How to make planes better? Make them more like birds

We have been using the same technology for building planes for decades now and it is about time that changes be done to make them better. But what needs to be done to make them better? According to a team of researchers, answers could be found from the avian world.

According to a team of scientists at the University of Bristol and the Royal Veterinary College, we could find cues from birds to make our planes better. Birds have been at the center of research for many aerospace engineers as they continue to find answers to some of the most complex questions pertaining to flight and how we can increase our current technology.

Researchers performed a range of experiments using some of nature’s most elegant and impressive birds – Lily, a barn owl; Ellie, a goshawk; and Sasha, a tawny eagle including a bespoke gust generator and wind tunnel for Lily and Sasha to fly through, using high-speed and motion-capture cameras to capture in detail every single feather as it buckled, bent and moved throughout their flight.

In another experiment they filled the lab with soap bubbles containing a little added helium so they hung in the air. As the birds glided through this cloud of bubbles, they stirred them, allowing the team to understand how birds use their tails in a different – and more efficient – way to aeroplanes.

The team also developed a range of online content including an interactive game, It’s a breeze, and an augmented reality app, OwlAR, that will allow users to recreate the team’s wind gust experiment by using a mobile device to fly Lily the barn owl around their own living room, local park – or anywhere else they happen to be!

The research behind this fun and interactive content is significant because it begins to solve two of the major problems facing aerial vehicles – smoothness of flight and fuel economy.

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