Da Vinci unsuccessfully tests a flying machine, January 3, 1496

-January 03, 2017

A true Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci had talents in arts, sciences, music, and engineering and managed to combine his gifts for extraordinarily creative work. In January of 1496 he unsuccessfully tested a flying machine.

Unsuccessful designs were not common for the engineer. While many of his engineering designs languished in his notebook as their builds were impossible in da Vinci’s lifetime, including a calculator, he did manage to build a flying machine resembling a helicopter (see drawing from the inventor's notebook below).


Da Vinci was somewhat obsessed with flying and conceptualized several different machines to do so over his years. In this tested design, the flying machine was lifted by a rotor powered by four men. It did not work because the body of the machine itself rotated in the opposite direction to the rotor.

As noted in the 2002 BBC television series “Leonardo,” it has been theorized that da Vinci may have sabotaged his flying machine’s design in the hopes that it would fail. Da Vinci, a pacifist, spoke out against his designs being applied to military use and a flying machine would surely be put to such use.

In fact, when he fled to Venice in 1499 he did so in part to design machines for the protection of a city. He found employment as an engineer and devised a system of moveable barricades to protect the city from attack.

Da Vinci was voted one of the five greatest engineers of all time by EDN’s readers in 2012.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on January 3, 2013 and edited on January 3, 2017.

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