His attraction to animal flight has morphed into a career that would have captivated the likes of da Vinci and the ancient mythmakers.

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If myth could become man, Nathan Chronister MS'96 might well be Icarus, perfected, enlightened and made joyfully practical.

Turning his lifelong fascination with bird and insect flight into an academic mission, he earned his master's degree in animal behavior. Since then, his attraction to animal flight has morphed into a career that would have captivated the likes of da Vinci and the ancient mythmakers: He creates ornithopter kits,"mechanical birds that fly by flapping wings."

Chronister began his business of marketing ready-to assemble ornithopters in 2003 when marriage brought him to Rochester, N.Y. Always interested in education, he left behind a career at the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development to hone a daring entrepreneurial venture —a cottage industry that now reaches an international market, inspiring scientists and hobbyists of all ages to consider the ecological benefits that we may glean through the study and eventual mimicry of animal flight.

While he produces small "bird-sized," kits, Chronister says that the potential for producing manned aircraft with flapping wings is not just fantasy.A manned ornithopter could "hover and land in small areas and will save fuel, when compared with helicopters."

It is extremely unlikely however, that human energy will provide the sustained power needed for this endeavor. An engine of some variety will have to keep jumbo ornithopters aloft and flapping. Chronister's rubberband powered prototype, in principle, may provide a model for a new age of biologically inspired aircraft, and this is good news for a world in search of technologies with a green edge.

Chronister's website,Ornithopter Zone (www.ornithopter.org), not only features his unique designs but also provides a rich history of the human desire to imitate nature's airborne creatures. In order to share ideas with others interested in this type of experimentation, he also publishes a newsletter, Flapping Wings, bringing together a global community of ornithopter enthusiasts.

Posted Fall 2009 

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