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David Lentink: What small birds teach us about the physics of flight

​Stanford’s Russ Altman and David Lentink discuss what engineers can learn about small aircraft design by studying the flight efficiency of birds.

lovebirds in flight

High-speed video reveals how lovebirds keep a clear line of sight during acrobatic flight. | Courtesy Lentink Lab

If you’ve ever flown coast to coast or around the world, perhaps you wonder, as “Future of Everything” host Russ Altman did recently, whether engineers know how to design small drones for purposes like delivering goods and/or performing services in urban airspaces.

But as Stanford mechanical engineer David Lentink explains, the physics of flight change unfavorably when aircraft get small. That's why his lab studies nature’s aviators: small birds, including some migratory species that weigh less than a cell phone. Their tiny frames pack enough energy to fly from Alaska to New Zealand, nonstop. Learn more about his research on the Future of Everything radio show.