In a Bid to Cut Fuel Costs, Air Force Takes Flying Lessons From Birds

Who better to learn flying from than our feathered friends?

In a Bid to Cut Fuel Costs, Air Force Takes Flying Lessons From Birds

Taking a cue from geese, the Air Force is considering utilizing the birds’ formation to save on fuel costs.

“People have been looking at how can we fly like birds probably since the earliest stages of aviation,” Donald Erbschloe, chief scientist at the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, told Foreign Policy.

Known as vortex surfing, a bird-like positioning of multiple aircrafts would take advantage of tail wind to expend less energy. The technique is commonly used by Nascar drivers and Tour de France cyclists to create a low-pressure vortex to capture the energy of the racer in front of them. With jets, the trailing formation could save as much as 10% to 20% in fuel costs, which totaled more than $9 billion in 2012.

The concept was tested in the fall and could take three years to implement in the Air Mobility Command, according to officials. This isn’t the first time the Air Force has been inspired by nature’s creatures. It has also funded research to create insect-sized vehicles for the military.

[Image: Flickr user bobosh_t]

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.



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