Aviation Biomimetics of Birds- not design, but operations

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Man copies Animals = Biomimetics

Started with Wright Brothers through Today

There’s a Reason Why Birds fly in V Formations

The Wright Brothers “discovered the birds’ method of lateral control one day while observing a flight of pigeons” [1]. Therefore. they might have laid claim to early or first use of  biomimetics or biomimicry, except that the term was not coined for about 50 years.[2]

bird and wright brothers








The use of biomimetics in Dayton has been followed by generations of  aerospace innovators. As the below stories indicate the imitation tends to influence structures, designs and even metallurgy. The featured article is about Airbus research into replicating the V formation of birds.

Airbus Bird Of Prey, A Product Of Biomimicry, Is Beautiful To Behold

Airbus Bird of Prey


structure inspired by bird

Promising Quieter Wing Technology May Make Airplanes At Airports Better Neighbors

NASA Bird flex wing


aircraft skin mimics shark skin


The traditional method of helping an aircraft cut through the air is to make every surface as smooth as possible, and the study of sharks suggests that there is even more to be done. Sharks are famed for their speed through the water, but rather than being smooth, sharkskin is covered in small, tooth-like riblets.

For the past two years, certain Airbus jetliners in airline service have been fitted with small ‘riblet’ patches – textured surfaces applied to the fuselages and wings that mimic the effect of sharkskin. These test surfaces have helped to demonstrate that the sharkskin concept is highly suitable for long-range aircraft, since its drag-reducing surface is particularly effective during high-speed cruise flight.

Some more examples

eagle and falcon as inspiration

Geese in V Formation


Why Airliners Could Soon Fly in Formation, Just Like a Flock of Birds

This makes too much sense not to try.


SEP 21, 2020


Airbus planes in V formation

Could passenger planes begin flying in formation to draft each other’s wingtip vortex effects? One Airbus-based startup concept thinks so. The concept uses a formation idea inspired by birds, who commute north to south and back in large V shapes to capitalize on the updraft generated by the birds in front.

airbus biomimetics

When airplanes push through the air at high speeds, they generate something called wingtip vortex, also called wake turbulence, even though it’s not true turbulence at all. True turbulence is more like the way fall leaves follow and swirl in circles after a car passes through, because cars are not as aerodynamic and are usually interacting with more complex surroundings. Wingtip vortex is so uniform and predictable that it lingers in the air for minutes and can even work to pull on the airplane, which is called vortex drag.

In the concept pushed by the Airbus incubator, appropriately named “fello’fly,“fello’fly,” planes line up over a mile apart, which is still close enough to benefit from the wingtip vortices generated on either side of the lead plane.

AIRBUSairplane separation

This sounds like a good idea, and when employed in the right way, it really can be. But it’s counterintuitive to a lot of ideas pilots are taught about wake turbulence.


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Extremely powerful vortices—especially those generated by a large aircraft—have been known to flip smaller planes that have encountered the horizontal tornado of air streaming behind,” CNN explains. “Avoiding wake turbulence is part of a student pilot’s curriculum, as it will be in the fello’fly demonstration.”

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To ride the wave without facing adverse outcomes, fello’fly planes will use an updraft of air that’s just outside the tube of wingtip vortex. That means careful planning and formation that’s more offset to make sure the planes truly follow in the updraft instead of the vortex. The updraft they want to ride is invisible, but basically, the planes will bodysurf in the most advantageous portion of the full spread of wake from the lead plane.

[1] : Howard, Fred (1998). Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers. Dober Publications. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-486-40297-0.

[2] Vincent, Julian F.V.; Bogatyreva, Olga A.; Bogatyrev, Nikolaj R.; Bowyer, Adrian; Pahl, Anja-Karina (21 August 2006). “Biomimetics: its practice and theory”Journal of the Royal Society Interface3 (9): 471–482. doi:10.1098/rsif.2006.0127PMC 1664643PMID 16849244

V vortex theory


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