July 18, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

It’s Not a Bird, It’s a Plane

Look to the birds of the air, and they will teach you aeronautics.  That’s what designers of the Robo-Swift did.  PhysOrg reported about a new plane that imitates a swift thing on the wing:

RoboSwift is a micro airplane fitted with shape shifting wings, inspired by the common swift, one of nature’s most efficient flyers.  The micro airplane will have unprecedented wing characteristics; the wing geometry as well as the wing surface area can be adjusted continuously.  This makes RoboSwift more maneuverable and efficient.  Resembling the common swift, RoboSwift will be able to go undetected while using its three micro cameras to perform surveillance on vehicles and people on the ground.

The article says that RoboSwift, designed by Dutch engineers, will also be able to fly along with swifts and study them up close.  One can only imagine what would be going through a swift’s bird brain upon seeing such a thing.  (See also the 04/29/2007 story on swifts.)
    Scientists continue to learn more about bird flight.  Birds seem to break the rules of aerodynamics, reported MSNBC News.  But that can only mean that we don’t understand the rules very well yet.  Bird maneuverability vastly exceeds man’s aircraft.  PhysOrg explained that a new study of 138 bird species overturns “aerodynamic scaling rules that explain how flight varies according to weight and wing loading.” 

Their analysis reveals that the difference between the speed of small and large birds is not as great as expected; they suggest that this surprising result is likely to be the result of disadvantages associated with very slow speeds among smaller birds and with very fast speeds for larger birds.  They also show that the evolutionary history of the species helps explain much of the variation in flight speed: species of the same group tend to fly at similar characteristic speeds.  For example, birds of prey and herons had slow flight speeds, on average, given their mass and wing loading, whereas the average speed for songbirds and shorebirds was faster than would be predicted.

Yet it would seem hard to claim knowledge of evolutionary history in the past when the article goes on to say that “there exists a diversity of cruising flight characteristics among birds that remain to be explored and understood” in the present, right under our noses.  David Tyler, writing for Access Research Network, has explored which paradigm – design or evolution – is more suited to the explosive rise in biomimetic engineering.

Scientists should be swift to learn, slow to mythologize.  Evolutionists could not begin to explain how a lumbering dinosaur got the right combination of mutations to turn into a flying swift with aerodynamic engineering that is the envy of our smartest inventors.  Evolutionary claims are vacuous and useless.  Give us RoboSwifts and other useful inventions inspired by nature – as long as the government doesn’t use them to spy on honest citizens.
    A reader wrote in about witnessing birds in flight:

About two years ago I was privileged to watch two (presumably male) nighthawks performing in front of a third (presumably female) nighthawk that was sitting on a rock and incidentally performing for me, sitting on a tractor a few yards from the one on the rock.  One appeared to be chasing the other as they flew up the road, came back down through the orchard, dodging limbs in the tops of the cherry trees.  The tail of the first and the beak of the second were separated by about a foot, no more than 18 inches.  They flew at pursuit speed, much faster that when they are feeding hundreds of feet above the ground.  They matched wing strokes as they flew around and over limbs, trees, sagebrush and rock, usually no more than two or three feet from the obstacles.  Now and then the leader would perform some type of pull-up maneuver and the follower would become the leader.  I think this is what happened, but it was too swift for me to be sure.  In a word, it was awesome.

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Categories: Biomimetics, Birds, Physics

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