Perching Physics

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Compared to birds, manmade aircraft tend to be quite limited and inelegant. Fixed-wing aircraft, for example, require long, flat areas for take-off and landing, whereas birds of all sizes are adept at maneuvers like perching. This video examines the perching behaviors of large birds and extends the physics to a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). As a bird approaches a perching location, it pitches its body and wings upward. This places the bird in what’s known as deep stall, where air flowing over the upper surface of the wing separates just after the leading edge. This move dramatically increases drag on the bird, slowing it for landing. At the same time, the speed of the pitch maneuver generates a vortex on the wing that helps the bird maintain lift despite the drop in speed. With the help of both forces, the bird can make a graceful, controlled landing in only a short distance. (Video credit: J. Mitchell et. al.)

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