An ornithopter is a flying machine that uses flapping wing motion to fly, just like a real bird. Named after the last passenger pigeon, Martha, who died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, the Flying Martha Ornithopter is a simple mechanical toy powered by a rubber band. This is a project by the design studio Haptic Lab.
How does it work?
To fly, simply wind up the bird and gently release like a paper airplane. Similar to an airplane, the forward motion of the ornithopter allows the flapping wings to deflect air downward, producing lift. No batteries needed.
The handmade nature of the Flying Martha allows you, the pilot, to tinker with every aspect of its flight. Turn the bird's adjustable tail left or right, throw it with wings up or down, twist the rubber band clockwise or counterclockwise... besides being a really fun design object, the Flying Martha encourages physical play and problem-solving.
How is it made?
The Flying Martha is made by hand by Haptic Lab kite artisans. The bamboo frame is strong yet flexible (bamboo has a higher tensile strength than most steel) and is shaped using only the heat of a candle flame.
The wings and tail are crafted from mulberry paper, used in traditional kite-making for centuries. Mulberry pulp has very long fibers making the paper extremely tear-resistant for its weight. And unlike the plastic wings of other toy ornithopters, the mulberry wings of the Flying Martha make a pleasant sound while flapping.
Our original patented design has a subtle hand-painted feather print like the other birds in our Flying Animals collection. Moving parts are fashioned of brass and steel wire, and the "engine" or rubber band is made of natural latex. No assembly is required.
True to life, the wingspan of the Flying Martha is 16 inches. Each bird currently weighs just 12.5 grams, about as much as a single AAA battery; by comparison, a similarly-sized plastic ornithopter weighs over 19g. Pending funding, we plan on shaving off an additional few tenths of an ounce with custom rubber bands.
The future estimated retail cost of the Flying Martha is $48; our Kickstarter price is $42.
We've partnered with the woodblock print artist Nic Annette Miller to create a deluxe artist edition of the Flying Martha, printed in her gorgeous signature style using a letterpress. These pieces will be hand-assembled in Haptic Lab's Brooklyn studio.
Nic is a naturalist at heart, and she spent hours researching passenger pigeons in various archives throughout NYC to create her print from taxidermied and illustrated life. Haptic Lab is thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with such a thoughtful artist.
Why the passenger pigeon?
Made in the likeness of the extinct passenger pigeon, the Flying Martha is symbolic of humanity's role in a rapidly changing world. The passenger pigeon was once the most numerous bird species on the planet, with an estimated population of 3-5 billion birds. No one could have imagined that the entire species would disappear in one human lifetime. Extinctions will become more commonplace in the next century as the climate crisis deepens. But we're still hopeful that a balance is possible; the passenger pigeon is a symbol of that hope.
Like our other projects at Haptic Lab, the Flying Martha ornithopter aims to connect people to their physical environment, to one another, and to the planet as a whole. The Flying Martha celebrates the spirit of invention and discovery essential to humanity's survival and to the survival of our planet.
About Haptic Lab
At Haptic Lab, we have a deep affinity for the natural world and for the ethos of making things by hand. The word "haptic" refers to the sense of touch, and everything we make is designed to transform the physical experience of the everyday.
Haptic Lab is a small design company based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. We're best known for projects like our Sailing Ship Kites and Constellation Quilts (a successful Kickstarter back in 2013). We are on track to become a carbon neutral company in the next year, and we use a percentage of our profits towards advocacy that supports a better planet. We're also super proud that Haptic Lab will join Kickstarter as a certified B-Corporation in the coming months!
Special thanks: team Haptic Lab, support; Nathan Caswell and Public Record, video; Cristina Gomez, packaging design; Kelly Talcott, legal; Rose Chen, manufacturing; Zeynab Izadyar, graphic design. Flying Martha® is a registered trademark of Haptic Lab Inc.
Risks and challenges
Because the Flying Martha is handmade, each ornithopter will have unique flight characteristics. In the future we plan to sell a low-cost "Pro Kit" so you can easily personalize your Flying Martha and address regular wear-and-tear issues. With common sense use (ie - not tossing it into walls) your Flying Martha will last a very long time. Our current hero prototype has been flown hundreds of times and has only had the paper wings replaced once.
Haptic Lab has been in business for over 8 years and we have long, established relationships with our manufacturing partners. We're not starting this project from scratch. Our ornithopters will be produced in a traditional kite-making workshop in Weifang, China by the same artisans who have been crafting our collection of Flying Animal kites for over a year. The skill and inventiveness of our kite artisans in Weifang have made this project possible, and it's certain the Flying Martha will only improve as production ramps up.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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