Polish Aviation Museum

31-864 Kraków,
al. Jana Pawła II 39
phone: (12) 640 99 60,
(12) 642 40 70
e-mail: info@muzeumlotnictwa.pl

a cultural institution of the Malopolska Region

Małopolska – Kraków Region

Mecenas Muzeum

Kraków Airport

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Storehouses: Mikolaj Surmanowicz' human-powered aircraft

Mikolaj Surmanowicz' human-powered aircraft
experimental human-powered rotorcraft

  • Technical data

Take-off weight 17 kg (37.5 lb) + pilot’s weight
Maximum speed 60-70 km/h (32.4–37.8 kt, 37.3–43.5 mph)
Ceiling 2–3 m (6.6–9.8 ft)
Powerplant :


NOTE: the data above have been calculated by the constructor.

Human-powered aerodyne (heavier-than-air aircraft) has been, historically speaking, the primary aircraft type. The idea of flight by one’s own strength has naturally come from observation of flying creatures . Since time immemorial the Man has dreamed of taking to the air like birds do, using attached wings, the Icarian myth being a manifest expression of this longing. Already in medieval times chroniclers have recorded cases of people attempting to build ornithopthers, i.e. human-powered aircraft with flapping wings. It was only Leonardo da Vinci who proposed another solution, i.e. a human-powered rotorcraft.

The 19th century brought a revolution in the theory of flight with the idea that lift, propulsion and control systems of aircraft should be separate. Experiments with fixed wing and, subsequently, the use of light combustion engine as the powerplant of a flying machine, made the dream of human free flight come true. A rapid development of aviation followed throughout the 20th century.

These accomplishments did not, however, put an end to the history of human-powered aircraft. On the contrary: many new such constructions, which utilized new technological solutions, began to appear. One of the latter was the bicycle – a greatly successful vehicle (currently the most popular vehicle in the world), powered by human muscles by means of chain drive. Attempts to apply these solutions to flying machines led to development of a series of “flying bicycles” They were human-powered aircraft whose pilots-cyclists accelerated the contraption by pedalling to a speed enabling at least a short ascent on fixed wings. Sometimes they were equipped with propellers and chain drive was used for transmission of crank rotation to the propeller shaft.

Chain drive was also used in the most promising human-powered aircraft, both conceptually and constructionally comparable to motor gliders. During the second half of the 20th century the advancement in the fields of construction materials and informatics led to opening of a new chapter in the history of human-powered aircraft. Institutions of science and technology as well as aircraft industry got involved in designing and building of such aircraft. The greatest success was achieved in the category of propeller-driven human-powered aircraft, which turned out to be capable of covering many kilometres’ distance, remaining airborne for hundreds of minutes. For example, on June 12, 1979 pilot Bryan Allen completed flight over the English Channel on Gossamer Albatross designed by Paul B. MacCready; it was 70 years after Louis Blériot’s pioneer flight over the Channel on a self-designed aeroplane. In 1988 the current flight distance record for a human-powered aircraft was set – 115.11 km (71.5 mi) (Kanellos Kanellopoulos on MIT Daedalus 88).

Yet the tradition of amateur constructors still attracted followers. In Poland there were eng. Stanisław Bienia and Antoni Mrozek, both professionally tied to aviation. So was Mikołaj Surmanowicz form Kalisz. During his lifetime he was an aircraft modeller, a pilot, a glider instructor and an employee of aviation industry. Already before World War II he constructed and tried an ornithopter. After he had retired from his job, in 1971 he started to construct another human-powered aircraft.

Surmanowicz’ human-powered aircraft was a single-seat rotorcraft with three-bladed rotor, the blades having NACA-0012 (modified) profile. The tail boom ended with a horizontal and a vertical stabilizers. The landing gear was arranged in tricycle (initially – 2-wheels), comprising a forward bicycle-type wheel and two small side wheels at the back. A specially designed swashplate made the craft self-controllable. The rotor was propelled by a chain drive transmitting the rotary motion of a foot crank to the rotor mast. The rotor swept the area of 20 sq m (215 sq ft) and the maximum loading of 4.5 kg/sq m. Steering was possible by turning handles and thus winding up/releasing control cables connected to the swashplate. The power needed for a take-off was calculated as 0.3 to 0.5 hp. Materials used: steel alloys, duralumin, balsa, pine and birch wood.

The aircraft took 3 years to complete with a significant input of work and money. First trials took place in October 1974 and then in the summer next year. According to the constructor the tests were successful, the aircraft having made several jumps. Mikołaj Surmanowicz died in 1975 hence no further trials were made. In 2005 the Surmanowicz family donated the aircraft to the Polish Aviation Museum in Kraków.


Dofinansowano ze środków Ministra Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego
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