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Swift’s Wing Perfect for Surfing Storms

The shape of a Swift’s wing helps it to glide through storms. This is the result of a study conducted by scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Engineering Department.

The research has posed the following conclusions:-

The wings’ crescent shape lessens the effects of blustery conditions, helping to stabilise them as they glide during turbulent weather.

This means swifts – which eat, mate and even sleep on the wing – are not forced to use up vital energy to stay on course.

Scientists at Edinburgh constructed a triangular model wing with the characteristic trailing edge shape of swifts’ wings.

They studied its aerodynamic properties by fitting it into a water flume that simulated airflow during flight.

Using a laser sheet and a digital camera, researchers tracked the movement of tiny glass balls in the water, to reveal how air flows over the wing.

Results showed for the first time that as air passes over the wing, it can form into two or three circulating regions of airflow – known as leading-edge vortices, or LEVs. Researchers suggest that it may act as a dampening mechanism that helps stabilise the birds’ wings as they glide in blustery weather.

Dr Ignazio Maria ViolaSchool of Engineering said: 

“One of the most fascinating secrets in nature is how birds and insects can fly so effortlessly in turbulence. These results provide a small breakthrough towards unravelling this precious secret.”

The study is published in Royal Society Open Science. It was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia.

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