[Tweeters] adjustable-winged swifts

Hal Opperman hal at catharus.net
Sat Dec 18 11:26:59 PST 2004


The 10 December 2004 issue of *Science* has two short articles on how swifts
adjust the configuration of their wings to generate and control a
leading-edge vortex in flight. Swept-back wings create strong vortices,
hence a high amount of lift. Swifts use this configuration to gain altitude
and maximize their flight speed. While foraging, however, they often need to
turn sharply and suddenly; they accomplish this by extending their wings to
increase stability during tight maneuvers.

One of the articles observes that this is exactly the same set of solutions
arrived at by aeronautical engineers for supersonic flight, and embodied in
swept-wing aircraft such as the Concorde or jet fighter planes that employ
variable wing sweep.

If some prize committee ever gets around to recognizing this discovery I
wonder who'll get the credit, the scientists or the swifts? (You get one
guess.) Whoever is ultimately responsible, though, this is a cool piece of

The articles are not available on-line, but I'd be happy to send pdfs to
anyone who's interested.

Hal Opperman
Medina, Washington
mailto:hal at catharus.net 

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