NASA Learning from the Albatross

“Moving up to the heavyweight class, the wandering albatross is a fascinating bird that can travel thousands of miles without flapping its wings. With its 11-foot wingspan (the longest of any living bird), this iconic soaring champion of the southern oceans attracted the attention of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Researchers show maps of its wanderings and describe how it tilts and swoops in clever ways to take advantage of the wind’s energy. Wandering albatrosses lack sufficient musculature to sustain continuous flapping flight for long periods of time; however, they have a shoulder lock that mechanically holds their wings outstretched so that little energy is expended while soaringaccording to the paper. The wandering albatross is so good at efficient use of wind energy, NASA has taken notice. The BBC News reported that an albatross-inspired glider has been designed for future flights on Mars. Unlike rovers or the highly successful Mars demonstration helicopter, a flyer designed like an albatross could fly for free on the Martian wind, swoop up the slopes of volcanoes, and stay aloft for long periods of time. A demonstration Mars sailplane has been designed at the University of Arizona. With looks similar in proportions to the albatross, it can pack a small camera, and temperature and gas sensors to reconnoiter much farther than its battery-powered explorers can. While these other forms of transport have been partly limited by power needs, the glider would use energy available in the atmosphere itself, explained Adrien Bouskela, an aerospace engineering doctoral student at the University of Arizona. ‘It’s kind of a leap forward in those methods of extending missions,’ he said.

”David Coppedge, “Capabilities of Migrating Birds,” Evolution News & Science Today, Dec. 15, 2022