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A Flapping of Wings

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Science  23 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6075, pp. 1430-1433
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6075.1430

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The last couple of years have been an exciting time for flapping-wing flight. More than a million and a half people have watched the video of the robotic seagull called SmartBird flying at a TED conference in Edinburgh last July. Another bird-inspired aircraft, AeroVironment's Nano Hummingbird, made Time magazine's list of 50 top inventions of 2011 (see sidebar). The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research are investing millions of dollars into so-called micro air vehicles and nano air vehicles, as well as basic research into how birds and insects fly. While the theory of airflow over a flapping wing remains surprisingly rudimentary, humans are now making significant progress in understanding how to fly, control, and land flapping-wing aircraft.

  • * Dana Mackenzie is a writer in Santa Cruz, California.

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