Research on the wing

A University of Oxford study has used a motion sensor attached to a bird to gather information that could be used to design wing-morphing aircraft.

The experimental biology research group used a compact motion measurement unit in addition to cameras, hoping to glean novel information on how birds fly. Their results could help in designing wing-morphing aircraft that would have deformable wing and tail parts, in place of conventional trailing-edge flaps.

Dr Graham Taylor has been testing the system in Denmark on a trained Steppe eagle. Using this technique allows the researchers to study the flight mechanisms of free-flying birds.

Several cameras are mounted on the bird’s back or belly and point at the wings, head and tail. The motion measurement unit weighs less than 50g and provides complete 3-dimensional information on the orientation, rotation and acceleration of the Eagle. The research group want to fit their motion measurements to dynamical models of bird flight to allow them to work out how the Eagle’s control system functions.

Recent trials in Denmark have proved successful. “We can measure tail spread, pitch angle and bank angle from the onboard video directly”, said Taylor. “The plan is to relate these measurable control inputs to the body motion of the bird, which we can quantify using the motion measurement unit.”