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OU on the BBC: Science Shack - Can you fly like a bird?

Updated Monday, 12th June 2006

Adam Hart-Davis and the team investigate how high you can jump, as part of the BBC/OU's Science Shack series.

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The aquashack is put into the pool Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

AirshipsAdam gets in a flap as the team take the Shack to Bristol Airport to try to answer the question – can you fly like a bird? Adam explores the different theories about how birds fly and why they flap their wings in the first place, because it’s a surprisingly inefficient way to get airborne.

The team are challenged to come up with a design that will allow Adam to fly like a bird. Whilst they work on plans to achieve the seemingly impossible, Adam is shown how the Harris Hawk does it, tucks into some roast duck and chicken, and takes a look at some model ornithopters. Bird-flight expert Paolo Viscardi explains the nitty gritty of lift, thrust and all things airborne, whilst Dr Holger Babinsky uses his portable wind tunnel to demonstrate how an aerofoil creates lift.

The team works on the best design to get Adam flapping his way around the giant aircraft hangar - and this is no mean feat. Adam is much larger than the heaviest bird that flies with flapping wings and has poorly developed flight muscles (to say the least). The team use a giant helium balloon to support part of his mass. After all, birds have had millions of years to evolve tricks to lose weight! It’s then down to the polystyrene wings and some muscle power to get Adam flying just like a bird. And he may not be quite as graceful as an albatross, but he manages the length of the hangar.

Web links

The Ornithopter Zone
A website all about machines that fly by flapping - ornithopters.

Flapping Wings
A site full of information on how flapping wings work.

The Wonder of Flight
More than just flapping, a site that covers all aspects of flying.

The BBC and the Open University are not responsible for the content of external websites.

First broadcast: Friday 2 Nov 2001 on BBC TWO





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