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Electronic supplementary material from Wing morphing allows gulls to modulate static pitch stability during gliding

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posted on 13.12.2018 by C. Harvey, V. B. Baliga, P. Lavoie, D. L. Altshuler
A gliding bird's ability to stabilize its flight path is as critical as its ability to produce sufficient lift. In flight, birds often morph the shape of their wings, but the consequences of avian wing morphing on flight stability are not well understood. Here, we investigate how morphing the gull elbow joint in gliding flight affects their static pitch stability. First, we combined observations of freely gliding gulls and measurements from gull wing cadavers to identify the wing configurations used during gliding flight. These measurements revealed that as wind speed and gusts increased, gulls flexed their elbows to adopt wing shapes characterized by increased spanwise camber. To determine the static pitch stability characteristics of these wing shapes, we prepared gull wings over the anatomical elbow range and measured the developed pitching moments in a wind tunnel. Wings prepared with extended elbow angles had low spanwise camber and high passive stability, meaning that mild perturbations could be negated without active control. Wings with flexed elbow angles had increased spanwise camber and reduced static pitch stability. Collectively, these results demonstrate that gliding gulls can transition across a broad range of static pitch stability characteristics using the motion of a single joint angle.

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