Swifts Don’t Just Dream of Flying…

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Posted on April 29, 2007 in Amazing Facts, Biomimetics, Birds, Physics

…they fly while dreaming.  Did you know that swifts, the aerial acrobats of the air, sleep on the wing?  That’s not all, they adapt their wing shape to turn on a dime.  Science Daily summarized the cover story of Nature this week (April 26) that examined “wing morphing” in swifts – their ability to change wing shape in flight.  Dutch and Swedish scientists ran tests in wind tunnels to measure the lift and drag for different wing shapes.  Extended wings are more efficient for gliding, but swept wings are good for tight turns and speed.  Swept wings also protect against breakage.  Swifts gain a 3-fold advantage in flight efficiency by continually adjusting the shape of their wings.
    Wing morphing is the “latest trend in aviation,” the article says.  NASA is experimenting with micro-aircraft that can vary wing shape in flight for use in surveillance.  Students in the Netherlands are also imitating the flight of the swift with their model aircraft.  But then, even the Wright brothers observed birds for ideas on how to construct wings for the first airplane.
    The article also says that swifts even mate in the air.  They only land on their cliff-hanging nests to lay eggs.  Otherwise, it’s in the air all the time—up to 1.5 km high at night while roosting in mid-air.  European swifts migrate to South Africa and back each year.  In a lifetime, a swift will fly 4.5 million kilometers—equivalent to 100 round trips around the Earth.

Swifts also eat up to 20,000 insects a night.  Fortunately, no evolution fables polluted this story.  No one tried to say that a T. rex morphed into a swift over millions of years.  That wouldn’t fly on a wing or a prayer.  Who taught swifts the kind of aerodynamics NASA admires?  Who gave them both the hardware and software to live on the wing almost all the time?  Who programmed the autopilot that allows them to roost without a roost?  Calling a swift swift is like calling an orange orange.  What would they call a human?  Smart?  Wise?  Sometimes.  Homo is not always sapiens sapiens.  For proof, see next entry.

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