Da Vinci’s observations of soaring birds
Richardson, Philip L.
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With only a minimal flapping, the wandering albatross can circumnavigate the globe. During its peregrinations over the Southern Ocean, the seabird exploits wind shear—the gradient of wind speed—to extract energy for its sustained flight. That same maneuver, called dynamic soaring, is used by pilots of radio-controlled gliders. In flights that take advantage of the shear associated with wind blowing over mountain ridges, the gliders reach air speeds of an astonishing 500 mph. Engineers are currently developing autonomous unmanned vehicles that can use the technique to supplement different sources of energy for sustained flight over the oceans. Possible applications include environmental monitoring, surveillance, and search and rescue.
Author Posting. © American Institute of Physics, 2017. This article is posted here by permission of American Institute of Physics for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Physics Today 70, no. 11 (2017): 78, doi:10.1063/PT.3.3773.