Smarter airplane design could be inspired from gulls

Scientists say that is could be possible to draw inspriation from birds for design of smarter airplanes.

Scientists have observed that flexing a single elbow joint enables gulls to adapt their wing shape to gusty conditions and that this relatively simple design could inspire improved aircraft design. Researchers at University of British Columbia say that their study shows evidence how wing morphing affects avian stability.

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, scientists say.

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.

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