Britain’s warplanes of the future could be faster, more compact and safer after taking inspiration from the world’s fastest bird.
Scientists are studying the peregrine falcon to come up with ideas to design new wings and control surfaces.
One idea is for ‘sensory feathers’ - 3D-printed polymer ‘hair’ filaments which would act like sensors on the body of an aircraft, providing an early warning system if it began to stall.
The peregrine – which can hit speeds of 200mph as it dives on prey – uses sensitive feathers on the rear of its wings to warn it if its angle of attack is too steep.
Similarly, the filaments on a jet can feed back to the computer adjusting the angles to keep the aircraft in the air at extreme conditions.
More densely packed polymer filaments may also be capable of changing the airflow very close to the surface of the aircraft which could reduce drag.
Another skill the peregrine has is being able to stabilise itself by ruffling its feathers after a dive or when coming in to land.
Some feathers on the upper surface of their wings rise upwards to maintain lift.
Aircraft too could use this by having small flaps which could let it fly at lower speeds and so have a shorter landing distance or to be more agile.
The added safety margin gained using these could allow future aircraft to be more compact or carry more fuel.
And the flaps could also potentially lower aircraft noise.
Professor Christoph Bruecker from London City University’s Aeronautical Engineering department is part of the five-year project looking at learning from nature.
He said: “The peregrine falcon is the world’s fastest bird, able to dive for prey at incredibly steep angles and high velocities.
“The research work has been truly fascinating and I am sure it will deliver some real innovation and benefits.”
Professor Clyde Warsop, of BAE Systems, added: “Bio-inspiration is not a new concept; many technologies that we use every day are increasingly inspired by nature.”