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NMSU engineers turn to hummingbird for design inspiration


Engineers at New Mexico State University have turned to the hummingbird for inspiration in designing micro air vehicles used in surveillance and tactical reconnaisance.

Micro air vehicles MAVs that measure 10 centimeters or less might have problems hovering or flying vertically in winds, so researchers at NMSU’s College of Engineering are studying how hummingbirds fly and hover.

They are using a scale model that can mimic a hummingbird’s wing motion to accurately measure and observe how air flows around the wings as they flap.

“Hummingbirds are capable of amazing maneuvers, like hovering,” said one researcher, Banavara Shashikanth, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

But, Shashikanth said, the physics and fluid dynamics involved in the bird’s maneuver are not clear.

“So we want to understand these fundamental issues better and then apply it to our models,” the researcher said.

The three-year project, under assistant mechanical engineering professor James Allen as chief investigator, is funded by the Air Force Office for Scientific Research.

The project’s second phase will include studying the model’s forward flight. Researchers will create an aerodynamic flight-control scheme for flapping wing MAVs operating in wind, and use the scheme to develop a prototype flapping wing air vehicle.

Shashikanth said the research will be used to design vehicles both for military and civilian uses that can do tasks a human-operated vehicle could not such as something that requires endurance beyond human capacity or missions where human life would be at risk.

Allen supervised a previous study in which a hummingbird model was placed in a smoky environment while students measured patterns created in the smoke flow by the movement of the wings. That helped researchers understand how birds generate thrust so efficiently.

– Associated Press

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