Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Should airplanes look like birds?

Date:
November 22, 2010
Source:
American Institute of Physics
Summary:
Airplanes do not look much like birds, but should they? This question is exactly what a pair of engineers inadvertently answered recently in experiments.

The modern airplane design works well, but from a fuel efficiency standpoint, could planes be designed more aerodynamically -- to lower drag and increase lift?
Credit: RJ Huyssen/NU,RSA

Airplanes do not look much like birds -- unless you were to imagine a really weird bird or a very strange plane -- but should they? This question is exactly what a pair of engineers in California and South Africa inadvertently answered recently when they set about re-thinking the ubiquitous tube-and-wings aircraft architecture from scratch in order to make airplanes more fuel efficient.

The modern airplane design works well, but from a fuel efficiency standpoint, could planes be designed more aerodynamically -- to lower drag and increase lift? Geoffrey Spedding, an engineer at the University of Southern California, and Joachim Huyssen at Northwest University in South Africa, felt they could in theory, but they lacked experimental evidence. Now they have it.

Spedding and Huyssen have made a simple modular aircraft in three configurations: a flying wing alone, then wings plus body, and then wings plus body and a tail. It turns out that they had independently re-designed a bird shape, but without specific reference to anything bird-like. They presented their experimental data with these three designs, at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Long Beach, CA. on November 21.

They started with a configuration where the entire plane is one big wing. Then they added a body designed to minimize drag and, most critically, a small tail, which essentially serves to undo aerodynamic disturbances created by the body. Spedding and Huyssen analyzed the airflows and at various relative angles for the wings, body and tail, searching for ways to achieve greater lift (the better for carrying cargo) and lower drag (for higher fuel efficiency). They made the stipulation that for any given mission, the best plane is the one that generates the least drag.

The flying wings alone provide an ideal (but impractical) baseline, since it's hard to carry people or cargo in such a shape. The presence of a body, unfortunately, immediately lowers the lift and increases the drag. The addition of just the right kind of tail, however, can restore the lift, and reduce the drag, occasionally to nearly wing-only levels.

A few years ago a glider with the modest tail design was successfully test flown, but larger and commercial test prototypes have not yet been tried. Spedding recognizes that the design of real planes is necessarily a compromise of many engineering, economic and psychological constraints. Nevertheless, he believes much can be done to make planes more energy efficient in the future.

"The most important point is that we may be wasting large amounts of fossil fuel by flying in fundamentally sub-optimal aircraft designs," says Spedding. "At the very least, we can show that there exists an alternative design that is aerodynamically superior. One may argue that there is now an imperative to further explore this (and perhaps other) designs that could make a significant difference to our global energy consumption patterns."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Institute of Physics. "Should airplanes look like birds?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101121160222.htm>.
American Institute of Physics. (2010, November 22). Should airplanes look like birds?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101121160222.htm
American Institute of Physics. "Should airplanes look like birds?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101121160222.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) — Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) — MIT researchers developed a light-based sensor that gives robots 100 times the sensitivity of a human finger, allowing for "unprecedented dexterity." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) — The MIT BioSuit could be an alternative to big, bulky traditional spacesuits, but the concept needs some work. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins