Gulls’ wings can adapt their shape to breezy or gusty conditions by altering a single elbow joint, according to a new research at the University of British Columbia (UBC) – a simple mechanism that could influence better and smarter airplanes design.
Findings of the research are detailed on a paper published in the recent issue of Journal of the Royal Science Interface.
According to the senior author Douglas Altshuler, a Zoologist at UBC, it is known that majority of the birds frequently change the shape of their wings, while this is the first empirical evidence showing the mechanism of wing morphing that affects aviation stability.
In the new research, the gull’s wings morphology directs to a new, relatively simple, avian-inspired joint that may allow smarter airplanes to tune dynamically to unfavorable conditions.
As maximum gusts and wing speeds increase, the gulls compromise stability for maneuverability. In order to shift from extended wing configurations to flexed configurations, they alter the angle of the elbow joint, pulling the tip of the wings in and back. The flexed shape provide them more control.
To find out the stability of various shapes of wings, the researchers prepared gull wings over the range of anatomical elbow and observed their performance in a wind tunnel. In addition, the team observed gulls’ wing performance in the wild.
The Wright brothers might not be the first to develop an aircraft that can fly, but they were the first to successfully manage and stabilize a powered airplane in-flight, according to Christina Harvey, one of the researchers. Similarly, it is not enough for the birds to simply release sufficient lift and thrust; they need to able to control and stabilize the path of their flights for successful forage and migration to their natural habitat.
For better understanding of how the birds maintain their stability while flying in a continuous motion, the research team is planning to study a broader range of wind perturbations. Most birds including gulls generally face unsteady, rough air turbulence during their flight around the building or conductive air flows over open water. Such air turbulence is also way larger than the turbulence generated in the wind tunnel used by the research team in their study.