Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Fixed-wing aircraft


Airplane Headache (AH) occurs during flights and often appears as an intense, short lasting headache during take-off or landing. Reports are limited on pathological mechanisms underlying the occurrence of this headache. Proper diagnosis and treatments would benefit from identification of potential pathways involved in AH pathogenesis. This study aimed at providing a simulated airplane headache condition as a proxy towards identification of its underlying mechanisms.

Concepts: Pathology, Medical diagnosis, Flight, Landing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Takeoff


This article concerns the assignment of buffer time between two connected flights and the number of reserve crews in crew pairing to mitigate flight disruption due to flight arrival delay. Insufficient crew members for a flight will lead to flight disruptions such as delays or cancellations. In reality, most of these disruption cases are due to arrival delays of the previous flights. To tackle this problem, many research studies have examined the assignment method based on the historical flight arrival delay data of the concerned flights. However, flight arrival delays can be triggered by numerous factors. Accordingly, this article proposes a new forecasting approach using a cascade neural network, which considers a massive amount of historical flight arrival and departure data. The approach also incorporates learning ability so that unknown relationships behind the data can be revealed. Based on the expected flight arrival delay, the buffer time can be determined and a new dynamic reserve crew strategy can then be used to determine the required number of reserve crews. Numerical experiments are carried out based on one year of flight data obtained from 112 airports around the world. The results demonstrate that by predicting the flight departure delay as the input for the prediction of the flight arrival delay, the prediction accuracy can be increased. Moreover, by using the new dynamic reserve crew strategy, the total crew cost can be reduced. This significantly benefits airlines in flight schedule stability and cost saving in the current big data era.

Concepts: Prediction, Futurology, Future, Forecasting, Flight, Fixed-wing aircraft, Aircraft, Airline


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) could potentially be used to transport microbiological specimens. To examine UAV impact on microbiological specimens, blood and sputum culture specimens were seeded with usual pathogens and flown in an UAV for 30±2 minutes. Time-to-recovery, colony counts, morphology and MALDI-TOF MS identification of the flown and stationary specimens were similar for all microbes studied.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, MQ-1 Predator


Aerial surveys are a recognised technique to identify the presence and abundance of marine animals. However, the capability of aerial observers to reliably sight coastal sharks has not been previously assessed, nor have differences in sighting rates between aircraft types been examined. In this study we investigated the ability of observers in fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft to sight 2.5 m artificial shark analogues placed at known depths and positions. Initial tests revealed that the shark analogues could only be detected at shallow depths, averaging only 2.5 m and 2.7 m below the water surface for observers in fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft, respectively. We then deployed analogues at shallower depths along a 5 km-long grid, and assessed their sightability to aircraft observers through a series of transects flown within 500 m. Analogues were seen infrequently from all distances, with overall sighting rates of only 12.5% and 17.1% for fixed-wing and helicopter observers, respectively. Although helicopter observers had consistently higher success rates of sighting analogues within 250 m of their flight path, neither aircraft observers sighted more than 9% of analogues deployed over 300 m from their flight paths. Modelling of sighting rates against environmental and experimental variables indicated that observations were affected by distance, aircraft type, sun glare and sea conditions, while the range of water turbidities observed had no effect. We conclude that aerial observers have limited ability to detect the presence of submerged animals such as sharks, particularly when the sharks are deeper than ∼2.6 m, or over 300 m distant from the aircraft’s flight path, especially during sunny or windy days. The low rates of detections found in this study cast serious doubts on the use of aerial beach patrols as an effective early-warning system to prevent shark attacks.

Concepts: Observation, Flight, Rocket, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Aircraft, Helicopter, Sharks


In the design of industrial products ranging from hearing aids to automobiles and aeroplanes, material is distributed so as to maximize the performance and minimize the cost. Historically, human intuition and insight have driven the evolution of mechanical design, recently assisted by computer-aided design approaches. The computer-aided approach known as topology optimization enables unrestricted design freedom and shows great promise with regard to weight savings, but its applicability has so far been limited to the design of single components or simple structures, owing to the resolution limits of current optimization methods. Here we report a computational morphogenesis tool, implemented on a supercomputer, that produces designs with giga-voxel resolution-more than two orders of magnitude higher than previously reported. Such resolution provides insights into the optimal distribution of material within a structure that were hitherto unachievable owing to the challenges of scaling up existing modelling and optimization frameworks. As an example, we apply the tool to the design of the internal structure of a full-scale aeroplane wing. The optimized full-wing design has unprecedented structural detail at length scales ranging from tens of metres to millimetres and, intriguingly, shows remarkable similarity to naturally occurring bone structures in, for example, bird beaks. We estimate that our optimized design corresponds to a reduction in mass of 2-5 per cent compared to currently used aeroplane wing designs, which translates into a reduction in fuel consumption of about 40-200 tonnes per year per aeroplane. Our morphogenesis process is generally applicable, not only to mechanical design, but also to flow systems, antennas, nano-optics and micro-systems.

Concepts: Structure, Orders of magnitude, Design, Optimization, Maxima and minima, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Metre


The alula is a small structure located at the joint between the hand-wing and arm-wing of birds and is known to be used in slow flight with high angles of attack such as landing. It is assumed to function similarly to a leading-edge slat that increases lift and delays stall. However, in spite of its universal presence in flying birds and the wide acceptance of stall delay as its main function, how the alula delays the stall and aids the flight of birds remains unclear. Here, we investigated the function of alula on the aerodynamic performance of avian wings based on data from flight tasks and wind-tunnel experiments. With the alula, the birds performed steeper descending flights with greater changes in body orientation. Force measurements revealed that the alula increases the lift and often delays the stall. Digital particle image velocimetry showed that these effects are caused by the streamwise vortex, formed at the tip of the alula, that induces strong downwash and suppresses the flow separation over the wing surface. This is the first experimental evidence that the alula functions as a vortex generator that increases the lift force and enhances manoeuvrability in flights at high angles of attack.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Drag, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Airfoil, Angle of attack


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for ecological research has grown rapidly in recent years, but few studies have assessed the disturbance impacts of these tools on focal subjects, particularly when observing easily disturbed species such as waterfowl. In this study we assessed the level of disturbance that a range of UAV shapes and sizes had on free-living, non-breeding waterfowl surveyed in two sites in eastern Australia between March and May 2015, as well as the capability of airborne digital imaging systems to provide adequate resolution for unambiguous species identification of these taxa. We found little or no obvious disturbance effects on wild, mixed-species flocks of waterfowl when UAVs were flown at least 60m above the water level (fixed wing models) or 40m above individuals (multirotor models). Disturbance in the form of swimming away from the UAV through to leaving the water surface and flying away from the UAV was visible at lower altitudes and when fixed-wing UAVs either approached subjects directly or rapidly changed altitude and/or direction near animals. Using tangential approach flight paths that did not cause disturbance, commercially available onboard optical equipment was able to capture images of sufficient quality to identify waterfowl and even much smaller taxa such as swallows. Our results show that with proper planning of take-off and landing sites, flight paths and careful UAV model selection, UAVs can provide an excellent tool for accurately surveying wild waterfowl populations and provide archival data with fewer logistical issues than traditional methods such as manned aerial surveys.

Concepts: Fixed-wing aircraft, Aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, MQ-1 Predator


During high-speed pursuit of prey, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) has been observed to swing its tail while manoeuvring (e.g. turning or braking) but the effect of these complex motions is not well understood. This study demonstrates the potential of the cheetah’s long, furry tail to impart torques and forces on the body as a result of aerodynamic effects, in addition to the well-known inertial effects. The first-order aerodynamic forces on the tail are quantified through wind tunnel testing and it is observed that the fur nearly doubles the effective frontal area of the tail without much mass penalty. Simple dynamic models provide insight into manoeuvrability via simulation of pitch, roll and yaw tail motion primitives. The inertial and quasi-steady state aerodynamic effects of tail actuation are quantified and compared by calculating the angular impulse imparted onto the cheetah’s body and its shown aerodynamic effects contribute to the tail’s angular impulse, especially at the highest forward velocities.

Concepts: Effectiveness, Torque, Aerodynamics, Force, Cheetah, Fixed-wing aircraft, Wind tunnel, Aerospace engineering


Hummingbirds are the only birds that can sustain hovering. This unique flight behaviour comes, however, at high energetic cost. Based on helicopter and aeroplane design theory, we expect that hummingbird wing aspect ratio (AR), which ranges from about 3.0 to 4.5, determines aerodynamic efficacy. Previous quasi-steady experiments with a wing spinner set-up provide no support for this prediction. To test this more carefully, we compare the quasi-steady hover performance of 26 wings, from 12 hummingbird taxa. We spun the wings at angular velocities and angles of attack that are representative for every species and measured lift and torque more precisely. The power (aerodynamic torque × angular velocity) required to lift weight depends on aerodynamic efficacy, which is measured by the power factor. Our comparative analysis shows that AR has a modest influence on lift and drag forces, as reported earlier, but interspecific differences in power factor are large. During the downstroke, the power required to hover decreases for larger AR wings at the angles of attack at which hummingbirds flap their wings (p < 0.05). Quantitative flow visualization demonstrates that variation in hover power among hummingbird wings is driven by similar stable leading edge vortices that delay stall during the down- and upstroke. A side-by-side aerodynamic performance comparison of hummingbird wings and an advanced micro helicopter rotor shows that they are remarkably similar.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Force, Drag, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Airfoil, Helicopter rotor


Avian wing shape has been related to flight performance, migration, foraging behaviour and display. Historically, linear measurements of the feathered aerofoil and skeletal proportions have been used to describe this shape. While the distribution of covert feathers, layered over the anterior wing, has long been assumed to contribute to aerofoil properties, to our knowledge no previous studies of trends in avian wing shape assessed their variation. Here, these trends are explored using a geometric-morphometric approach with landmarks describing the wing outline as well as the extent of dorsal and ventral covert feathers for 105 avian species. We find that most of the observed variation is explained by phylogeny and ecology but shows only a weak relationship with previously described flight style categories, wing loading and an investigated set of aerodynamic variables. Most of the recovered variation is in greater primary covert feather extent, followed by secondary feather length and the shape of the wing tip. Although often considered a plastic character strongly linked to flight style, the estimated ancestral wing morphology is found to be generally conservative among basal parts of most major avian lineages. The radiation of birds is characterized by successive diversification into largely distinct areas of morphospace. However, aquatic taxa show convergence in feathering despite differences in flight style, and songbirds move into a region of morphospace also occupied by basal taxa but at markedly different body sizes. These results have implications for the proposed inference of flight style in extinct taxa.

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Aerodynamics, Feather, Wing, Flight feather, Fixed-wing aircraft