ambience wind tunnel
Could sharks, dragonflies, and seagulls help inspire the design of an aircraft? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Barry Lazos is an aeronautics engineer at Langley Research Center. He’s part of a team that studied animals that swim or fly to learn how they solved the challenge of moving through air or water efficiently. Using models based on the shapes of wings and fins and other streamlined body parts, Lazos and his team tested these shapes in a wind tunnel. The hope is that these tests could lead to the design of more efficient aircraft. Right now we’re listening to the sounds of a wind tunnel.
“One of the shapes that we tested in the wind tunnel was a shape similar to a shark’s tail that has a gradual curvature to it — a sweepback, it’s called. And that actually performed fairly well in the tunnel. One of the other shapes had leading edge bumps on it. We came upon that idea because the Hammerhead Shark has bumps on the leading edge of its nose. And the Humpback Whale has pectoral fins with leading-edge bumps on. So we thought — why are they there? Could they be possibly a device for drag reduction?”
But there are limits to how natural solutions can be applied to airplane technology.
“When we developed the models, we didn’t try to mimic nature exactly. Because most things that fly are rather small and we wanted to develop something that was a little bit bigger. For one thing, animals use different materials for their wings and so they’re able to support weight differently and conform differently to get them to fly the way they want to.
We’ll hear more about testing the aerodynamics of natural designs in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation with additional support from NASA. I’m Jim Metzner.