Feathers inspire turbulence avoidance system

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Researchers have taken inspiration from bird feathers to develop a system that could end turbulence on flights.

The group, from the Unmanned Systems Research Team at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have lodged a provisional patent on the system, which is based on the concept of phase-advanced sensing, in which flow disturbance is sensed before it results in aircraft movement. 

This can be achieved by early sensing of the pressures from gust effects on the leading parts of the wing or by measuring the gusts ahead of the wing.

Research supervisor Prof Simon Watkins said flight-testing on a micro-plane showed the system significantly reduced the effects of turbulence.

‘By sensing gusts and disturbances in air flow through their feathers, birds are able to fly gracefully rather than bouncing around in turbulent air,’ he said in a statement. 

‘The system we have developed replicates this natural technology, with the aim of enabling planes to fly smoothly through even severe turbulence – just like birds.’ 

Prof Watkins said the system had great potential for all sizes of aircraft and could not only reduce the effects of turbulence on passengers but also reduce loads on plane wings, leading to lower fatigue and longer life.

’While we need to explore new sensor arrangements to apply this technology to larger and faster aircraft, we have proven the idea on the most challenging problem of keeping small, lightweight planes steady – since these are the ones that get bounced around the most,’ he said.

The patent submission for a turbulence mitigation system for aircraft represents the successful outcome of PhD research by Abdulghani Mohamed, supervised by Prof Watkins and Dr Reece Clothier in RMIT’s School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.