A Chinese company’s newest aircraft project harkens back to one of aviation history’s oldest ideas: the ornithopter. 

Centuries after Leonardo di Vinci conceived his own designs, the Beijing-based Implant Aircraft Co. Ltd., has started testing a series of ornithopter unmanned aircraft systems (UASes) designed by a Chinese orthopaedist. 

The “Orthopaedist’s Ornithopter,” as it’s branded on company business cards, is being developed on private funding to support the Chinese military, with the goal of delivering a quiet, tactical UAS with 2-hr. endurance within two years, say company officials. 

The Chinese government or military has not yet ordered the aircraft, and Implant Aircraft representatives came to the Dubai Airshow in hopes of attracting interest and, more importantly, financing for the project. 

The aircraft on display at the Airshow shows a prototype with two sets of flapping wings, a forward canard wing and a V-tail. The wings include outboard panels that rotate to control pitch and roll. 

A small battery also powers an electric motor used to actuate the wing flapping mechanism. The current battery is limited to a flight endurance of about 5 min., but the company plans to install more powerful, lightweight batteries to increase flight time to 2 hr.