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B113 Model flying machine, flapping wing 'Experiment L', paper / wood / rubber, made by Lawrence Hargrave, Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales, Australia, 1887. Click to enlarge.

Flying machine model

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds the largest collection of material internationally of the aviation pioneer, Lawrence Hargrave. While no single individual can be attributed to the invention of the aeroplane, Hargrave belonged to an elite body of scientists and researchers (along with Octave Chanute, Otto Lilienthal and Percy Sinclair Pilcher) whose experiments and inventions paved the way for the first powered, controlled flight achieved by the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903.


Object No.


Object Statement

Model flying machine, flapping wing 'Experiment L', paper / wood / rubber, made by Lawrence Hargrave, Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

Physical Description

Flying machine made with a wooden rod as the fuselage, one long flat rectangular wing fixed to the top of the rod which has four cross bars. Two hinged metal rods form the flapping arms which have trapezoid wings also with four cross bars. All wings are wooden frames with paper membrane. There are two plastic wheels mounted near the wing joints on each side. Strings pass through the wheels and link to the flapping mechanism that is mounted under the body, the strings run to the tail end. A series of folded brown rubber straps are tied to the fuselage at the nose. A wooden winder hangs below the body at the wing joints and connects to the wings via metal arms.

Weight: 2.09 lbs
Area of body plane: 13.3 sq ft
Area of wings: 1.5 sq ft
Length: 5ft 7in
Spread of wings: 6ft 1in



330 mm


1860 mm



This flapping wing machine model, designated as 'Experiment L' or the '12th flying machine' was produced by Lawrence Hargrave in Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales, Australia in 1887.

The model is constructed from light wood and paper in the membrane of the plane and it is powered by forty-eight rubber bands in tension weighing 10 oz. There is no device for steering. The paper used in the plane's membrane replaces a previous experiment using muslin (a type of cotton fabric), which was found to buckle under pressure.

This particular model incorporates a number of new improvements developed by Hargrave upon his earlier experiments. For example: (1) longer and narrower wings which helped to create more resistance; (2) the increased number of rubber bands used; (3) the placement of the mid-rib of the wings at the forward edge of the wing rather than in varying positions; (4) the removal of the triangular plane on the main strut anterior and (5) the movement of the centre of gravity forward to resolve the problems of undulating motion. These characteristics helped the model to fly a further distance than what could be achieved with his earlier experiments.



Hargrave's flapping wing machine models formed part of his earliest experiments between 1884 and 1892. They were conceived from a theoretical study conducted by Hargrave into the movement of animals like fish, snakes and jellyfish, as well as the movement of waves (a theory he famously dubbed at a Royal Society meeting as 'The Trochoided Plane'). This theory prompted him further into the study of birds and their anatomy and the use of flapping wings as a means for propulsion, hence the development of the flapping wing model. Altogether, Hargrave produced 19 India rubber powered flying machine models. His last one was tested on January 31, 1889.

Hargrave's initial models of this type were powered by clockwork, but he later replaced this with rubber bands and then compressed air and steam. The use of India rubber as a means of propulsion was first put forward by Sir George Cayley in 1853 and later by others, including Alphonse Penaud. Hargrave favoured this form of propulsion because the air currents initiated by the up stroke of the wings increased the efficiency of the down stroke. This meant there was no tendency for the machine to veer and there would be less chance of damage upon landing.

This particular model, which was tested on November 15, 1887, was found to fly 270 feet by 470 foot pounds of energy stored in the stretched elastic bands at a top horizontal speed of 12 mph. Hargrave's journal records that this flight was characterised by an undulating motion.

'Experiment L' was made at the same time as the 48 band stern single screw machine (B114) for comparative purposes to test Hargrave's 'Trochoided Plane' theory against screw propulsion. Both models were made of similar construction. During the study, Hargrave made careful calculations of the area, power, relative weights and distance flown between both models, discovering that as a method for propulsion, the screw and flapping wings were about equally efficient.

In a paper presented to the Royal Society of New South Wales, Hargrave dubbed 'Experiment L' as one of his three most successful experiments (along with 'Experiment H,J,K' and the 48 band stern single screw model). These three models also revealed for Hargrave, the desired percentage range of the areas in advance of the centres of gravity (i.e. between 19.3% and 23.3%), which helped to keep the flight of his machines smooth and stable.

The second of four children of John Fletcher and Ann, Lawrence Hargrave was born at Greenwich, London on January 29, 1850. In 1856, Lawrence's father, eldest brother Ralph and uncle Edward emigrated to Australia in what appears to be a consensual marital separation between John and Ann. They were bound for Sydney to join a third brother of John and Edward, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly for New England (named Richard), while Ann, Lawrence and her two other children, Alice and Gilbert, stayed in Kent, England.

During his early years, Lawrence was educated at the Queen Elizabeth's School in Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland, before he sailed to Australia in 1865 to join his father, brother and two uncles. John Fletcher, who was a distinguished judge in the New South Wales Supreme Court living at Rushcutters Bay House, anticipated a career for Lawrence in law. Despite organising tuition for him, Lawrence failed to matriculate, but was subsequently accepted to begin an apprenticeship with the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASN Co) in 1867. For five years he worked as an apprentice, gaining invaluable skills in woodworking, metalworking and design.

The circumnavigation voyage of Australia aboard the 'Ellesmere' (offered to Lawrence by another passenger en route to Australia from London) obviously stimulated an interest for Lawrence in exploration. From 1871, Lawrence joined the Committee of Management of J.D. Lang's New Guinea Prospecting Association and in 1872 was on board the brig 'Maria', bound for New Guinea in search of gold, when it sunk off Bramble reef, north Queensland, causing great loss of life. After returning to Sydney to work for the ASN Co, and later the engineers P.N. Russell & Co, Lawrence participated in several more exploratory voyages to the Torres Strait and New Guinea, accompanying figures like William Macleay, Octavius Stone and Luigi d'Albertis along the Fly River. These voyages continued until 1876, at which time Lawrence worked at the foundries of Chapman & Co, before choosing to settle down with new wife, Margaret Preston Johnson in September, 1878 with whom he had six children (Helen-Ann (Nellie), Hilda, Margaret, Brenda, Geoffrey and Brenda-Olive).

In January of the following year, Lawrence commenced work as an extra observer (astronomical) at Sydney Observatory under the Government astronomer H.C. Russell. In this role, Lawrence was able to make a number of important observations and inventions, including the transit of Mercury in 1881, the Krakatoa explosion in 1883 and the design and construction of adding machines. The income made from land bestowed to Lawrence by his father in Coalcliff, however, meant that in 1883 Lawrence was able to resign from his position at the Observatory to pursue his fascination and study into artificial flight. This interest came about from his observation of waves and animal motion, including fish, birds and snakes.

Lawrence's earliest experiments, spanning 1884-1892, involved propulsion with monoplane models built from light wood and paper. He first attempted to build a full-size machine capable of carrying a human in 1887 and in 1889 he built his most influential engine - a three cylinder radial rotary engine. Lawrence's later experimental phase, 1892-1909, involved the use of curved surfaces in his models. This research subsequently led to the development of the box kite, the most famous invention associated with his name.

Lawrence always conducted his experiments in his local area (i.e. Rushcutters Bay, Woollahra Point and Stanwell Park). He was against patenting his inventions for fear of stifling the development of aviation in the bigger picture and therefore published his results quickly and widely, particularly through the Royal Society of New South Wales. This Society helped Lawrence to gain an international reputation and brought him into contact with other aviation pioneers like Octave Chanute and Otto Lilienthal. The very first paper he gave was "The Trochoided Plane" (delivered August 6, 1884).

In Lawrence's later years he conducted research into early Australian history, postulating the theory that two Spanish ships found their way into Sydney Harbour in the late 16th century. Apart from this and of course his interests in aeronautics, Lawrence also concerned himself with the contemporary issues of patent laws, free competition, Darwinism, a bridge for Sydney Harbour, pensions, strikes and conscription.

Lawrence Hargrave died of peritonitis at Lister Hospital on July 6, 1915. Lawrence's death came only nine weeks after the death of his youngest son, Geoffrey, at Gallipoli.


Credit Line

Gift of Lawrence Hargrave, 1891

Acquisition Date

5 April 1891

Cite this Object


Flying machine model 2023, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 9 February 2023, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Flying machine model |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=9 February 2023 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}