Coachlines - September 2021

23.09.21 Liveryman John Blauth

Air is a fluid on land, sea and up there

In the automotive and aerospace sectors air flow is critical to keep your wheels on the ground and your aircraft aloft. That’s the unchangeable physics about which all engineers, pilots and drivers are intuitively aware, and for which all of the above give thanks.

An article published recently in Blue Sky News asked the following question: ‘Should planes be more like birds? Read on for there is an online test…

Engineers from the University of Bristol and the Royal Veterinary College studied our avian friends to answer this question because aerospace engineers have long been fascinated by how birds fly and what we can learn from vets about how they adapt to different conditions. In the past year, the team from Bristol and the RVC has made significant discoveries about the way birds’ wings and tails move to give them agility and efficiency. So what? This is research that could have major implications for future aircraft design. The team performed a range of experiments using some of nature’s most elegant and impressive birds: Lily, a barn owl; Ellie, a goshawk; and Sasha, a tawny eagle. This included creating a bespoke gust generator and wind tunnel for Lily and Sasha to fly through, using high-speed and motion-capture cameras to capture in detail every single feather as it buckled, bent and moved throughout their flight.

In another experiment they filled the lab with soap bubbles containing a little added helium so they hung in the air. As the birds glided through this cloud of bubbles, they were stirred by the motion which allowed the team to understand how birds use their tails differently and more efficiently than aeroplanes.

To really bring their research to life at the virtual exhibition, the team has developed an interactive game It’s a Breeze and an augmented reality app, OwlAR, so that you can recreate the team’s wind gust experiment by using a mobile device to fly Lily the barn owl. If you managed to land Lily safely first time, and to collect the sample as instructed, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Don’t give up your day job just yet though!