The 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.
Albatross in Flight (beautiful piano music accompaniment
by Stephen Jacob, "Silence in Heaven")
Posted January 3, 2022 (updated from original post on 12, 2013)
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