Article - Aerodynamics of Birds
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Aerodynamics and Hydrodynamics of the Human Body, Birds, and Boeing
By Lance Winslow

Summary: This is an ongoing discussion of theory, insight, observation, imitation, innovation, evolution and bettering the systems of nature to create better systems to propel the forward progression of mankind.

The aerodynamics of the human body are very interesting indeed. This may sound somewhat funny, because human beings can't fly, however our desire to fly has enabled us to adapt and innovate to achieve the same purpose. Man has always dreamed of being able to fly like the birds. The aerodynamics of the human body are quite serious in many sports. To confirm this, just at Lance Armstrong in a tour to France.

Bicycle racing aerodynamics against the relative wind are quite serious. In most bicycle races the riders are doing in excess of 60 mph for a large part of the race and the aerodynamics of the human being are as serious as they are in it modern day automobile performance, fuel economy and directional control. Wind Tunnel testing for bicycle racing gear such as helmets, racing frames, racing attire are coming place. We know that NASA material science is also used in modern sports from everything from skies to golf clubs, Jamaican Bobsleds to swimming suits and from marathon running shoes to those bicycle components.

Aerodynamics, material sciences and human geometry (biometrics, ergonomics) are as common in the Olympics as they are in Auto Racing, Dick Rutan and the X-Prize, Reno Air Races, Space Flight and in modern military equipment operation. In the Wright Brothers first aircraft the pilot laid out on the wing so he was fully part of the aerodynamics from the first flight.

Now we have parachutes, parasailing, ultra-lights, Gyro-Copters, Jet packs, etc, where the aerodynamics of the human being is a huge factor. Having had the chance to race competitively street motorcycles in my day, I can tell you it is a huge component to performance. The human body is what it is, the bike is already quite aerodynamically designed, how the body is placed when you accelerate the motorcycle to 185 plus mph makes a huge difference. Whether you are shooting a man out of a cannon or jumping off the pier into the Annual Human Powered Flight Contest into the Hudson Bay, this is no joking matter, aerodynamics of the human body is just as important in racing, sport as it is for the birds in the sky or the fish which fly.

The aerodynamics and fluid dynamics of many species especially species of prey will ultimately decide their survival, if they fail to have the adequate speed, then they will not be able to eat. If a species, which is hunted cannot dodge or move fast enough then it will have no other option than to massively reproduce to avoid extinction or maintain tight formations, swarms, herds or social order to use the safety in numbers principle. The fastest bird, the peregrine falcon was clocked at 217 mph in Germany while in a dive. Most Falcon's can catch their prey in midair are at speed of around 100 mph, although usually much less. No wonder the Military named the F-16 the Falcon?

The spine-tailed swift has a maximum speed a high of 106 mph in level flight. Thus the Falcon might have a tough time extending it’s wings at that speed for the proper speed to catch it, thus it can live near Falcons without being eaten and the Falcon will then go after lesser prey with better odds of eating. If you look at the F-14 it has the ability to bring it’s wings out for slow flight and keep them swept for accelerated and sustained cruising speed, very similar to the bird. The first moveable winged jet aircraft was the well-known X-5, which variable in-flight wing configurations as did the F-111, B-1 and several others. Many aircraft have been designed to change various other configurations for many reasons, the F-8 Crusader changed it’s angle of attack and the SST and Concorde change it’s nose on take offs.

Most modern fighters have speed brakes to slow them down. All techniques stolen from nature, as birds adjust their heads in flight for visibility, adjust their angle of attack when approaching relative wind for faster climb, adjust wings for diving and stick out their feet to slow down. Well, yes these techniques were stolen from nature alright, that is pretty much the case, yet we have obviously improved on natures designs in this dimension. After all we are now building aircraft capable of Mach 5 and others, which can carry many hundreds of tons in payloads. In skydiving you learn quickly how to maneuver your body to achieve your intended path. A bird would do much the same only be 100 times better at it since it practices all day long everyday.

Most ordinance, which is delivered, such as bombs need to be dropped well under the speed of sound so that they do not in fact create their own new trajectory as they fly away from where they are pointed and need to be delivered. Having been employed washing cars in my day, I can tell you we may in fact have stolen that idea too. Aircraft like birds do lots of adjusting and playing around with configurations to allow them to take advantage of various situations as needed, thus aerodynamically speaking man has copied the observations he has witnessed from birds since his first flight. How about another example, the Bald Eagle, the United States of America’s official mascot? Well it has a souring level flight speed of around 50 mph, which is quite fast in bird terms. While souring The adult Eagle’s wing span is between 6 and 7 feet.

Largest discovered was 7.9 feet, but the wings folded back can allow the eagle to dive at very fast speeds of around 75 mph as it would be most difficult to attain significant speed with such large wings extended. Different configurations and methodologies can also be applied to human body aerodynamics with a little bit of modification. All the while having an incredible accuracy in it’s vision, which would make military intelligence proud indeed as the F-15 Eagle relies enhanced equipment and the human component, which is 3-4 times less adapted than the eagle’s eyes, yet with the newest technology we again have adapted to better nature. If we look at the aerodynamics of nature and the process of evolution we see the most adapted species in the air as the Eagle and Falcon, which are truly marvels of 100’s of millions of years, we begin and appreciate our ominous task of re-engineering. As we look to build aircraft, MAVs, UAVs to serve mankind’s needs we should make a note of this. As we develop smaller technologies and demand versatility we will definitely be looking at the best nature has to offer in the way of suggestions.

A human parachutist in a dive has been clocked also 217 mile per hour, the maximum speed for the Falcon. We might ask ourselves, is the organic aerodynamic speed limit for evolution on this planet 217 mph? This presently includes our knowledge of the flight speeds of our most adapted species on the planet presently. Is this figure correct for previous periods? What was the speed of the Pterodactyl? Was the air thinner or thicker under 10,000 ft. back then? Would it have needed to go faster? Maybe, but if so from what? Once you are the fastest and have no higher food chain component to go after, why would you evolve into a higher performing animal? Well if you played, had contests and displays of agility for procreation, pecking order, competed for territorial rights with your fellow species, then you might evolve to be better and have greater performance, developed higher cognition, hunting skills, defense skills and evolved to fly faster too. This would be inline with current animal and human behavior in our current period and the writings of the past 10,000 plus years of written recorded history and observational study of species on earth.

We know from the study of aerodynamic, hydrodynamics and racing that there are also issues with ROI or issues with diminishing returns. For instance if a Pterodactyl were to fly faster, it would need to develop more muscle, lose weight, spend more time developing flight skills.

However this takes time away from hunting. It would cause issues with its ability to fight off other pterodactyls and would mean more food intake was needed. So a happy medium would eventually be reached for continuation of the species, social order, etc. So then, is that compromise or happy medium 217 mph? A man falling in freefall from an aircraft fully tucked and using the BMPs for rapid decent maxed out at 217 mph, like the Falcon. It is highly interesting that these organic matter speeds that the highly evolved Falcon is so similar to the diving speed of a human being. We can learn a lot about how the human body interacts with the elements and the study of aerodynamics has lots to still learn from nature.

By Lance Winslow

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