Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Skybreaker and the Ornithopter

I mistakenly thought the word ornithopter was an invention of Frank Herbert from his wonderful DUNE series. Turns out it was actually invented about 450 years earlier by Da Vinci, from the Greek words for bird (ornitho) and wing (pter).

An ornithopter is an aircraft that designed to derive its propulsion and support from flapping wings. Leonardo Da Vinci created many versions of ornithopters in design on paper and in model. It makes appearances in science fiction and pulp fiction. Ornithopters appeared in DUNE as said before, they also were in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Even Star Wars featured some in Revenge of the Sith with the Wookiees defending their homeworld, Kashyyk with wooden dragonfly-like Ornithopters.

The word showed up on my radar from a new book I started today- Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel. This is the 2nd book in the Airborn trilogy, and sequel to Airborn ending with Starclimber. This cinematic adventure series is aimed at a young adult audience. The setting is a very solid steam-punkish alternate historical Earth. There is a great emphasis on airships, a natural setting for ornithopters, etc. In the first chapters of this 2nd book there are several references to the aircraft.

It appears that there were plans to make a film adaptation of Airborn in 2008 that has since been dropped and no plans since then for the series. So perhaps we have an undiscovered series that won't be corrupted by Hollywood.

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