An Ornithopter is an aircraft in the ‘Dune’ series that flies by the action of wing flapping.

The Definitive Glossary for Dune

Referred to as Thopters in the novels, Ornithopters were one of the primary methods of transportation and battle. Ornithopters created a wing-beating motion that enabled them to lift off the ground.

Ornithopter in Dune

Dune’s Ornithopter Definition

The word Ornithopter gets pronounced as “Awr-nuh-thop-ter.” The Ornithopter is a mechanical device that got used by the Imperium as a primary source of transportation. Thopters were machines that moved using wing flapping.

However, Dune’s Ornithopter differs from the usual perceived working principle of an actual Ornithopter; this is because the Ornithopters in Dune described the crafts wing movement as bug-like rather than bird-like.

The Ornithopter in Dune Series

The Ornithopter debuted in the 1965 ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert. It is an aircraft capable of carrying about six passengers per flight. Due to its versatility, the Thopter became a primary means of transportation on Arrakis. Paul Atreides used the Ornithopter to get to safety with his mother, Lady Jessica, after the fall of the House of Atreides to the Sardaukar and Harkonnen troops. 

Paul fastened his safety harness, saw that his mother was secure, checked the aircraft. The wings were at full spread-rest, their delicate metal interleavings extended. He touched the retractor bar, watched the wings shorten for jet-boost take-off the way Gurney Halleck had taught him. The starter switch moved easily. Dials on the instrument panel came alive as the jetpods were armed. Turbines began their low hissing.

The quote above shows the first time Paul flew an Ornithopter without aid from Gurney Halleck, his teacher. Ornithopters also played a crucial role in the battle of Arrakeen as Paul and the Fremen used it as an extensive weapon on the battleground.

History of the Ornithopter’s Creation

The Ornithopter has a dark history that goes far back to the year 7585 BG, during Emperor Neweh’s reign. A group of scientists rebelled in the year 7600 BG. However, their rebellion failed, and Emperor Neweh ordered their arrest. At the mercy of the emperor, the team of scientists led by Jehane Golitle got tasked with creating technological devices with potential as a way of paying for their crimes.

Searching through archival data for obsolete inventions, Golitle found secrets in the Heart Scallop that complimented her idea of creating a device that could fly while being versatile and easily maneuverable. She moved her research facility to the Forannis Triad, where experimentation on the new invention began.

Though the Ornithopter got accepted at a snail’s pace, it became popular during the Butlerian Jihad when man fought against the thinking machines. Once the war was over, the Ornithopter got accepted for airborne transportation.

In-depth Description of the Ornithopter

The Ornithopter is the combination of domesticated specially-bred Heart Scallop to wing junctures. Because of the engine’s efficiency, there is little effort to maintain the aircraft. Typical maintenance of an Ornithopter involves trimming the scallops to prevent overgrowth from the installation pods.

The Ornithopter’s Adaptation on Screen

Bringing the idea of the Ornithopter to screen was a complicated task that took decades of perfection. Alejandro Jodorowsky made the first attempt at creating the Ornithopter for the film adaptation of ‘Dune’ in 1975. The film’s adaptation gave concept designer Ron Cobb the room to draft out the bug-like description for the aircraft. However, the failure to complete the movie led to the aircraft’s image dying.

In the 1984 adaptation of ‘Dune,’ David Lynch fell short on the visual interpretation of the Ornithopter as the aircraft took a diamond shape with two compact static wings popping out.

The idea of the Ornithopter got revived with the Sci-Fi miniseries of ‘Dune,’ which ran from 2000 to 2003. The miniseries though exquisite, had problems in creating the ideal concept for the Ornithopter even though they embraced the bug-like characteristics of the aircraft.

In 2021, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of ‘Dune’ got released in theaters, and the film did justice to the concept of the Ornithopter. Denis Villeneuve’s version of ‘Dune’ not only projected the ideal image for the aircraft, but it also gave the machine better recognition for its undoubted role played in the ‘Dune’ universe.

Glossary Terms Associated With the Ornithopter

A list of words associated with the Ornithopter include:

  1. Heart Scallop: The Heart Scallop is a land mollusk with a soft-shell bivalve. The Heart Scallop weighs 135 kilograms upwards and is indigenous to the Forannis Triad. It is also known for its brute muscular strength.
  2. Orships: The Orship is a small Ornithopter spacecraft capable of reaching low orbit. The spacecraft violated the Spacing Guild’s monopoly on space travel. Hence, they were used only as a last resort.

Other aircraft related to the Ornithopter include Aerial Searchers, Cargo Ornithopters, Flitter Thopters, Hawk Planes, Mortuary Thopters, Armored Thopters, and Racing Thopters.


Is the Ornithopter from Dune possible?

Though there have been several replications of Dune’s Ornithopter, the aircraft is not feasible due to how it was produced in the novel. However, its principle of flight might be feasible but, that would lead to excessive fuel use.

What does an Ornithopter look like?

The Ornithopter has a bug-like appearance with wings, creating an upward lift. An example of what animal Dune’s Ornithopter looks like would be the Dragonfly.

Why is Ornithopter in Dune?

The Ornithopter got invented for the sole purpose of transportation. It got made by scientists imprisoned by emperor Neweh. Though they were a great piece of technology, Ornithopters did not get accepted until the Butlerian Jihad.

What is the central idea of an Ornithopter?

An Ornithopter mimics the motion of a bird flapping its wings. However, the Ornithopter from ‘Dune’ mimics a bug.

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