Bird flight stability

Bird flight stability

When designing an aircraft there is a trade-off between making an aircraft manoeuvrable and making it stable and easy to fly. Birds are not necessarily faced with the same trade-off, as they have the potential to completely change the characteristics of their flight dynamics by morphing their wings and tail to suit different conditions. In some conditions birds appear to adopt configurations that are inherently unstable and may require rapid sensory feedback for flight stabilization. At other times, birds glide through the air without appearing to need to make any corrective wing motions at all.

This project aims to quantify the stability of birds in gliding flight using a combination of free flight wing shape measurement, computational modelling and wind tunnel testing. By using an array of photographic cameras to get views of birds from different angles at the same instant and the latest image analysis techniques, we have been able to very accurately reconstruct the wing shape of birds in gliding flight. These measurements are being used as the basis for computational modelling and wind tunnel testing which will allow us to build mathematical models of the birds' flight dynamics and stability characterisitics.

Lab members

  • Nick Durston


  • Dr Jian Guo Liu, Imperial College
Barn owl in flight
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