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Would studying the aerodynamics of airplanes be useful, if one wants to study bird flight and insect flight?

For instance, would studying a gliding paper plane and a gliding unpowered airplane be fundamentally the same?

I've read that aerodynamic laws for airplanes are different from aerodynamic laws governing bird and insect flight, but I forgot where I read this from -- possibly from an academic journal paper, if I remember correctly.

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The biggest factor, besides the basic insect ornithopter wing mechanics, is air viscosity effects, or Reynolds Number. To insects, the air is extremely "thick" with extremely low Reynolds Numbers, and the optimal airfoils are single surface membranes - insect wings. As Rn gets higher, the desired airfoils get thicker (bird wings) and thicker until you are in very high speed flight and the wings have to start getting thinner again.

Anyway, for a basic overview of all of this, I can't recommend the book Miracle of Flight by Stephen Dalton highly enough. It's a book for the layperson that illustrates flight pretty much up the Reynolds Number range, starting with insects, then birds, then the man-made stuff.

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    $\begingroup$ The book is written for a young layperson adult I'd say. Definitely not an engineering dissertation; however, the photography is really beautiful, his writing is clear and concise and he's researched it really well, so it's a fascinating read, laid out in a way I've never seen before or since. Presenting flight through the Rn range is just brilliant. So at a pure technical level, it certainly won't be what you're looking for, but it's so well presented it's an enjoyable read, if only as an introduction to the topic. You may discover insights you never thought of that lead you somewhere else. $\endgroup$ – John K Apr 23 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ With birds, it likely depends on the size of the bird and their manner of flight. At one end of the scale, to the casual observer hummingbirds are pretty much identical to hummingbird moths. At the other, the larger soaring birds are quite similar to gliders. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 24 at 5:16
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If you are interested in flight strategies of soaring birds-- why they would elect to fly at a certain airspeed when flying in a headwind versus a tailwind-- why they would adopt a different wing shape when gliding at a high airspeed than when circling slowly-- then you can certainly learn a tremendous amount from the literature on human soaring flight. The basic principles are the same. See also the book "Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks"-- a little dated now, but still lots of good stuff in there. Doesn't pertain too much to flapping flight though, for the most part.

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