IT sounds a bit incredible that swallow’s wings, the skin of a shark and a lotus leaf would have something to do with advancements in aircraft aerodynamics and the development of a new generation of drones.
Yet, for scientists who specialize in ‘biomimicry’ or biologically inspired engineering, this is common knowledge. In effect, this is the study and imitation of Allah’s creation to help humans create newer, faster and more efficient modern machines.
You may be surprised to learn that the inspiration behind a number of aeronautical innovations has been Allah’s creation, like the lotus leaf and a variety of birds (eagles, owls, sea-birds) and even insects like bees and butterflies!
The Lotus Effect
The surface of a lotus leaf keeps it clean and dry by causing rainwater to roll off, taking any dirt with it. This “lotus effect” has inspired coatings for cabin fittings and lavatories on planes, since it is more hygienic and reduces the on-flight use of water.
Moveable Wing Surfaces
Sea birds have the ability to sense gusts of air with their beaks and react by adjusting the shape of their wing feathers to suppress lift. The nose of the new Airbus A350 XWB contains probes which can detect gusts and deploy moveable wing surfaces for more efficient flight. This helps reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Eagle Inspired Winglets
The wings of large birds like the eagle perfectly balance maximum lift with minimum length by curling feathers up at the tips until they are almost vertical. This inspired engineers to build small devices known as ‘winglets,’ which mimic the upward curl of the eagle’s feathers in modern aircraft.
The Silent Flight of the Owl
Owls have serrated feathers on their wings and downy feathers on their legs, which minimize aerodynamic noise. Engineers are studying owls to further unlock the secrets of silent flight and are proposing ideas for future aircraft that include a retractable brush fringe to mimic the owls’ trailing feathers and a velvet-like coating on aircraft landing gear.
The Use of Bionics
Bees and butterflies use lightweight, active skeletal structures for a variety of purposes, inspiring engineers to consider the use of such “bionic structures” as part of future aircraft structures. Soft membrane and blood vessels (micro-capillaries) can stiffen or relax to allow the wings of butterflies and bees to adapt to every stage of flight leading to aircraft manufacturers developing similar aircraft wings that naturally turn and twist in flight.
‘Groovy’ Shark Skin
A shark’s skin is covered by microscopic grooves that scientists have found actually reduce their drag through the water, allowing the shark to conserve energy as it searches for food. For over 30 years this “groovy skin” concept, or riblet as it is referred to in the industry, has been investigated and tested by aerospace engineers to see how it can help to reduce the fuel consumed by a jet aircraft.
We have all seen bird formations in the sky where large birds like migrating ducks and geese fly together to save energy and travel long distances. The amazing thing is that the leading bird’s wings generate whirling masses of air which is used by the following birds to obtain extra lift, which means they need to use less energy to fly. Aircraft wings create the same effect, known as a trailing vortex. Military pilots often use the same formation flying techniques to reduce the amount of energy – fuel burn – that the aircraft use.
Swallows, cockatiels, turtle doves, bats and eagles: blueprints for new drones?
Scientists have learned that swallows perform extreme high-speed turns that would incapacitate the best human fighter pilots according to findings published on the birds’ moves in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
Apparently, these findings will come in handy to build a futuristic fleet of aerial drones ranging from hummingbird-sized to those as broad as some eagles, inspired by flying animals, both in body structure and brain wiring.
The United States has started two animal-inspired projects in 2010 dubbed AIRFOILS (for Animal-Inspired Robust Flight with Outer and Inner Loop Strategies), for constructing autonomous drones that “feel” their environment at a cost of $15 million in funding.
The idea is to produce new and improved unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, will sport flexible wings, like birds’ or bats’, that bend when they brush against an object like a tree branch.
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The irony is that even as they unabashedly “borrow” ideas based on the flawless structure, accident-proof design and inimitable function of creatures fashioned by Allah, the Most Perfect Creator, the terminology that scientists continue to use refers to “Mother Nature’s designs”.