Could we save fossil fuels by designing a more efficient aeroplane? © Getty Images

Could we save fossil fuels by designing a more efficient aeroplane?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is is something between the two?

Inefficient aeroplanes waste valuable fuel, but when we attempt to redesign planes for maximum efficiency, what results turns out to look remarkably bird-like. Two engineers have redesigned the aeroplane from scratch, marrying fuel efficiency, aerodynamics and the necessities of freight, passengers and fuel storage. Their final design echoes several elements found in birds, showing that when it comes to better flight, evolution has probably beaten us to it.

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Geoffrey Spedding, an engineer at the University of Southern California, and Joachim Huyssen, from Northwest University in South Africa, examined the three major parts that make a plane what it is: the wings, body and tail. They worked through all three in turn, only opting for the design that would lend their final product the maximum flight efficiency. “We converged with nature,” Spedding says. “We were just trying to look rigorously at all possible designs that were aerodynamically sound. If you release yourself from the constraints, you end up reinventing a bird-like shape.”


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