Bats Have an Aerodynamic Edge Over Birds, Study Shows

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By analyzing the air currents and vortices spilling off each wing, the scientists could determine how the bats generate lift, Swartz said.

The findings suggest that flying machines with batlike flapping wings would have advantages over birdlike devices and over conventional aircraft, especially in search-and-rescue operations and covert surveillance. (Related: "Seagulls May Inspire New Airplane Wings, Scientists Say" [October 24, 2006].)

Flapping flight "is more versatile," Hedenström, of Lund University, said. "You can fly at the slowest speeds and make tight turns, and fly into confined spaces."

Such machines could also be "hidden in plain sight," added Brown University's Swartz, whose research is funded by the U.S. Air Force.

"If you see something flying around in the sky that's not flapping, you know instantly that it's not natural," she said. "If it's flapping, you might not pay it any attention."

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