Hands-on Activity: Adaptations for Bird Flight – Inspiration for Aeronautical Engineering
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Birds have served as prototypes for various models of aeronautical design. The hummingbird is the archetype of the helicopter. Hummingbirds are capable of hovering in mid-flight and also of backward flight. Helicopters are an early example of biomimicry. Peregrine falcons are capable of steep dives that defy the gravitational forces that push the limit of fighter pilots and that are often responsible for fighter jets falling into a stall. How is a bird capable of surviving what has proved most challenging to the designers of these planes. What can be learned by studying these living models in order to strengthen the design of future planes and protect the lives of those who command them?
In this activity, we will investigate the physical nature of flight. How do birds become and remain airborne? Why do different species of birds have different types of flight patterns? Why are some species, such as hawks, able to hunt in midair? Can you explain why the flight of an owl is silent or a vulture can soar on the thermals of updrafts? Can an understanding of these unique adaptations lend direct application to the design of airplanes? Would it surprise you to know that our own military studies bird flight? Would you like to watch a comparison of birds to strategic fighter jet design?
Although students will not be using this information in the design process of your desert resort, it provides interesting information pertaining to the current use of biomimetics in the field of aviation. As an extension to your design process, you may use this information to create a means of transportation to and from the resort if you chose to; however, it will not be counted toward your final grade.
Procedure (Return to Contents)
This activity introduces students to a direct application of biomimicry. It is driven by three sections. Students are first introduced to the physics behind bird flight and the various patterns of flight. They will distinguish between wing shapes, learn the structure of a feather, and understand how these features support different abilities among species. They will next be allowed to read, and it is helpful if the images can be viewed on a screen, several recent advancements made in aeronautical engineer following the examination of several different bird species. The final segment is the screening of "Raptor Force" video available for online viewing. There are breathtaking aerial footages of hawks and falcons performing amazing aerial acts that researchers are beginning to fully appreciate the supporting mechanisms. The documentary brings in footage of actual fighter jets and discusses the contributions made through the study of these creatures.
Before the Activity
The next group of articles includes current publications discussing direct application of bird study to plane design.
With the Students
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)
Asked within the body of the handout.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Activity Embedded Assessment
This assignment can be graded to determine accuracy in correctly identifying bird flight features.
Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)
Additional Multimedia Support (Return to Contents)
"Raptor Force" a Nature Documentary preview is available at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/raptor-force/introduction/1109/. The full length documentary is available for purchase for $19.99: http://www.shopthirteen.org/product/show/29334.
Copyright© 2006 by Vanderbilt University
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the National Science Foundation RET grants no. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)VU Bioengineering RET Program, Vanderbilt University, School of Engineering
Last Modified: December 6, 2013