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Birds and aeroplanes

Peter J. Alister

1993-04-01 00:00:00

Flying techniques depend on the principles of aerodynamics. Reducing air pressure and friction against body and wings requires perfect aerodynamic structure. Many years ago scientists found that rain drops have the most perfect aerodynamic shape. To get maximum performance out of vehicles, they attempted to design them to resemble the characteristics of rain drops, but were not successful. Today’s most developed aircraft are not designed to simulate the form of rain drops. Instead, aircraft are designed to simulate the form of birds in order to minimize air pressure. The aerodynamic structure of birds enabled scientists to produce aircraft with high speed and high manoeuvrability, though they are not as perfect as birds.

The latest aircraft are still clumsier than birds and, by comparison with birds, have less agility. Moreover, upward flight affects pilots badly, while birds can do this very easily since the air between their feathers their bodies and wings is absorbing and reducing air pressure. Their mobile tail feathers enable them to turn sharply and even do somersaults. They are capable of steep descent or ascent without the risks aeroplanes face in doing the same. Land birds can fly or glide for long periods as well as land without heating their wings, whereas aeroplanes cannot sustain flight with stopped engines.

An important recent achievement in aircraft technology is vertical take off and landing - something many flying animals such as bees have been able to do for millions of years. Wing design, following the models of wing design in birds, has also been improved recently. The wings of birds follow hundreds of different designs, each with its peculiar advantages. They have many facilities. The most significant ability of birds’ wings is that they can be opened or folded up at will, thus giving flexibility in different flight conditions. This inspired engineers to design some aircraft like the F-14, F-18 and MIG-25 with wings that can be adjusted to some degree. The forward-arrow-angled wing is another projected innovation of recent technology in pursuit of what was given to birds in their creation. The airflow possible between the feathers of birds’ wings which significantly reduces air pressure is also being imitated. The producers of one model of the Boeing-747 have designed thousands of small cavities in the wings: the trials have been successful and the technique has been recommended for adaptation for use in all aircraft.

The scientist and engineer, whose final aim is to attain the flying technique of birds, know full well that they are just at the start of their quest. Birds and other flying animals do not have a consciousness like ours. How is it that they have achieved such a perfect compatibility with the air? It is true that producing an aircraft requires elaborate skills and elaborate knowledge, but is it not marvellous that birds demonstrate perfect flight? How is this? How does the possibility, the very idea, of flight arise?

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