Bird Flight Article and video on CNN
While searching through old emails yesterday for one related to a gift I recently gave to my niece, I stumbled across two that had come in about a year ago and had somehow escaped my attention. One was from John Bailey in the UK and the other from a new contact in South Africa. John Gibbs is a technical writer in the Durban area and, as he describes himself, ‘a backstreet aeronautical engineer’. He had found the Great Blue Machine and was motivated to write a detailed description of his informed views on the future of human powered aviation. I’m going to write him back and request permission to post his letter in the correspondence section, because I hope it will prompt some discussion from John Bailey and Tom Phillips and perhaps others as well. While I was glad to see that we agree on essentially every aspect of innovative aircraft design, John feels that ornithopter R & D is going to waste lots of time, and I feel that it is the area in most dire need of exploration. True, some supplemental power is needed to gain altitude under many conditions but then with a decent glide ratio (which all birds possess), the need for power would be diminished except possibly at landing when a significant amount of flapping would be required for breaking. A bit called “Why don’t airplanes have flapping wings” by Robert Lamb on the Blow Your Mind blog cites the work of Jim Usherwood at the Structure and Motion Laboratory, Royal Veterinary College, University of London. Robert Lamb takes a similar view to John Gibbs when he states that birds are just not very efficient. As a Biology teacher who has spent more than twenty years studying and watching birds, I must disagree. Nature cannot afford to be wasteful and our best way forward as a species is to emulate this principle first. We must ultimately come to understand that the entire infrastructure needed to support the automobile, – including all roads, bridges filling stations, tunnels and manufacturing plants is killing this planet and its riotous biodiversity. With a clear focus on intentional, biologically inspired design, we can learn to travel in the water as the sharks and whales do and take to the sky as the birds, bats and insects do. John and I agree that birds have power to spare and that humans cannot generate an equivalent amount for our size. We can generate some though, and super-capacitors can be used to make up the difference. Birds, Bats, and Bugs are WAY more versatile and maneuverable than anything we have some up with so far. They bulk up at the end of the summer and routinely fly thousands of miles non-stop through all manner of environmental conditions. John and I agree that a radically novel approach to personal flight is needed, it’s just that we see different ways to get there and that is good. The more people looking carefully at the problem, the more likely we are to resolve it!
My interest is in creating ornithopters of increasing mass and demonstrating their inherent air-worthiness. The engineers at FESTO have been able to realize significant improvements in efficiency with their bio-inspired designs. Digitizing actual bird parts and using a combination of 3D printing and carbon fiber milling is already yielding an increasing diversity of smaller mass flying robots. We have swifts, penguins, hummingbirds and gulls. It won’t be long until other bird families are represented and the employment of artificial feathers should lead to a substantial increase in both thrust and lift generating capabilities. From there, flapping winged fliers will quickly gain mass / size.
This story was featured on NPR this week.
This video is related to an article that appears in this months Nature magazine: V is for Vortex
My friend Keith and I share a love of backcountry skiing and bird watching. We recently had a conversation about the similarities between the sinusoidal wave nature of the telemark turn and the undulating flight patterns of the woodpeckers (and many other species). This morning a colleague named Neil showed me the Nature article linked above and I’m posting everything I can find related to it. Following the sine wave down a steep, powder laden mountainside is one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve experienced. Keith and I both liken it to flying, especially when the powder is light and deep. There is efficiency inherent in this motion as accumulated energy is distributed at the bottom of each turn. As you will see in the videos, birds share some of this energy with their flying partners in a similar manner. As humans build bird-inspired flying machines, this up and down motion may induce nausea in some, but others will relish each compression and release as skiers do and the birds also must.
2013 was certainly the best year yet, and 2014 is looking even brighter. Though human-sized hummingbirds may be a long ways off, hummingbird-inspired bots three to five times larger than their wild models may be just around the corner. The video below is a trailer for a short film about hummingbirds made with super slow-mo cameras called Jeweled Messengers. It is showing on the National Geographic Channel sporadically right now.