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Flapping flight
by Erich von Holst and Karl Herzog

Prof. Dr. Erich von Holst (1908-1962)

Prof. Dr. Erich von Holst
Prof. Dr. Erich von Holst

E. v. Holst researched on biological and aerodynamic problems of animal flight. In interplay between creative flying models, many experiments and consequentially thoughts he reached new perceptions about the flapping flight. Thereby a main focus of his work was on the determination of force distributions along the wing on up and downstroke.

These conceptions of the aerodynamics and flight mechanics of flapping flight were the basis for his new wing designs with the corresponding drive mechanisms. Each of his flapping wing models was equipped with an especially for this designed rubber motor.

Erich von Holst explained the propulsion or thrust generation of birds in cruising flight by the shifting of lift along the wing. Correspondingly he wrote in his paper about artificial birds as a means of studying the flight of birds (1943):

functioning of lift and thrust forces, how do birds fly
The mechanics of lift and thrust generation in the flight of birds
This is the original image with unequal cycle times. Image with equal cycle times see The principle of flight / How birds fly

It would be the ideal situation for the bird when during the downstroke of the wing the arm section and during the upstroke the hand section was missing. You can make it plausible if you imagine, the wing area would be reduced and could slip along the arm. It would then be shifted on the top of the stroke to the wing tip and on the bottom point to the wing root. In this way, seen over a whole flapping period, while maintaining the transverse force Q (or the lift) the thrust S gets larger than the backward directed force R. This ingenious trick of nature solves the mystery of bird flight. That you can even use the energy loss associated with the rearward directed drive R and can recover again was not yet known at that time (see The principle of flight).

This view of the flapping flight by E. v. Holst - with his combination of theory and practice - has strongly influenced the development of my EV ornithopter models shown here.

picture from the video by Erich von Holst
(WMV, 12 MB)

There is film footage with sequences in slow motion of some flapping wing models by E. v. Holst in the 1940's. It can be seen the large model Swan and the model of a Brimstone Butterfly in flight. Furthermore there is shown his Thrust-Wing with its rotating flapping wings - an inspiration from the flight of Dragonfly.

This video is an excerpt from the film
Wings Over the World.

Here are some of his papers to the theme Flapping Wing Flight:

Tierflug und Modellflug
Luftfahrt und Schule, 6. Jahrgang, Dez. 1940, Heft 3, Seite 24-26
Berlin-Charlottenburg 2

(in German)
1.6 MB

Animated pictures of a slow motion film from this article.
One can see the rise off ground of a rubber-powered ornithopter and particularly the changing of the angle of incidence at the wing root recommended by Erich von Holst.

animated gifs of a slow motion film

600 KB

Erich v. Holst, Dietrich Küchemann
Biologische und aerodynamische Probleme des Tierflugs
Naturwissenschaften 13. Juni 1941, Volume 29, Issue 24-25,
pp 348-362 Springer-Verlag, Berlin
Holst, E. von and Kuchemann, E., Biological and Aerodynamical Problems of Animal Flight, Royal Aeronautical Society Journal,
vol. 46

(in German)
2.2 MB

Gesammelte Abhandlungen

look at
literature literature

Also a great admirer of E. v. Holst has been my pen friend

Karl Herzog

In the year 1963/64 the modelling magazine Mechanikus published a series of articles of the academic painter and artist Karl Herzog, titled

Der Schwingenflug in der Natur und in der Technik

(English: Flapping wing flight in nature and science)

Among other things he drawed and described there how the models by E. v. Holst can be built. Below, these articles are available separately in PDF-format (all in German). But there is also a compilation (PDF 9.0 MB) of all articles.

Of these series there is also an old abbreviated English version (PDF 2.4 MB) with partly different pictures. It was also translated in the Netherlands (PDF 1.2 MB) by Louis van Telgen.



Biophysics of the bird flight
(PDF 1.4 MB)

Anatomical sketch of a bird wing
(Rock Pigeon, Columbia livia)
drawn by Karl Herzog


Flapping wing models
by E. v. Holst
(PDF 1.9 MB)

This issue contains the specification of the flapping wing model Buzzard.


On the left the artificial Rhamphorhynchus by E. v. Holst is in flight.

The pterosaur has been powered by a rubber motor. Together with the clever filament gear the drive is pictured in the
Gesammelte Abhandlungen, Band II by E. v. Holst (p. 116 and 136).

Please look at literature literature


Flapping wing models
by E. v. Holst
(PDF 0.7 MB)

This is the plan of the flapping wing model Swan by E. v. Holst, drawn by K. Herzog.
There is also a video of the Swan (look above).

This edition consists the specification of the model Swan and the plan of the model Buzzard.

Bird model Swan and E. v. Holst
Erich von Holst
with his model Swan


5. Sequence (PDF 1.0 MB)

Here is a design study of flapping wings by Karl Herzog. At the version A and B the axis of the hand wing runs obliquely in relation to the flight direction, like on birds. Other designers of flapping wings mostly aligned it parallel to the longitudinal axis of the wing (like version C).


6. Sequence (PDF 0.7 MB)


7. Sequence (PDF 0.4 MB)

Here the plan of the flapping wing model Buzzard by E. v. Holst, drawn by K. Herzog.

Animated pictures (2.0 MB) of an old slow motion film (Erich von Holst: Über künstliche Vögel als Mittel zum Studium des Vogelflugs, Journal für Ornithologie, Band 91, 1943).

The animation shows a climb flight of the artificial bird of about 30 deg and a flapping period of 2.5 per second. There is to seen the small rotation of the wing root and the wing twisting.

Buzzard with an electric drive
by Horst Händler (1988)

The model has a crank drive mechanism according to the crank by E. v. Holst and the relevant drawings by Karl Herzog (see below).


8. Sequence (PDF 0.7 MB)


Approaches to the
technical flapping flight
(PDF 1.0 MB)

This is an airworthy bird model of type Rook with a paperboard construction.

The 3D-form of this folded paper wing by Karl Herzog based on that of bird wings.

Today, the Aue-Verlag, Möckmühl, Germany, owns the copyright of this series by Karl Herzog. Text and drawings may not be published elsewhere.

Later Karl Herzog has written the literature book Anatomie und Flugbiologie der Vögel, published 1968. At the pages 136 to 168 it contains the chapter Demonstration of the animal flight on the basis of bird models and flapping flight gadgets. Regrettably the book is not available today.

Crank drive for generating
the stroke and twisting movement
of a flapping wing

The rubber powered crank drive with a filament gear, developed by Prof. E. v. Holst, generates the stroke and the twisting movement of the wing at the same time. Thereto, the linkage coming from the crank pin is pivot-mounted only in stroke direction at the spar of the flapping wing. But in rotating direction it is not pivotable.

Thereby, the up and down movement of the crank pin is used to drive the stroke movement of the spar. At the same time the back and forward movement of the crank pin is used for rotating the spar. Furthermore, the spar is inflexible connected with only one of the outer ribs (Ri). Thus, the crank mechanism actively effects the twisting of the flapping wing. Stroke and rotating movement of the wing spars are phase-delayed by 90 degrees.

You can find descriptions (in German) of several rubber motors in the above articles of March und April 1963.