Humans have long been inspired by observing nature. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched several designs of potential flying machines based on the observation of birds.
Aviation technology has made dramatic changes since the first flight of the Wright Brothers. Engineers now look back to the masters of the natural world to find clues for amazing breakthroughs in aviation design. The following are just a few of the nature inspired improvements in aviation engineering and technology:
Birds and insects are able to adjust their wing size and shape while they fly. They have skeletal and vascular structures that morph into different shapes in order to compensate for the ideal conditions needed to maneuver effectively in the air. Engineers are experimenting with several creative designs that mimic the birds to adjust the wings of aircraft in order to fit every stage of the flight mission.
When birds come in for a landing, they execute a series of maneuvers and adjustments that allow them to make extremely accurate stops on difficult perches. Birds do not use the standard, linear landings made by most aircraft. Engineers are testing how to recreate bird-like adjustments in speed and direction to help aircraft land safely and accurately. The aircraft of the future may not need runways or brakes! Bird morphing wings and perching behaviors that are influencing aviation design are discussed in the 2011 abstract by Elvin Pineda from the University of Massachusetts.
Winglets from Outstretched Eagle Wings
The wing-tips of Eagles and other birds have also caught the attention of several aviation engineers. Several airplanes have been designed with adjustable wingtip mechanisms
. This allows the aircraft to make slight adjustments to their wing tips to reduce the drag of the aircraft and improve efficiency and handling characteristics as well as enhance safety for following aircraft without increasing the wingspan. This also provides an increase in lift generated at the wingtip by smoothing the airflow and reducing the lift induced drag . The increased efficiency and reduced drag also improves fuel efficiency.
The skeletal structures of bees and butterfly are extremely strong and light weight and able to form different shapes to allow the creatures to flutter from one flower to the next with great maneuverability and ease. Engineers are examining designed aircraft using similar patterns that mimic the shapes and curves of bees and insects
. Birds also have well designed beaks and facial features
that are being studied by engineers in order to make more aerodynamic designs. These designs have also proved to be incredibly durable.
Flying creatures are not the only natural teachers that are schooling modern aviation engineers. Sharks have a groovy skin that allows them to glide through the water with the greatest of ease. Engineers copy these grooves
in the hull design of aircraft in order to reduce wind drag and increase speed and efficiency.
Engineers are on a constant quest to reduce airplane noise. A number of creatures are giving lessons on how to keep the flying machines from disturbing the peace. The pistol shrimp emits a loud crack sound to stun prey and confuse predators while tuning the frequency out of his own brain. Bees position their honeycombs in a certain way to dampen sound. Owls are experts of stealth and silent flight. Engineers are also taking a close look at creatures such as cicadas, butterflies, and fish to provide some insight on how to develop potential noise reduction technology. Some of the ideas include retractable brush fringe and serrated engine casings.
These are just a few ways of how engineers are looking to the time-tested methods of the natural world to design the flying machines of the future. That is the reason why companies like Boeing and Airbus are sending their engineers off on outdoor adventures to examine the genius of the natural world. It just makes sense to take flight lessons from those that have been doing it for thousands of years!