Albatross - Aircraft

The albatross seabird has a record-holding wingspan of 10-11 feet. It is a master of soaring flight, able to travel hundreds of miles with little flapping of its wings. Instead, this magnificent bird locks its wings at the shoulder to avoid fatigue as it rides the wind.

Airbus engineers in England study the albatross for ideas on the next generation of aircraft. One result is a model plane called AlbatrossOne. A unique feature concerns the wingtips which are hinged so they can tilt upward or downward, similar to the way an albatross adjusts its wing shape during flight. Two aircraft benefits result from this design. First, less fuselage support is needed for the wing, a major structural challenge for large aircraft. Second, the model’s moveable wing has less drag than a static wing.

The albatross has a bad reputation with phrases like “an albatross around your neck,” dating from the 1834 poem by Samuel Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In truth, however, the albatross is a wonderful example of intelligent design as it teaches aircraft specialists new flight ideas.