How the albatross could influence drone design

Scientists study nature's most masterful flier for aircraft design inspiration.
Written by Sarah Korones, Contributor

Aerospace engineers are taking a cue from one of nature’s most masterful fliers—the albatross—in order to gain insight to the mechanics of flying.

In a new study out of Germany that combines biology and aeronautical engineering, researchers closely examined the albatross’s amazingly efficient flight patterns, hoping that someday their findings will be used to influence the design of future aircrafts.

It’s little wonder the scientists chose to study the albatross in particular. With a wingspan of up to twelve feet, the seabird can glide for over 1,000 miles without one single flap of its wings.

Study author Johannes Traugott looked specifically at this “dynamic soaring” process, using advanced GPS tracking to figure out just how the bird propels itself through the air. Together with colleagues Gottfried Sachs and Francesco Bonadonna, Traugott found that the albatross flies close to the ocean’s surface and then turns sharply into the wind to gain altitude. Once the bird is about 50 feet high, it turns downwind and glides along until its time to lift again.

"There are applications here for aircraft that need to stay in the air as long as possible, for extended flight where your objective is simply to stay airborne for as long as you can," Traugott told National Geographic.

While flying close to the surface for long periods of time doesn’t make sense for commercial aircrafts, researchers think their albatross insight could prove useful in designing drones, which must constantly receive radio signals while in the air.

[via National Geographic]

Image: Brian Gratwicke/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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