Birds choose V-formation in flight for aerodynamic efficiency

Jan. 16, 2014 at 6:24 PM
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LONDON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Birds improve the flock's aerodynamics by flying in V-formation, British scientists say.

Researchers have gained groundbreaking insights into the mysteries of bird flight formation using custom-built GPS and accelerometer loggers developed with funding from Britain's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a council release reported Thursday.

Attached to free-flying birds on migration, they proved birds precisely time when they flap their wings and position themselves in aerodynamic optimal positions -- the V-formation -- to maximize the capture of upwash, or "good air," throughout the entire flap cycle while avoiding areas of downwash or "bad air."

"The distinctive V-formation of bird flocks has long intrigued researchers and continues to attract both scientific and popular attention, however a definitive account of the aerodynamic implications of these formations has remained elusive until now," lead researcher Steve Portugal of the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, said.

"The intricate mechanisms involved in V-formation flight indicate remarkable awareness and ability of birds to respond to the wingpath of nearby flock-mates," he said. "Birds in V-formation seem to have developed complex phasing strategies to cope with the dynamic wakes produced by flapping wings."

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