able to soar in wind without flapping their wings.

This seems to have led him to try and build a human powered flying machine with flapping wings, which we now call an ornithopter. He studied the strength of humans and tried to figure out how to power an ornithopter's wings using a person's strength and mechanical leverage. He also sketched and designed gliders. After he realised how difficult it would be for a human to power an ornithopter, he seems to concentrate on the details of soaring birds to discover how they flew without flapping their wings.

Another idea was based on the same principle of resistance: the so-called screw air. It was designed between 1483 and 1486 during the first stay in Milan, the screw air belongs to the first series of machines designed by Leonardo for the flight mechanic. Made of cane, linen and iron wire, the facility should be driven by four men who were supposed to stand with their feet on the central platform and to rotate the shaft with their hand’s strength.

Aerial screw - helicopter

Diagrams of constructions like these were the result of exhaustive observation of the movements of birds to examine how the wings achieved flight.

Sketches of wing designs for proposed flying machine by Leonardo da Vinci

Vertical “ornitottero”

In this flying machine wings are arranged in pairs. The pilot is in a vertical position at the center of a complex system for the transmission of the movement. This machine not only uses the force of arms and legs but also that given by the head. The stairs are retractable and equipped with dampers.

Drawing of a Flying Machine with Operator 1500

Sketch for a wing with moveable ends - Codex Atlanticus

He thought he had everything ready, and he had already designed drawings Inspired by the flight of birds and insects. Most of Leonardo's aeronautical designs were ornithopters, machines that employed flapping wings to generate both lift and propulsion.



Why did Leonardo da Vinci think his ornithopter would work?

Originally Da Vinci wished to emulate birds and bats, so he designed a contraption that would allow its wearer to flap their wings in order to create thrust. Da Vinci's design of a man-powered ornithopter.

Wooden structures formed the body of the flying machine it was given a coating of cloth onto which a layer of feathers.

Leonardo da Vinci studied bird flight to learn how a person might take flight. He studied birds to be able to invent flying machines inspired by birds.

+ Codex of flight


Codex on the Flight of Birds

Leonardo produced one short codex almost entirely on the subject in 1505-1506, the Codex on the Flight of Birds.

In this work, compiled during the same period as the Mona Lisa was painted, we see some of the ideas and observations by Leonardo about flight that were more forward looking than his better known earlier ornithopter drawings. In the Codex, da Vinci discusses the crucial concept of the relationship between the center of gravity and the center of lifting pressure on a bird’s wing. He explains the behavior of birds as they ascend against the wind, foreshadowing the modern concept of a stall.

Leonardo da Vinci starting to examine the natural world of fluids and flow in detail. He observed natural phenomena in the visible world. His contributions to fluid mechanics are presented in a nine part treatise that covers water surfaces, movement of water, water waves, eddies, falling water, free jets, interference of waves, and many other newly observed phenomena


Leonardo and the fluid-dynamics

Studies of fluid mechanics by Leonardo da Vinci



Bird bodies are made to fly. They have light bones, strong legs, and specially shaped wings. The curved surfaces of the wings cause air currents which lift the bird. Flapping keeps the air current moving to create lift and also moves the bird forward. Some birds can glide on air currents without flapping. Many birds use this method when they are about to land. Some birds can also hover and remain in one place.

How do feathers help birds fly?

Feathers provide insulation, waterproofing and reduce the body weight to become airborne. The shape of the wings and its ability to move through the air are needed for bird and plane flight. The strong breast muscles help the birds to flap their wings.


Their wings flap and help them to fly high in the air. then, their wings spread out in a strong, straight line to continue soaring.

Small birds often fly long ditances using a technique in wich short bursts of flapping are alternated with intevals in wich the wings are folded against the body.

Birds use 3 types of flight:
1. Gliding flight
2. Flapping flight
3. Bouding flight





When in gliding flight, the upward aerodynamic force is equal to the weight. In gliding flight, no propulsion is used; the energy to counteract the energy loss due to aerodynamic drag is either taken from the potential energy of the bird, resulting in a descending flight, or is replaced by rising air currents , referred to as soaring flight.

For specialist soaring birds, the decision to engage in flight are strongly related to atmospheric conditions that allow individuals to maximise flight-efficiency and minimise energetic costs.


When a bird flaps, as opposed to gliding, its wings continue to develop lift as before, but the lift is rotated forward to provide thrust, which counteracts drag and increases its speed, which has the effect of also increasing lift to counteract its weight, allowing it to maintain height or to climb. Flapping involves two stages: the down-stroke, which provides the majority of the thrust, and the up-stroke, which can also provide some thrust. At each up-stroke the wing is slightly folded inwards to reduce the energetic cost of flapping-wing flight. Birds change the angle of attack continuously within a flap, as well as with speed.


Small birds often fly long distances using a technique in which short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body. This is a flight pattern known as flight. When the wings are folded, its trajectory is primarily ballistic, with a small amount of body lift. The flight pattern is believed to decrease the energy required by reducing the aerodynamic drag during the ballistic part of the trajectory, and to increase the

efficiency of muscle use.


Bird flight is helpd by:

-the trusht, that is the move of the wing
-the shape of the wings
-the feathers
-a streamlined body
-the beak that is lighter than theet
-a rigid and light skeleton

Feathers on a bird’s wings provide a lightweight but solid surface to push against the air. As the wing flaps downward, the feathers mesh together, then part to allow air through as it sweeps upward again. As well as allowing it to fly, a bird’s feathers keep it warm and dry.


There are five shapes of bird's wings:

-Passive soaring wings
-Active soaring wings
-Elliptical wings
-High-speed wings
-Hovering wings

The shape of a bird’s wing is important for producing lift. The increased speed over a curved, larger wing area creates a longer path of air. This means the air is moving more quickly over the top surface of the wing, reducing air pressure on the top of the wing and creating lift. Also, the angle of the wing (tilted) deflects air downwards, causing a reaction force in the opposite direction and creating








When a bird flaps, as opposed to gliding, its wings continue to

develop lift as before, but the lift is rotated forward to provide thrust,

which counteracts drag and increases its speed, which has the effect of

also increasing lift to counteract its weight, allowing it to maintain height

or to climb. Flapping involves two stages: the down-stroke, which

provides the majority of the thrust, and the up-stroke, which can also

provide some thrust. At each up-stroke the wing is slightly folded inwards to reduce the energetic cost of

flapping-wing flight. Birds change the angle of attack continuously within

a flap, as well as with speed.

Passive soaring wings have long primary feathers that spread out, creating "slots" that allow the bird to catch vertical columns of hot air called "thermals" and rise higher in the air.

Active soaring wings are long and narrow, allowing birds to soar, or fly without flapping their wings, for a long time. However, these birds are much more dependent on wind currents than passive soaring birds.

Elliptical wings are good for short bursts of high speed. They allow fast take offs and tight maneuvering. While they allow high speed, the speed cannot be maintained.

High-speed wings are long and thin, but not nearly as long as birds with active soaring wings. As the name suggests, birds with this wing type are incredibly fast, but unlike those with elliptical wings, these birds can maintain their speed for a while.

Hovering wings are small and quick. For hovering wings, in addition to the wing shape, the bird’s nerves and muscles are specially adapted for incredibly fast movement.



Even if you haven’t been on a plane yourself, you’ve probably wondered how an enormous metal thing can get up into the air – and stay there!

Moving forward through the air is called thrust. When you throw a paper plane, it will hit the floor when it runs out of thrust. Real planes have engines or propellers to keep them moving.

The plane won’t get off the ground without lift.

And that’s created by the wings. A wing is shaped so that the air moving over it travels faster than the air moving under it. As air speeds up, its pressure drops. All this means is that the air above the wing pushes DOWN less than the air below is pushing UP. This means up “wins” and the plane takes off!

Airplane wings are shaped to make air move faster over the top of the wing. When air moves faster, the pressure of the air decreases. So the pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing. The difference in pressure creates a force on the wing that lifts wing up into the air.


During flight, there are four forces acting on an airplane. These forces are lift, weight, thrust, and drag. Lift is the upward force created by the wing, weight is the pull of gravity on the airplane’s mass, thrust is the force created by the airplane’s propeller or turbine engine, and drag is the friction caused by the air flowing around the airplane.

What are the 4 principles of flight?





Lift is the force that acts at a right angle to the direction of motion through the air. Lift is created by differences in air pressure.

Thrust is the force that propels a flying machine in the direction of motion. Engines produce thrust.

Weight is the force of gravity. It acts in a downward direction—toward the center of the Earth.

Drag is the force that acts opposite to the direction of motion. Drag is caused by friction and differences in air pressure.

An example of Bernoulli's principle is the wing of an airplane; the shape of the wing causes air to travel for a longer period on top of the wing, causing air to travel faster, reducing the air pressure and creating lift, as compared to the distance traveled, the air speed and the air pressure experienced beneath the wing.

Bernoulli's principle

Theory:” Airplanes fly because the pressure above the wing is smaller than the pressure below the wing.”


Daniel Bernoulli, an eighteenth-century Swiss scientist, discovered that as the velocity of a fluid increases, its pressure decreases. Bernoulli's principle applies to any fluid, and since air is a fluid, it applies to air.

The Bernoulli principle explains why aeroplanes fly and racing cars stick to the ground going around corners when they really shouldn’t. It is to do with lift force and downforce created when air flows over an aerofoil. Daniel Bernoulli discovered that where there is an increase in the velocity of fluid there is a decrease in the pressure. This is known as the Bernoulli principle.

An aeroplane wing works by splitting the air and sending part of the air over the top curved surface and part below the wing along the flat surface. The air that goes over the curved surface has to travel further. This means the same volume of air occupies a greater space. As a result, the air pressure over the curved surface is lower. This creates lift.

Bernoulli's principle - film with experiments










Aerodynamics - the science that studies the movement of gases and the way solid bodies, such as aircraft, move through them.

Dutch: aerodynamica

Italian: aerodinamica

Polish: aerodynamika

Romanian: aerodinamică

Spanish/Catalan: aerodinámica/aerodinàmica


Acceleration - the rate of change of velocity with respect to time.

Dutch: versnelling

Italian: accelerazione

Polish: przyśpieszenie

Romanian: accelerare



Drag - the retarding force acting on a body (such as an airplane) moving through a fluid (such as air) parallel and opposite to the direction of motion.

Dutch: luchtweerstand

Italian: trascinare

Polish: opór

Romanian: rezistență la înaintare

Spanish/Catalan: arrastrar/arrossegar

Dutch: kracht

Italian: forze

Polish: siła

Romanian: forță

Spanish/Catalan: fuerza/ força


Lift - the force acting on a body moving in a fluid, perpendicular to the direction of movement. The majority of representative functions of the use of lift is wing lift.

Dutch: liftkracht

Italian: ascensore

Polish: siła nośna

Romanian: portanță

Spanish/Catalan: levanatr/aixecar


Thrust - force that is affected by the engine of a vehicle, floating or flying object.

Dutch: stuwkracht

Italian: spinta

Polish: siła ciągu

Romanian: tracțiune

Spanish/Catalan: empujar/empentar


Weight - the force with which a body is attracted toward the earth or a celestial body by gravitation and which is equal to the product of the mass and the local gravitational acceleration.

Dutch: zwaartekracht

Italian: peso

Polish: ciężar

Romanian: greutate

Spanish/Catalan: peso/pes


  1. www.howthingsfly.si.edu/forces-flight/four-forces
  2. www.teachpe.com/biomechanics/fluid-mechanics/bernoulli-principle
  3. www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/303-how-birds-fly
  4. www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Bird-Wing-Types-Handout.pdf
  5. shorturl.at/owEHO
  6. www.mentalfloss.com/article/71659/why-do-birds-fly
  7. www.airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/leonardo-da-vinci-and-flight
  8. www.iawe.org/Proceedings/5EACWE/163.pdf
  9. www.phys.org/news/2018-10-leonardo-da-vinci-dynamic-soaring.html