Bird plus goggles equals new insight into flight physics | Science News



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Bird plus goggles equals new insight into flight physics

Unexpected vortices form in parrotlet’s wing wake

6:21pm, December 5, 2016
Pacific parrotlet in laser goggles

SAFETY FIRST To study the air flow produced when birds fly, scientists trained a Pacific parrotlet named Obi (above) to fly through laser light. To protect the bird’s eyes, custom-made laser goggles were a necessary precaution.

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A bird in laser goggles has helped scientists discover a new phenomenon in the physics of flight.

Swirling vortices appear in the flow of air that follows a bird’s wingbeat. But for slowly flying birds, these vortices were unexpectedly short-lived, researchers from Stanford University report December 6 in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. The results could help scientists better understand how animals fly, and could be important for designing flying robots (SN: 2/7/15, p. 18).

To study the complex air currents produced by birds’ flapping wings, the researchers trained a Pacific parrotlet, a small species of parrot, to fly through laser light — with the appropriate eye protection, of course. Study coauthor Eric Gutierrez, who

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