Scientist have known for years that the Albatross has the ability to fly and scavenge for food for thousands of miles. The bird can travel up to 10,000 miles and only flap its wings a handful of times. But no one has been able to to determine how this bird is so successful at flying for thousands of miles and for months at a time with out setting foot on land. Now researchers led by Gottfried Sachs of the University of Technology in Munich, Germany have placed GPS tracking devices on 16 albatross as they travel abroad for 4 weeks. The goal of the tracking was to help determine what these birds do to achieve such amazing speed and energy conservation. The hope is to take what they learn and help other scientists develop long range Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with the same efficiency as the albatross so that can fly farther and with less fuel.
What the scientists were able to verify was very cool, the albatross glide along in a fashion called Dynamic Soaring. The article that was published by the researchers may be found here: Spectrum.ieee.org.
The GPS tracking device that was used is a very sensitive device that was able to take 10 readings every second. It showed exactly how the bird is able to use dynamic soaring to continue its flight for hundreds if not thousands of miles with out even flapping its wings. It really is an amazing maneuver, the albatross essentially will fly into the wind and climb at the same time, using the wind to push it higher and higher then when its forward motion is almost depleted it will turn 180 degrees and fly with the wind and begin a slight decent down towards the ocean surface, accelerating the entire time. Almost upon reaching the ocean floor and at a much higher speed then when it began its downward flight the albatross, using its almost 10 foot wing span, turn another 180 degrees and begin the process all over again.
This maneuver would be very difficult for a human pilot to reproduce, especially for a long period of time as it requires a highly accurate pilot… one that has perfected it over millions of years of evolution. With that said a computer flying an UAV would be able to reproduce the motions and maneuvers necessary to carry its payload or surveillance for many hours and over many miles with little to no fuel required.
Photo: Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor (IPEV, Program No. 354
This is another great example of the many things we are able to document and learn from because of the use of GPS tracking and technology. Hopefully one day we will have the ability to send cargo over thousands of miles with little fuel burn… talk about a very green effort!
Wikipedia – Albatross
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