Planet Earth

Air Force Ponders Bat-Planes

Nimble wings may inspire aircraft of the future.

By Alex StoneMay 15, 2007 5:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

A new Air Force–funded study seeks to use bats as models for compact air vehicles. To this end, Brown University engineer Kenneth Breuer and biologist Sharon Swartz shot high-resolution 3-D video of bats flying through a corridor filled with aerosolized particles to mark airflow patterns. (Click here to see another recent video analysis ofbat flight.) Then the researchers measured the aerodynamic response of the creatures’ wings, taking into account variables like flight speed, attack angle, and bone structure.

Breuer and Swartz found that bats are some of the nimblest airborne animals around and, given their size, far more maneuverable than birds or insects. This is possible because a bat’s wings are thin, flexible membranes interwoven with dozens of highly articulated muscles and joints that move in concert to adjust both lift and drag in subtle ways. “We want to incorporate some of these ideas into engineered vehicles,” Breuer says. For example, there has long been interest in building aircraft with flapping wings because “flapping is good for hovering, avoiding obstacles, and managing turbulence.” Although this could take a while, “some of the ideas might find their way into test vehicles in the next 10 years,” he says.

The work could also help solve the mystery of how flying originated. “Flight has evolved independently in many different lineages,” says Breuer, “and the evolutionary question is, what contributed to bats developing their unique flight capabilities?”

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.