Next Up for Aircraft Technology: Bird and Bat-Inspired Flapping-Wing Planes

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It's no big secret that we here at TreeHugger are ardent fans of biomimicry; we were therefore quite interested to read about the efforts of a team of University of Michigan engineers to design flapping-wing planes by seeking inspiration from birds, bats and insects.

Wei Shyy, chair of the university's aerospace engineering department, explained the source of his inspiration:

"Natural flyers obviously have some highly varied mechanical properties that we really have not incorporated in engineering. They're not only lighter, but also have much more adaptive structures as well as capabilities of integrating aerodynamics with wing and body shapes, which change all the time. Natural flyers have outstanding capabilities to remain airborne through wind gusts, rain, and snow." Shyy's ultimate goal is to build a flapping-wing plane, or micro air vehicle, with a wingspan between 1 and 3 in that could perform missions in uncertain conditions; unlike its fixed-wing counterparts, it would fly at a much slower speed, enabling it to hover and even "perch" for monitoring purposes. His research is currently being funded by the Air Force.

The key challenge going forward, Shyy explains, will be figuring out the aerodynamics of a craft that will need to successfully adapt to ever-changing weather conditions and winds: "We are trying to figure out how to design a vehicle that can perform a mission in an uncertain environment. When the wind blows, how do they stay on course?"

Via ::ScienceDaily: Birds, Bats And Insects Hold Secrets For Aerospace Engineers (news website)

See also: ::Hang On Tight: Biomimicry Explained in Lay Terms, ::Penn State: Morphing Airplane Wings Fly Like a Bird's

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