Wandering Albatross

  • MIT scientists have unveiled the key behind the marathon flight of the wandering albatross, which can fly nearly 800 km in a single day, with just an occasional flap of its wings.
  • The albatross is one of the most efficient travellers in the animal world.
  • The birds use their formidable wingspans, measuring up to 11 feet across, to catch and ride the wind.
  • Observers have noted for centuries that these feathered giants keep themselves aloft for hours, just above the ocean surface, by soaring and diving between contrasting currents of air, as if riding a side-winding rollercoaster – a flight pattern known as dynamic soaring.
  • Now, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US have developed a model to simulate dynamic soaring.
  • The researchers have used it to identify the optimal flight pattern that an albatross should take in order to harvest the most wind and energy.
  • They found that as an albatross banks or turns to dive down and soar up, it should do so in shallow arcs, keeping almost to a straight, forward trajectory.
  • The new model will be useful in gauging how albatross flight patterns may change as wind patterns shift with changing climate, researchers said.
  • It also may inform the design of wind-propelled drones and gliders which could be used to perform long-duration, long-range monitoring missions in remote regions of the world, researchers said.
  • The team’s project was inspired, in part, by contests of dynamic soaring, in which competitors launch gliders from atop mountains and track the speed of each glider as it dives down and soars up.


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