Could gulls' wings inspire smarter airplane design?

January 03, 2019

Flexing a single elbow joint enables gulls to adapt their wing shape to gusty conditions, according to new University of British Columbia (UBC) research--a relatively simple mechanism that could inspire improved aircraft design.

"While we know birds frequently alter their wing shape, this is the first empirical evidence demonstrating how that wing morphing affects avian stability," says UBC zoologist Douglas Altshuler, senior author on the paper published this week in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

"And in this case, the gull's wing design points to a novel, and fairly simple, avian-inspired joint that may enable aircraft to adjust dynamically to challenging conditions."

As wing speeds and maximum gusts increase, gulls sacrifice stability for maneuverability. By altering the angle of their elbow joint they shift from extended wing configurations to a flexed configuration, pulling the tips of their wings in and back. The flexed shape gives them more control.

To determine the stability of different wing shapes, Altshuler and researcher Christina Harvey prepared gull wings over the anatomical elbow range and measured their performance in a wind tunnel. They also observed gulls in the wild.

"The Wright brothers weren't the first to design an aircraft that was able to fly, but they were the first to successfully control and stabilize a powered aircraft inflight," says Harvey, now with the University of Michigan.

"Likewise, it's not enough for birds to simply produce sufficient lift and thrust. They must also control and stabilize their flight paths to be able to successfully forage and migrate in their natural habitat."

To get a fuller picture of how birds maintain their stability while gliding the researchers want to study a wider range of wind perturbations -- gulls often encounter unsteady, large-scale turbulence while flying in the wake of buildings or convective air flows over open water. Atmospheric turbulence in these conditions is likely larger than the wind tunnel turbulence the researchers used in the study.
-end-


University of British Columbia

Related Birds Articles from Brightsurf:

In a warming climate, can birds take the heat?
We don't know precisely how hot things will get as climate change marches on, but animals in the tropics may not fare as well as their temperate relatives.

Dull-colored birds don't see the world like colorful birds do
Bengalese finches -- also called the Society finch -- are a species of brown, black and white birds that don't rely on colorful signals when choosing a mate.

Some dinosaurs could fly before they were birds
New research using the most comprehensive study of feathered dinosaurs and early birds has revised the evolutionary relationships of dinosaurs at the origin of birds.

If it's big enough and leafy enough the birds will come
A new study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology highlights specific features of urban green spaces that support the greatest diversity of bird species.

How do birds understand 'foreign' calls?
New research from Kyoto University show that the coal tit (Periparus ater) can eavesdrop and react to the predatory warning calls of the Japanese tit (Parus minor) and evokes a visual image of the predator in their mind

Microelectronics for birds
Ornithologists and physicists from St Petersburg University have conducted an interdisciplinary study together with colleagues from Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Biological Station Rybachy of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Birds of a feather better not together
A new study of North American birds from Washington University in St.

Not-so-dirty birds? Not enough evidence to link wild birds to food-borne illness
Despite the perception that wild birds in farm fields can cause food-borne illness, a WSU study has found little evidence linking birds to E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.

Birds are shrinking as the climate warms
After 40 years of collecting birds that ran into Chicago buildings, scientists have been able to show that the birds have been shrinking as the climate's warmed up.

Diving birds follow each other when fishing
Diving seabirds watch each other to work out when to dive, new research shows.

Read More: Birds News and Birds Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.