The Nearly Effortless Flight of the Albatross

The Nearly Effortless Flight of the Albatross - Airplanes and RocketsThe July 2013 edition of IEEE's Spectrum* magazine had a really good article on a high tech study that is being done on the manner in which an albatross manages to fly great distances and for long periods of time while rarely needing to flap its wings. As shown in the thumbnail (and in the article), an albatross performs a series of rapid climbs into very strong wind, turns, and dives leeward nearly to the water's surface, then repeats the process over and over as it makes its way to its destination. The process is called dynamic soaring. R/C soaring pilots have been doing the same sort of thing for a few years now. Obviously the albatross figured out how to fly like that long before mankind was able to mimic it, but the researchers in the article seem to not have knowledge of the R/C soaring technique. They are capturing albatrosses in their nests and attaching GPS-based sensors with data recorders to the birds' back feathers and retrieving the units when the birds return to their nests. The ultimate purpose of the study is to gather information that can be applied to the design of UAVs that can fly for extended periods and over great distances without the need for recharging or refueling.

In searching for a little extra information, I ran across quite a bit of study on the flight of the albatross for application to both model and full-size aircraft platforms. A couple good videos are posted below along with hyperlinks to articles.

The Nearly Effortless Flight of the Albatross - Airplanes and Rockets
* The Nearly Effortless Flight of the Albatross
   July 2013 IEEE Spectrum

Albatross in Flight
(beautiful piano music accompaniment by Stephen Jacob, "Silence in Heaven")

USAF on Dynamic Soaring

More references:

On Dynamic Soaring
Joachim L. Grenestedt
Lehigh University
BBethlehem, PA 18015, USA

Dynamic Soaring of Sailplanes over Open Fields
Pritam P. Sukumar and Michael S. Selig
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA

Dynamic Soaring
Tuff Planes
Norman Mertke




Posted August 12, 2013