Gull’s wings may help design smarter airplanes

Updated on Jan 04, 2019 12:44 PM IST

The study showed that the design of a gull’s wing points to a novel and fairly simple, avian-inspired joint that may enable aircraft to adjust dynamically to challenging conditions.

The findings were published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface.(HT file photo/ Vijayanand Gupta)
The findings were published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface.(HT file photo/ Vijayanand Gupta)
Indo Asian News Service | ByIndo Asian News Service, Toronto

Flexing a single elbow joint, which enables gulls to adapt their wing shape to gusty conditions, could relatively be a simple mechanism to inspire aircraft design, according to a new research.

The study showed that the design of a gull’s wing points to a novel and fairly simple, avian-inspired joint that may enable aircraft to adjust dynamically to challenging conditions.

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.

“While we know birds frequently alter their wing shape, this is the first empirical evidence demonstrating how that wing morphing affects avian stability,” said senior author Douglas Altshuler, Zoologist from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.

The findings were published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface. To determine the stability of different wing shapes, the researchers prepared gull wings over the anatomical elbow range and measured their performance in a wind tunnel and observed gulls in the wild.

It is not enough for birds to simply produce sufficient lift and thrust. They must also control and stabilise their flight paths to be able to successfully forage and migrate in their natural habitat, said Christina Harvey, Researcher with the University of Michigan in the US.

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