Wandering Albatross

Engineering ideas…

  • four phases of flight: There’s a windward climb, then a curve from windward to leeward at peak altitude, then a leeward descent, and finally a reverse turn close to the sea surface that leads seamlessly into the next cycle of flight.
  • maneuvers extract energy from that field, enabling the albatross to fly in any direction, even against the wind, with hardly any effort.
  • optimization method known as periodic optimal control – in aeronautical engineering, to calculate the aircraft trajectory that saves the most fuel
  • differential equations that describe the dynamics of flight
  • simulate the flight of the bird based on the lift coefficient, the bank angle, and the wind speed.
  • model predicted that albatrosses could soar dynamically as long as the wind speed is a bit more than 30 kilometers per hour (16 knots)
  • shear wind field alone could enable the flight of the birds

Dynamic Soaring – The wandering albatross spends weeks, even months, at sea without ever returning to land. With precise GPS data and custom navigation software, researchers have finally figured out how.

Through a 10- to 20-meter-high region known as a boundary layer or shear wind field, the wind speed increases smoothly and dramatically the higher you go in the field. Dynamic soaring maneuvers extract energy from that field, enabling the albatross to fly in any direction, even against the wind, with hardly any effort.

Engineering ideas

  • climb, altitude, descent, turn, energy, trajectory, flight, lift coefficient, bank angle, wind shear

Learn more…

  • Albatross flight (video 2:35) – Scientists have studied the flight patterns of albatrosses to understand how the animals are able to sustain flight with minimal energy expenditure.