Jellyfish Inspires New Aircraft Design

New York University scientists develop hovering ornithopter.

The animal world continues to inspire aircraft designers. A couple of years ago we published a story about how the fins of humpback whales are helping scientists develop new main rotor blade designs. Now a story is emerging about how a team of scientists from New York University used the motion of swimming jellyfish to design a new aircraft.

The study was published in the UK-based Journal of the Royal Society Interface. In the abstract, the aircraft is described as an ornithopter — a flapping wing aircraft. Unlike previous flapping-wing aircraft, which have mimicked the flight of insects, this aircraft is composed of four flapping wing surfaces that open and close in a motion similar to that of a jellyfish.

The small concept aircraft, which weighs only 2.1 grams (0.074 ounces), is constructed of a carbon fiber body with wings made of Mylar-covered frames. A tiny motor rotates a crankshaft linked to each wing and the upper arm of the crankshaft can be bent up or down to increase the flapping motion of the wings.

The study claims the aircraft is stable in "ascending, forward and hovering flight modes." According to the BBC, the scientists claim this is the first aircraft capable of hovering by flapping its wings.

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