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Flying Critter Roundup

December 17, 2010

Engineers have built a robotic hummingbird to understand how the birds hover.


Flight lessons from animals. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Flying is difficult, but hovering is even harder. In fact, the hummingbird is one of the largest animals to manage it. An international team of engineers recently built and tested a robotic hummingbird wing to study how the tiny birds do it. Unlike other birds that flap their wings, hummingbirds twirl them in a figure eight pattern that creates tiny vortices at the wingtips—like mini tornadoes that push the bird upwards. The engineers hope to design aircraft that can manage the same trick.

In other flight news, the Defense Department is among the groups funding research into flying snakes. The snakes leap from treetops, flatten themselves out, and glide to the next tree. They’re not a threat to homeland security—just an interesting example of aerial maneuvering. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.