Will bats inspire future micro unmanned aircraft?

It's not the first time researchers have tried to emulate flapping as a way to fly aircraft, but US Air Force funded researchers are now looking at how bats move to develop future micro-aircraft.

According to USAF researchers, birds, bats and insects have some highly varied mechanical properties that researchers have not utilized in engineering flight vehicles. The idea is to reproduce bat mechanics and develop technology could lead to small, remote controlled aircraft that could move in places where fixed wing aircraft have a hard time like interiors of buildings, caves or tunnels, researchers said.

"[Bats] not only lighter, but they also have more adaptive structures. These natural flyers have outstanding capabilities to remain airborne through wind gusts, rain and snow," said Dr. Wei Shyy, an aerospace engineering professor from the University of Michigan in and Air Force release.

One of the research efforts involves capturing video footage of bats flying in a wind tunnel and measuring the fluid velocities in their wakes, the Air Force said. Another involves studying flight properties in different environments and among different species of bats.

Other researchers looking into the aerodynamics of bats said recently that bat wings are very different from those of birds because of their separate evolutionary paths to flight. Instead of feathers projecting back from lightweight, fused arm and hand bones, bats have flexible, elastic membranes that stretch between specially extended, slender bones of the hand. The bones and wing membrane both change shape with every wing beat, flexing in response to the balance between forces applied by the muscles and competing forces due to the air motion around them. Engineers may also be able to emulate bat wings, building simple mechanical wings of flexible, elastic material stretched over support rods, to improve the aeronautical performance of smaller airborne vehicles, they noted.

The research is part of the Department of Defense's almost $20 million research Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI). The Army Research Office (ARO), the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) all participate in the program.

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