It seems that locusts, the bane of farmers the world over, have served some purpose after all.
With the aid of a wind tunnel and a high-speed digital video camera, scientists have captured the changes in the shape of the locust’s wings during flight and created, for the first time, a computer model that recreates the airflow and thrust generated by their complex flapping movement. Modeling the aerodynamic secrets brings us a step closer to creating miniature robot flyers with the maneuverability and energy efficiency of an insect – such micro-aircraft would likely have huge benefits for search and rescue, military activities and inspecting hazardous environments.
The research was conducted by Dr John Young, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, and a team of animal flight researchers from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology. They found that the so-called ‘bumblebee paradox’, which claims that insects defy the laws of aerodynamics, is untrue and that modern aerodynamics can accurately model insect flight.
“Biological systems have been optimized through evolutionary pressures over millions of years, and offer many examples of performance that far outstrips what we can achieve artificially,” said Dr Young, a lecturer in the School of Aerospace, Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy ([email protected]).