Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Fixed-wing aircraft


Flying lizards of the genus Draco are renowned for their gliding ability, using an aerofoil formed by winglike patagial membranes and supported by elongated thoracic ribs. It remains unknown, however, how these lizards manoeuvre during flight. Here, I present the results of a study on the aerial behaviour of Dussumier’s Flying Lizard (Draco dussumieri) and show that Draco attaches the forelimbs to the leading edge of the patagium while airborne, forming a hitherto unknown type of composite wing. The attachment of the forelimbs to the patagium suggests that that aerofoil is controlled through movements of the forelimbs. One major advantage for the lizards is that the forelimbs retain their complete range of movement and functionality for climbing and running when not used as a part of the wing. These findings not only shed a new light on the flight of Draco but also have implications for the interpretation of gliding performance in fossil species.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Lizard, Flight, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Flying and gliding animals, Airfoil, Leading edge slats


Ornithopters, or flapping-wing aircraft, offer an alternative to helicopters in achieving manoeuvrability at small scales, although stabilizing such aerial vehicles remains a key challenge. Here, we present a hovering machine that achieves self-righting flight using flapping wings alone, without relying on additional aerodynamic surfaces and without feedback control. We design, construct and test-fly a prototype that opens and closes four wings, resembling the motions of swimming jellyfish more so than any insect or bird. Measurements of lift show the benefits of wing flexing and the importance of selecting a wing size appropriate to the motor. Furthermore, we use high-speed video and motion tracking to show that the body orientation is stable during ascending, forward and hovering flight modes. Our experimental measurements are used to inform an aerodynamic model of stability that reveals the importance of centre-of-mass location and the coupling of body translation and rotation. These results show the promise of flapping-flight strategies beyond those that directly mimic the wing motions of flying animals.

Concepts: Bird, Flight, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Flying and gliding animals, Aircraft, Airfoil, Ornithopter


Large ears enhance perception of echolocation and prey generated sounds in bats. However, external ears likely impair aerodynamic performance of bats compared to birds. But large ears may generate lift on their own, mitigating the negative effects. We studied flying brown long-eared bats, using high resolution, time resolved particle image velocimetry, to determine the aerodynamics of flying with large ears. We show that the ears and body generate lift at medium to cruising speeds (3-5 m/s), but at the cost of an interaction with the wing root vortices, likely reducing inner wing performance. We also propose that the bats use a novel wing pitch mechanism at the end of the upstroke generating thrust at low speeds, which should provide effective pitch and yaw control. In addition, the wing tip vortices show a distinct spiraling pattern. The tip vortex of the previous wingbeat remains into the next wingbeat and rotates together with a newly formed tip vortex. Several smaller vortices, related to changes in circulation around the wing also spiral the tip vortex. Our results thus show a new level of complexity in bat wakes and suggest large eared bats are less aerodynamically limited than previous wake studies have suggested.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Bat, Drag, Spiral, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Wingtip vortices


Regulations have allowed for increased unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations over the last decade, yet operations over people are still not permitted. The objective of this study was to estimate the range of injury risks to humans due to UAS impact. Three commercially-available UAS models that varied in mass (1.2-11 kg) were evaluated to estimate the range of risk associated with UAS-human interaction. Live flight and falling impact tests were conducted using an instrumented Hybrid III test dummy. On average, live flight tests were observed to be less severe than falling impact tests. The maximum risk of AIS 3+ injury associated with live flight tests was 11.6%, while several falling impact tests estimated risks exceeding 50%. Risk of injury was observed to increase with increasing UAS mass, and the larger models tested are not safe for operations over people in their current form. However, there is likely a subset of smaller UAS models that are safe to operate over people. Further, designs which redirect the UAS away from the head or deform upon impact transfer less energy and generate lower risk. These data represent a necessary impact testing foundation for future UAS regulations on operations over people.

Concepts: Mathematics, Risk, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned vehicles, Unmanned Aircraft System


Many species travel in highly organized groups. The most quoted function of these configurations is to reduce energy expenditure and enhance locomotor performance of individuals in the assemblage. The distinctive V formation of bird flocks has long intrigued researchers and continues to attract both scientific and popular attention. The well-held belief is that such aggregations give an energetic benefit for those birds that are flying behind and to one side of another bird through using the regions of upwash generated by the wings of the preceding bird, although a definitive account of the aerodynamic implications of these formations has remained elusive. Here we show that individuals of northern bald ibises (Geronticus eremita) flying in a V flock position themselves in aerodynamically optimum positions, in that they agree with theoretical aerodynamic predictions. Furthermore, we demonstrate that birds show wingtip path coherence when flying in V positions, flapping spatially in phase and thus enabling upwash capture to be maximized throughout the entire flap cycle. In contrast, when birds fly immediately behind another bird–in a streamwise position–there is no wingtip path coherence; the wing-beats are in spatial anti-phase. This could potentially reduce the adverse effects of downwash for the following bird. These aerodynamic accomplishments were previously not thought possible for birds because of the complex flight dynamics and sensory feedback that would be required to perform such a feat. We conclude that the intricate mechanisms involved in V formation flight indicate awareness of the spatial wake structures of nearby flock-mates, and remarkable ability either to sense or predict it. We suggest that birds in V formation have phasing strategies to cope with the dynamic wakes produced by flapping wings.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Threskiornithidae, Ibis, Wingtip vortices, Northern Bald Ibis, Geronticus


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to revolutionize the way research is conducted in many scientific fields [1, 2]. UAVs can access remote or difficult terrain [3], collect large amounts of data for lower cost than traditional aerial methods, and facilitate observations of species that are wary of human presence [4]. Currently, despite large regulatory hurdles [5], UAVs are being deployed by researchers and conservationists to monitor threats to biodiversity [6], collect frequent aerial imagery [7-9], estimate population abundance [4, 10], and deter poaching [11]. Studies have examined the behavioral responses of wildlife to aircraft [12-20] (including UAVs [21]), but with the widespread increase in UAV flights, it is critical to understand whether UAVs act as stressors to wildlife and to quantify that impact. Biologger technology allows for the remote monitoring of stress responses in free-roaming individuals [22], and when linked to locational information, it can be used to determine events [19, 23, 24] or components of an animal’s environment [25] that elicit a physiological response not apparent based on behavior alone. We assessed effects of UAV flights on movements and heart rate responses of free-roaming American black bears. We observed consistently strong physiological responses but infrequent behavioral changes. All bears, including an individual denned for hibernation, responded to UAV flights with elevated heart rates, rising as much as 123 beats per minute above the pre-flight baseline. It is important to consider the additional stress on wildlife from UAV flights when developing regulations and best scientific practices.

Concepts: Physiology, Heart rate, American Black Bear, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned vehicles


Estimating animal populations is critical for wildlife management. Aerial surveys are used for generating population estimates, but can be hampered by cost, logistical complexity, and human risk. Additionally, human counts of organisms in aerial imagery can be tedious and subjective. Automated approaches show promise, but can be constrained by long setup times and difficulty discriminating animals in aggregations. We combine unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), thermal imagery and computer vision to improve traditional wildlife survey methods. During spring 2015, we flew fixed-wing UAS equipped with thermal sensors, imaging two grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) breeding colonies in eastern Canada. Human analysts counted and classified individual seals in imagery manually. Concurrently, an automated classification and detection algorithm discriminated seals based upon temperature, size, and shape of thermal signatures. Automated counts were within 95-98% of human estimates; at Saddle Island, the model estimated 894 seals compared to analyst counts of 913, and at Hay Island estimated 2188 seals compared to analysts' 2311. The algorithm improves upon shortcomings of computer vision by effectively recognizing seals in aggregations while keeping model setup time minimal. Our study illustrates how UAS, thermal imagery, and automated detection can be combined to efficiently collect population data critical to wildlife management.

Concepts: Population, Pinniped, Gray Seal, Massachusetts, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned Aircraft System


The use of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS; also known as “drones”) for professional and personal-leisure use is increasing enormously. UAS operate at low altitudes (<500 m) and in any terrain, thus they are susceptible to interact with local fauna, generating a new type of anthropogenic disturbance that has not been systematically evaluated. To address this gap, we performed a review of the existent literature about animals' responses to UAS flights and conducted a pooled analysis of the data to determine the probability and intensity of the disturbance, and to identify the factors influencing animals' reactions towards the small aircraft. We found that wildlife reactions depended on both the UAS attributes (flight pattern, engine type and size of aircraft) and the characteristics of animals themselves (type of animal, life-history stage and level of aggregation). Target-oriented flight patterns, larger UAS sizes, and fuel-powered (noisier) engines evoked the strongest reactions in wildlife. Animals during the non-breeding period and in large groups were more likely to show behavioral reactions to UAS, and birds are more prone to react than other taxa. We discuss the implications of these results in the context of wildlife disturbance and suggest guidelines for conservationists, users and manufacturers to minimize the impact of UAS. In addition, we propose that the legal framework needs to be adapted so that appropriate actions can be undertaken when wildlife is negatively affected by these emergent practices.

Concepts: Animal, Flight, Fixed-wing aircraft, Internal combustion engine, Aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned Aircraft System


The inertial power and inertial force of wings are important factors in evaluating the flight performance of native bats. Based on measurement data of wing size and motions of Eptesicus fuscus, we present a new computational bat wing model with divided fragments of skeletons and membrane. The motions of the model were verified by comparing the joint and tip trajectories with native bats. The influences of flap, sweep, elbow, wrist and digits motions, the effects of different bones and membrane of bat wing, the components on vertical, spanwise and fore-aft directions of the inertial power and force were analyzed. Our results indicate that the flap, sweep, and elbow motions contribute the main inertial power and force; the membrane occupies an important proportion of the inertial power and force; inertial power on flap direction was larger, while variations of inertial forces on different directions were not evident. These methods and results offer insights into flight dynamics in other flying animals and may contribute to the design of future robotic bats.

Concepts: Force, Classical mechanics, Bat, Flight, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Flying and gliding animals, Inertia


Motivated by the lack of research in tailless morphing aircraft in addition to the current inability to measure the resultant aerodynamic forces and moments of bird control maneuvers, this work aims to develop and test a multi-functional morphing control surface based on the horizontal tail of birds for a low-radar-signature UAV. Customized Macro Fiber Composite (MFC) actuators were designed to achieve yaw control across a range of sideslip angles by inducing three dimensional curvature as a result of bending-twisting coupling, a well-known phenomenon in classical fiber composite theory. This allows for yaw control, pitch control, and limited air break control. The structural response of the customized actuators was determined numerically using both a piezoelectric and an equivalent thermal model in order to optimize the fiber direction to allow for maximized deflection in both the vertical and lateral directions. In total, three control configurations were tested experimentally: symmetric deflection for pitch control, single-sided deflection for yaw control, and antisymmetric deflection for air brake control. A Reynolds-averaged-Navier-Stokes (RANS) fluid simulation was also developed to compare with the experimental results for the unactuated baseline configuration. The actuator was shown to provide better yaw control than traditional split aileron methods, remain effective in larger sideslip angles, and provide directional yaw stability when unactuated. Furthermore, it was shown to provide adequate pitch control in sideslip in addition to limited air brake capabilities. This design is proposed to provide complete aircraft control in concert with spanwise morphing wings.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Fixed-wing aircraft, Configuration management, Aviation terminology, Aerospace engineering, Sideslip angle, Empennage