Even before the Wright brothers achieved flight with fixed wings, engineers have dreamed of mimicking the flight of birds. In theory, understanding winged flight could help to improve the efficiency of everything from jet planes to delivery drones.
But all our dreams of flight are only as good as our ability to understand how birds actually fly. It turns out that everything we knew up until now was wrong.
A little parrot named Obi is helping Stanford scientists to better measure the dynamics of a bird's wing in flight. And as if Obi isn't cute enough, the experiment requires him to don tiny laser-proof googles, to protect his eyes while flying through a laser sheet which tracks a cloud of tiny non-toxic aerosol particles that help define the air movement.
Bookmark this if you cannot watch the video right now, and come back to be mesmerized by Obi's beautiful movements captured in slow motion amid the dynamic field of swirling particles.
In addition to this study of the wing-air dynamics, the group has also developed new techniques to measure the amount of lift with great precision. Putting these flight studies together with the lift data, they found that none of the three most prevalent models of flight can accurately predict what is really happening.
While this points out a potential weakness in using models, it also proves the strength of the scientific method. Good science consists of making predictions and then adjusting the theories when new data don't fit. Whether the theory is E = mc2 or vast lines of code running through supercomputers, the process is the same.
So watch for aeronautical engineers to put this new knowledge into making our flight technology more efficient, more reliable, or maybe even more amazing.
Read more at Bioinspiration and Biomimetics