December 8, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Fly Swiftly

Swifts are amazing little birds in more ways than speed. They are inspiring advanced technology.

The common swift is being eyed by aircraft engineers who want to go fast, high, and green. Science Daily says these engineers are “inspired by nature.”

Calling Apus apus a common “swift” is like calling an orange an orange. They are swift! These incredible birds dart about effortlessly and spend their lives almost always on the wing. They eat, sleep and even mate in the air, the females only clinging to their cliff-side nests to lay and nurture their eggs.

Shaker Meguid (U of Toronto) is particularly impressed by the rapid wing-morphing ability of the swift, which allows it to adapt the wing shape for the need of the moment: soaring, turning, diving, or hovering. Could airplane wings do this?  Currently, aircraft are limited to clumsy ailerons and flaps. Meguid’s team is using shape-memory materials with actuators on a tetrahedral-truss plan with spherical freely-rotating joints.

If the morphing wings work, they could provide seamless wing shape modification in flight. Benefits include better performance, maneuverability, lower cost, reduced pollution and quieter take-offs.

Sleeping and eating in the air is already common for humans on cross-country flights, but better leave mating in the air for the birds.  (You’d have to be swift.)

“Design and build” is the motto of this engineering team. This story has intelligent design written all over it. The word evolution played no part in the research – unless, of course, you add the letters “Design R-” in front of it.

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