BROWN UNIVERSITY, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND, UNITED STATES. MUST COURTESY BROWN UNVERSITY - The Lesser-Dog faced fruit bat, a native of South Asia is a small bat with superior flying skills. Scientists at Brown University hold it in high regard. They want to learn its secrets; how it stays aloft, how it manoevres at high speed, how it maniplates its flexible wing frame. By using a wind-tunnel to record the bats in flight, Engineering professor Kenny Breuer and his colleagues say they now have some answers.
"We're trying to understand how bats fly and in order to do that we make measurements behind the animal of the air generated by the wings and what we've discovered is a series of vortex structures or air structures that the bat generates while it flaps, and describing how they fit together to create the lift that the bats use to fly", he said.
The team's results were published recently in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Breuer and his fellow authors wrote that the spinning vortices left behind by the bats as they move forward "can be interpreted to reveal the aerodynamic forces that keep them aloft."
By learning how bats fly, Breuer and his team believe they'll be able to help engineers to create the next generation of aircraft, designed to fly like a bat.
"I think what we'd like to do is take something from the nature, from the animal kingdom and adapt it to engineered vehicles and emulate how bats fly to make micro-air vehicles that can fly with great agility and manoeuverability, to be able to do things like fly through forests, caves to do rescue missions, reconnaissance missions, things like that", said
The development of the helicopter is as close as engineers have come to creating a mass-produced aircraft with true aerodynamic versatility. It can hover, take off and land vertically. It can change direction with relative ease in mid-air. But it cannot stop, start, manouevre or accelerate like a bat.
For the military, Professor Breuer's research has great potential which is why the U.S. Defense Department is providing much of the funding.
Breuer says he's not interested in building a flying machine himself. He says he's focussed on understanding the essential elements of bat flight from an engineering perspective.
"I think it will just be a few years before we see preliminary designs that are being built. Of course it'll be much longer before we see anything that's really sophisticated being built just because there are so many technical hurdles.
The Brown University team has begun creating mechanical computer prototypes based on what they know about bat flight but Breuer admits that his team, and their Lesser-dog faced fruit bats, have a great deal more work ahead of them.