Junk helicopter

Joseph Omwoyo, a 17 year old student in rural Kenya, started building this junk helicopter after visiting an airport; he hopes to be an aviation engineer some day. He should hook up with the Kenyan IT guy who's building a junk airplane.

17 year old's flying dream (via Afrigadget)


  1. I really wish him all the world’s luck to create his dream, but sorry, those rotor blades won’t do.

  2. This is not engineering. This is more like a cargo-cult recreation of technology without any understanding. Probably would do himself a favor if he sold the “helicopter” for scrap, bought a laptop and started studying some pirated books about engineering. Also some less ambitious project, like fixing car engines, would be more inside his reach. That said I hope that he will fulfill his dreams and gets the opportunity to study something useful.

  3. First off, I don’t care how it looks or what but I’ll give him a big thumbs up for pursuing this. You don’t know how you will do until you try. Sure, he could download some books on engineering, learn more about aviation- as a matter of fact, I bet he will. But tear down his dream and sell it for scrap? Geez.

  4. @gipszjakab
    Nice your awesome creative ability to tear down a visionary experiment because it doesn’t conform to your doctrinal idea of how people learn, what constitutes a valid learning experience, or what is classifiable in your perfect and only category of “engineering”.
    This kid must live on Gilligan’s island, right? He’s not employing his single greatest resource in the right way because he needs books, and he’s trying to do the impossible, which has never, ever resulted in anything Tesla, or Edison like.
    Clearly it won’t fly, captain obvious, and clearly it’s not your engineering, but just as clearly, you know absolutely nothing of for instance the intricate mathematics that Polynesian navigators, “impossibly” to the Western mind, use to sail without the mandatory instrumentation, documentation, and other “technical” materials from Hawai’i to Tahiti, Japan, and more or less the entire Pacific. Are they mathematicians? Can they do algebra, trig, calculus? Can a mathematician sail across the Pacific with just his mind and body?
    In your view, what they’re doing clearly isn’t mathematical as it involves no equations, no paper, books, calculations, and must therefore consist of a cargo cult recreation of proper sailing. Nainoa Thompson and the other Hokule’a navigators should probably start over paddling a little canoe around a pond so you can teach them math with pirated books.
    Your elders, everyone’s elders bootstrapped everything from scratch originally, with no written language, and in some measure probably before communication itself was properly formulated.
    Speaking of which, if engineering exists only in books and cannot be generated from first principles, how is language different?
    I could go on, but your lack of awareness is basically boring.

    1. This “helicopter” is like my idea of a Polynesian boat. This guy doesn’t know enough engineering to get himself into trouble. Probably all for the best.

    2. I see you are merciless in slaughtering straw-men.
      I did not say that laying out equations is necessary to learn anything. I am aware of the navigational feats done by Polynesians and indeed all navigators since ancient times. Nor did I say that experimenting will get you nowhere. I was only pointing out that not using the resources available in the 21st century is a folly that only holds you down. You know all that standing on the shoulder of giants stuff. Why should the kid start from the ground up?
      Your comment about language is a non sequitur.
      Please don’t bore yourself. Do something creative. (Maybe a rant about homeopathic medicine. I those make me laugh.)

      1. “Why should the kid start from the ground up?”

        Hold on while I compose myself….

        You must have an engineering degree, cause that’s something I’d hear my peers say in a heartbeat. I mean why do I need to know how to do FFT’s? (Or what it represents, why, how, when?) I mean we have a half dozen programs that can do that for me, or even a TI-8x/9x for that matter.

        Like most engineers I graduated with, present them with a physical real world object and they will look at it and go what does it do?… Just like the moment when my Circuits 3 professor handed out a box of “parts” and said here is what we will be learning about. It was like watching elementary school kids in a science museum. I like his class, his test involved math you could do in your head and mostly theory…hence everyone else hated it.

        1. Wow. Full circle of misunderstanding in a single thread. Maybe it is my English.
          Anyway, when I said no need to start from the ground up I meant that the kid does not have to figure out maths and physics and material science and manufacturing all by himself, because there are books (and hopefully people) to help him. This does not mean that books and equations are substitutes of hands on experience or that you should forgo understanding basic principles.

    3. So will you be supporting this venture financially in exchange for a seat on the inaugural flight?

  5. “the video has been removed by the user”.

    Did he stop believing in his dream?

  6. The original video has been deleted, but I found a copy of the video here:

    but it seems it has no audio. Did the original have audio?

  7. Last year, there was a thing at the MOMA about a similar effort in Vietnam. In that case, the guy had collected junk and also hit the books, and according to the way it was presented, the thing did indeed fly under its own power.

    The MOMA page is here.

  8. I could go on, but your lack of awareness is basically boring.

    Actually, I found gipszjakab’s cargo-cult comment insightful. And I think the wishes for success were sincere.

    And I also agree that this is not engineering. If the stated problem is to create a VTOL vehicle, it seems unlikely that he is going to solve that problem with this attempt. And problem solving, math or no, is really what engineering is about.

    Ironically, your troll-be-gone reply was a might trollish.

  9. In Africa this guy is a “budding engineer”.

    In the US he would be the crazy hoarder trying to build a helicopter.

    Put in the right context this is somewhat insulting. Look at that one of those dumb Africans has figured out how assemble junk.

  10. Seal Team 6 was so impressed with his design they bought it on sight and removed the video as a National Security Risk.

  11. Iv’e been dreaming of helicopters since I was a child. Wanted to become a pilot, but alas…

    Today I know quite a lot about actual helis and the physics involed: They’re fascinatingly complex, if not impossible things to build and operate.

    BTW: Right now I’m digging into the thermodynamics of turbines vs. piston engines and the implications of each. I once had the idea that things could be lubricated using compressed air (which is plentiful in a turbine), e.g. to build bearingless turbines (to make ’em simpler, more reliable and cheaper) – and guess what: NASA is doing a lot of research on that.

    But, hey, no matter what: The dream remains exactly the same: To be able to fly like a bird, whoa!

    My heart goes out to Joseph and the dream we share! The technical stuff comes later and I’m sure Joseph will dig it just as I did.

  12. In the MOMA exhibit, the guy had been reading up on helicopter design for years, and had a good grasp of engineering fundamentals.

    This poor African boy hasn’t even thought it through far enough to realize that if he tosses a lot of the external body, he can get away with using a a *much* smaller engine (think an ultra-light, or what the Wright Brother’s plane looked like – very minimalist to cut down on weight). This is indeed more akin to cargo-cult than any real engineering.

  13. @Rider – enjoying BoingBoing? My guess is you won’t be for long.

    The video was removed by user :o/

    The kid is 17 and I assume lives in a dirt floor hut/shanty (I base this assumption on the background seen in the video) and in poverty with a minimal education. Certainly not one with information about engineering. Hell – the average 17 year old in America wouldn’t have any knowledge about engineering.

    I think the important thing isn’t that he builds a mechanically sound helicopter – but that he has a goal and a dream that he is actively pursuing. It is something bigger than himself and bigger than the problems around him. He is striving towards this. He has a curiosity and an aptitude to try to figure something out. I find that inspiring.

    Africa will be the new China/India. All they need is some economical/social/political stability and they will be a wealth of untapped potential. Mark my words, in 20-30 years your Dell tech support will not be an Indian named Bruce, but an African named Charlie.

    1. Is he actually figuring anything out? Seems he is just trying to copy what he sees without figuring anything out.

  14. @gipszjakab You’re right that I was off and ad hominem attacks are petty, useless, and boring, making that bit straight hypocrite (rhyme intentional)
    otoh, your interpretation is that his actions are in line with and geared towards successful completion of as a similar commenter put it, a VTOL. Other commenters point out the essential experience of pursuing an empirical goal directly in the absence of any shoulders to stand on. It may be a waste of time and energy laboring away ground up from where you’re standing, but it may be that every day he wakes up with a vision, a passion, a need to investigate, and if all he has to work with or all he produces is a flimsy model with no hope of functioning, it’s more than nothing, and a credible pursuit of learning in and of itself.

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